The Douro Valley has a vision – a land of tourists enjoying
their UNESCO World Heritage Site scenery, enriching the local economy, and
adding to the revenue streams of local wineries.
The question in Douro – as it is in many less-established
wine destinations – is how to make it happen. That’s one of the reasons that organizers from Douro
contacted me to speak at their first wine tourism conference.
My presentation, “The Wow Factor in Winery Visits,” was a
photo-driven slide show that highlighted wonderful winery visits I have had in
France, Spain, Austria, U.S., and the Republic of Georgia. I hoped to inspire Douro winery owners
to go beyond generic wine tours to offer a memorable visit.
Other presenters included my friend, Melba Allen, who gave a
lively demonstration of her online Wine Profilers
I truly enjoyed
her online wine tasting game, which Melba told winery owners could be used in
group tastings and to help develop their brand.
Portuguese wine journalist Rui Falcao
had practical advice,
including, perhaps most importantly, the necessity of proper road signage.
During my weekend in the Douro, it did
strike me that -- unlike in other wine regions --there was a lack of a
demarcated wine route and even signs pointing which way to turn from the main
road to access wineries.
I think that Douro offers wonderful wines.
We had the opportunity to taste many at
the weekend event, Taste Douro, in Lamego.
The wines of Quinta do Crasto
, were particularly outstanding at a value
price. I found that their red wines had exceptionally ripe fruit, and smooth tannins, high acid, mouth-filling richness, and a long finish.
And that was at the low end of the
range at about 10 euros. I also enjoyed the Nieport
reds and the Quinta do Vallado
red and whites.
When I had visited the Douro Valley in 2009 as a participant
in the European Wine Bloggers Conference, it was still a relatively new venture
to ferment still red wines for an international market. I feel like the wines I tasted this
weekend were uniformly better – some of the stalky bitterness had left and the
fruit had a more plush, sweet cherry character.
Yet this weekend in Douro, I was most surprised by the high
quality white wines I tried, especially those of Dona Berta
. I tasted both
unoaked whites, as well as whites that had oak that was beautifully integrated.
Centenary Vine 2009 White Wine Reserve, made from grapes grown on 100 year old
vines – had lime zest nose and limes and white peaches on the palate – offering both refreshment and complexity.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Douro tasting without Port – and
I ended each evening by indulging in my favorite, tawny ports.
There were a number of producers
offering ten year old tawnies, which to me are always redolent of caramel.
Yet one of the best sweet wines I tried
was a Fragulho
2008 Moscatel made in the same way as Port, i.e., with neutral
spirit added to stop the fermentation.
This wine had a lighter mouthfeel, while still
offering hard-candy sweetness.
During my time in the Douro, I stayed at the Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Varzea
room was a comfortable space, with sitting area and bathroom on the first
floor, and two double beds with elegant linens in a loft area above.
But the main house was the star – with
three spectacular livingrooms that all looked like they had been conjured from
the pages of decorator magazines. Yet even the chateau-like house played second fiddle to the rolling hills of vineyards and sweeping views of the grounds.
It is easy to imagine a wine trip to Douro that would use
this hotel – which had a very good kitchen as well – as a base for area
visits. The only problem is the
driving – as road to the wineries are often full of potholes and only wide
enough for one car. Imagining a
foreign tourist--unfamiliar with the terrain, with a couple of glasses of wine
in his or her system-- negotiating these poor roads is not a happy thought.
I wish the Douro luck in its efforts to increase wine
The wineries themselves
include both historic properties and modern wonders, such as the sleek and beautiful
Quinta do Pessegueiro
investment in better roadways and a bit of promotion, this region could just be
the next great destination for wine travelers.