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When Toby Evers, Manager at Majestic Wine Docklands, took a trip to the Douro Valley in Portugal in late 2009, he discovered a great deal more vinous variety than most people would expect.

Quinta do Portal was established in 1994 by Pedro Branco and family, along with head winemaker Paulo Coutinho. When I told people I was going there, the most common response was ‘you’ll try some great port’. This was true, but the most interesting part of the trip for me was getting to try the full variety of wine Portugal has to offer. Unfortified wines account for almost half the total country’s production. This figure comes as a surprise when you consider the imbalance between Portuguese wines and ports available in the UK. But when you try some of those wines, this is a balance you’ll want to redress for yourself.

The Tour

A warm welcome was followed by an evening tour of the ultra-modern winery. The mixture of traditional barrels, modern steel vats, robots and hard-working Portuguese contributes to a fascinating wine-making experience. Paulo is passionate about his product, often highlighting the importance of disturbing the wine as little as possible to retain all of the qualities it has to offer.

The morning after, following a four-course dinner and a certain amount of wine the night before, we were taken on a vineyard tour. Anyone who has been to the Douro will know that the terrain is mountainous and treacherous, with most of the 40,000ha under vine cut into terraces on hillsides with gradients up to 60 degrees. And Quinta do Portal’s 100 acres are no exception. This made for an occasionally nerve-racking tour and left some of us regretting the previous night’s efforts!

Seeing the challenging countryside in which they work, however, one has to admire Pedro, Paulo and their team’s passion and tenacity. They are warm, enthusiastic and extremely proud of what they do – all of which is reflected in the quality of the wines they produce.

The Wines

We were treated to a tasting of the winery’s full range. The white proved to be crisp, aromatic and extremely refreshing; the reds dominated by grape varieties more famously used in port – Touriga National, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Although Paulo does make many single varietal reds, the grapes are often blended and offer deep red-fruit flavours, excellent body and structure, and a long lingering aftertaste.

Toby’s Pick

Malvis Douro Tinto 2005

£6.99 or £5.59 when you buy 2 bottles*

A real highlight of the trip. This is a beautifully structured, infinitely quaffable wine packed with ripe red fruits and silky tannins.

More Portuguese Favourites….

Marco do Pegões 2007, Terras do Sado Tinto
£6.24 or £4.99 when you buy 2 bottles*

Raspberry, soft black cherry and hints of liquorice make this a delicious and complex wine.

Quinta de Azevedo 2008, Vinho Verde
£6.24 or £4.99 when you buy 2 bottles*

Green apple notes and crisp acidity give way to hints of lemon and a slight petillance. A truly refreshing drop.

Pena de Pato 2005, Dao
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles*

Bursting with blueberries, this has a lovely purple tint to it, with notes of menthol and black cherry adding length and body.

Churchill Estates 2007, Douro
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles*

The presence of Touriga National here contributes dense, dark-fruit characteristics, with dark chocolate nuances appearing on the finish.

Cedro do Noval 2007 New!
£14.99 or £11.99 when you buy 2 bottles*

Luscious notes of dense smoky blackcurrant and raspberry meet hints of leather, cedar and cinnamon. Its firm tannins mean it needs a hearty meal to really show it off.

*All prices valid until 26th April 2010