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Discovering the Douro

by Emma Raper, Majestic Marketing Manager – Customer Initiatives

Emma RaperWhen I found out that I was going on a study trip to Portugal in mid October, two thoughts crossed my mind.  Will they still be picking grapes? And will it be hot and sunny? It was a YES to both!

After completing the WSET Diploma last year, I was chuffed to be awarded a scholarship prize – a trip to the Douro with ViniPortugal.  For 300 years, this region in northern Portugal has been linked to fortified wine.  Whilst port will always remain central to the Douro, it’s the region’s diverse range of unfortified wines, which is arousing curiosity and excitement.  Last week, I discovered crisp fresh whites, barrel-fermented oaked whites, fruity rosés, rich concentrated reds as well as late harvest sweet wines!

EmmaDouroSuch varied styles of wine can be accredited to the Douro’s different terroirs (soils, direction of slopes, altitudes), winemaking methods (foot-treading vs robotic ‘feet’, stainless steel vs oak for fermentation and ageing), the choice of oak (French, American, Portuguese or Hungarian) and, not forgetting, the region’s 80+ grape varieties.  Some vineyards are a mix of grape varieties – ‘field-blends’ – even the growers don’t know what’s there! Whereas, others have been replanted in varietal blocks – producers are now experimenting and matching grapes to specific plots of land.

Just like in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, wines from the Douro are often a blend of several varieties.  But, forget mainstream Merlot and standard Syrah, Douro reds are usually Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo in Spain), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão or Sousão.  And for the whites; Viosinho, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Codega or Rabigato!

The never-ending array of grape varieties in the Douro is both a blessing and a curse.  Nowadays, we often associate a region with a grape variety and subsequently a style – think Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Mendoza Malbec! You may not be able to pronounce the grapes, let alone spell them on your wine shopping list, but take a punt on Portugal and discover the Douro’s diversity!

EmmaDouroTastingDuring my trip, I was lucky enough to meet the producers and sample some Douro wines that Majestic currently stocks.  One of the tastings took place in a Quinta looking out onto a picturesque hillside of vineyards and another in a lagar (a shallow stone tank in which they crush grapes by foot).  Just a tad more exciting than the office tasting room in Watford!!

Planalto Douro Branco 2009
£6.87 Buy any 2 Portuguese wines save 20% = £5.49
Planalto, meaning ‘plateau’, refers to the high-altitude vineyards from where the grapes were hand-picked. A fresh, aromatic wine with citrus fruits, minerality and floral hints on the palate.

Malvis Douro Tinto 2007
£6.99 Buy any 2 Portuguese wines save 20% = £5.59
From parcels of 10-15 year old vines, the Malvis displays ripe red fruits, an earthy savoury character and, from ageing in French oak, a lingering sweet spice finish.

Crasto Douro Red 2008 Quinta de Crasto
£9.99 Buy any 2 Portuguese wines save 20% = £7.99
Predominantly Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, this wine is packed with juicy berry fruit as well as hints of spice. The palate is rich and smooth, with soft tannins and a great length.

Prices valid until 1st November – 20% off Portuguese wines, excludes fortified wines* ends on 1st November.