13.04.2017 - 13.04.2017
Thursday, we went on a tour of the Douro Valley. We opted for Douro Exclusive company because they only host tours for small groups of 7 people or less. I am still scarred from a Tuscany bus tour I took after college graduation, so small groups are preferable. We shared our tour with two other American couples, including Rick, a recent retiree from California who was living the retirement dream. I aspire to be Rick one day.
Marco, our Douro born and raised tour guide, started Douro Exclusive four years ago with his wife Ana. He informed us Douro Valley tourism only really started in the last five years because it was difficult to access, but then, they built a new highway making the drive from Porto to the valley only 1.5 hours. Ana and Marco know what they are doing. They have their logo monogrammed on shirts, outerwear, wine glasses, chocolate candies, local candies, ice chest, towels, everything. A+ in branding.
Our first stop was at Quinta de Tourais which is a small winery producing 30,000 bottles of table wine each year. Fernando, the owner of the estate, explained the winery had been in his family for four generations. It is a class B winery. What does that mean? The almighty Instituto dos Vinho do Douro w Porto (IVDP) is located in Porto and is the PCAOB of the Douro wine and port world. Based on various criteria (vines, altitude, vine density, gradient, types of grape varieties planted, overall location of the vineyard, soil, microclimate, etc.), they rank the wineries in the Douro from A to F with A being the best. Each year, the IVDP determines which percentage of grapes each classification must sell to Port producers and which percentage they can keep to make their own wine. They also govern all aspects of port and Douro wine production. For instance, Fernando is not allowed to water his land. The land must be naturally watered by rainfall. Also, Fernando has to send the Institute samples of his wine before bottling and selling it. The IVDP ensures it meets their criteria, and then, they issue serial numbers for each bottle of wine. Sometimes, they do surprise inspections to ensure the winery is actually bottling and selling the same wine as the sample was.
Fernando let us sample one white and three reds. He also let us sample a vintage port that his neighboring winery produces. Fernando does not produce port to sell because the market is too hard for a little winery. However, he does produce port for his personal consumption and let us try a tawny straight from his barrel. He then pulled out an experimental white wine that he made. It was a very sweet white wine with the consistency of port, but it was not a fortified wine. It was delicious.
The next stop was DOP restaurant where we sat on the deck along the Douro River. We had a three course meal and sample three more wines. Afterward, we went to Fonseca which is owned by the Taylor group. We tried 3 ports (an LBV, extra dry white, and ruby) before boarding a rabelo boat tour. The rabelos were the ancient boats used to transport wine to Porto. Now they just use big trucks that look like the ones we see transporting oil in Texas. Once you get to a certain part in the Douro, the land is all privately held or unexplored, and there are no public roads. The boat tour took us down the river to see the private land and to marvel at how steep the hills are that the vineyards are on. Harvesting the grapes at a 50% incline seems like the worst work out ever.
Afterward, we headed back to Porto. Marshall and I ate at Adega São Nicolao which was a popular spot near the river. We ate cod, veal, a salad, and an almond tart. We have learned that entrees here are meant to be shared. Portions are huge, but they cost as much as a single entree costs in America. Unfortunately, Marshall isn't a fish fan, and I prefer fish to meat. So every meal, we feel wasteful with all our leftovers.
After dinner, we experienced our sugar crash from all the port drinking and called it a night. In summary, if in Port, go on a Douro Valley tour. It is gorgeous, but beware of the sugar crash you will experience.
Also, the best year for Douro wines, including Port, was 2011, so buy Portuguese wines form 2011.