Erik Neilson on February 23, 2017 0 Comments Northern Portugal holds a great deal of importance in the wine world, even if for reasons that many people are unaware of. The Douro region in particular is home to one of the world’s most fascinating wines: Port. Indeed, the region’s fortified wines are among the best in the world and can play a huge role in accenting the end of a meal (or simply relaxing by the fire). However, as beautiful as Port can be, it’s not the only reason to pay attention to the region, which is gaining a great deal of recognition throughout the world for its excellent table wines. As far as wine regions themselves go, the beauty of Douro is difficult for many areas to match. The steep hillsides that characterize the area are framed by terraced vines that stand in contrast to the winding Douro river that the region gets its name from. The Mediterranean climate enjoyed in Douro yields hot, dry summers, which certainly have an impact on the wines produced there. Thanks to Port, Douro is steeped in history, and the land has been worked by some of the world’s finest winemakers to ever live. On the other side of this coin is that the popularity of Port has cast a shadow over the many beautiful grapes that are used to create approachable, sumptuous table wines that are among the best available today. The Grapes The first thing most people realize once they begin taking a closer look at Douro wine is that they don’t necessarily recognize the grapes that characterize the region. This is in large part due to the fact that the grapes of Douro aren’t the popular Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay that so many people are used to. Table wines in Douro are produced via the same grapes that are used to make Port. These include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and more, many of which are not known to most wine drinkers in the west. There’s certainly a fair bit of common ground with Douro, however, mainly in Tinta Roriz — in Rioja, the same grape goes by the name Tempranillo. Tinto Roriz is certainly one of the principal grapes used in Douro wine, and it finds itself in good company. Bastardo, Mourisco Tinto and Tinta Amarela all find themselves enjoying high usage rates in Douro. Interesting to note is that many of the grapes utilized to produce Douro wine were only studied and characterized in recent years. Prior to the 1970s, a wide variety of native Portuguese grapes grew throughout the region, making it difficult to determine exactly which varietals were being used. This led to the creation of a new wave of Douro table wine, in which grapes are blended carefully and deliberately. It has also had a positive impact on the production of Port wine, which benefits from the research that has been done on these now popular grapes. The Wines One of the great things about Douro wine is that once you get to know it, it only takes a single sip to realize what you’re drinking. This is especially true for those who are familiar with Port wine. Since many of the same grapes used in Port make their way into Douro table wines, the latter tend to share similar characteristics with the former. Think plum fruits, lots of spice and a nice, sturdy acidity, all of which amount to become more than just the sum of their parts. Many Douro wines showcase fine tannins that are ideal for giving structure and body to the wine without being too drying. For those who are wholly unfamiliar with Douro, it can be helpful to call to mind similar wines that have grown in prominence over the years. The above characteristics, for example, call to mind one of the most popular wines in the world — Malbec. Known and loved for its jammy fruit qualities and moderate structure, Malbec is enjoyed the world over and is one of the most versatile grapes used in wine production. If lush, fruity wine appeals to you, Douro wine will most likely be a hit, and one you’ll stick with for years to come. Bottles of Note It can be understandably intimidating to choose the right bottle of Douro wine when you’re not familiar with the region. That being said, here are a few safe bets that have been known to impress consistently, all of which are beautiful wines that serve as great introductions to this region: Quinta do Crasto Douro Superior If you’re looking to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Douro River, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better vantage point than Quinta do Crasto. The winery is signature Douro, and the Quinta do Crasto Douro Superior is an exquisite bottle that showcases the characteristics wines from the area have become known for. Featuring complex notes of dark berries, cocoa and fresh herbs, the Quinta do Crasto Douro Superior has a long, sturdy finish that sticks around far beyond the initial sip. Esporão Douro Assobio There are plenty of examples of Douro that aren’t exactly on the inexpensive end of the spectrum. Since it can be difficult to shell out a great deal of money on a bottle from a region you might not be familiar with, starting with a lower-end example is never a bad idea. Look no further than the Esporão Douro Assobio, which is one of the best values in Douro at approximately $15 per bottle. This wine is spicy and satisfying, with notes of dark fruit, smoke and wildflowers. Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend At just over 20 years old, Quinta do Vallado is still considered to be a relatively young winery. Since first opening its doors, however, Quinta do Vallado has done nothing but build upon its reputation as being one of the finest wineries in Douro. To taste the essence of what their accomplishments are known for, look no further than the Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend. A blend of a number of different grape varietals, this is about as big and rich as wines from Douro get. The 2013 vintage is particularly of note, and there are few wines that call for sitting by a roaring fire more than this blend. Douro wine is continuing to grow in popularity, and the region has a bright future ahead. Now’s the time to try these exquisite wines before they grow too popular to get ahold of!