When most people think of the greatest wine region in the world, Napa Valley, Burgundy, or Bordeaux may come to mind, but those might have been overtaken by Douro Valley in Portugal.
In Wine Spectator’s 2014 top 100 wines list, three of the top four positions were taken by wines that originated in Douro Valley, including the top position which went to Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port.
Paul Symington, the producer of this number one wine, said, “It’s been famous for producing extraordinary ports for over 300 years and it’s got a unique beauty all its own. There are many superlatives that you can apply to the Douro. Many of us argue it’s the most beautiful wine-growing area in the world.”
Douro Valley is most well-known for ports, which are brandy-fortified wines that are usually served prior to or following a meal. However, some of the area’s table wines have also been causing a stir in the wine industry.
The third place position on Wine Spectator’s list is another production from Symington, the Chryseia red wine. This one was a collaboration created with Bruno Prats, a French winemaker.
Image credit: usatoday.com (Photo: Giovanna Dell’Orto, AP)
And, the fourth place position was the Quinta do Vale Meao 2011, another wine from the Douro Valley area. This wine earned the description of being “a lush, seductive red, filled to the brim with an array of dark fruit.”
“For the last few years, a whole bunch of people have been making some really serious red and white wines here,” Symington said in an interview. “To get the Wine Spectator, which is comfortably and by a country mile the most powerful wine magazine in the world, to turn a spotlight on the Douro for its red wines as well as its great port, is a remarkable achievement.”
All three of the top wines were from 2011. That was an exceptional year for the vineyards that rise on terraced hillsides from the banks of the Douro as it snakes 130 miles through northern Portugal from the Spanish border toward the old city of Oporto on the Atlantic Ocean.
The success is no flash-in-the-pan.
Although the Douro is one of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions, dating back to 1756, the international reputation of its table wines began to take off in the 1990s, when producers started to move away from the centuries-old reliance on port wine to turn out quality dry reds and whites.
Improved refrigeration techniques and the scrapping of arcane laws designed to protect traditional port producers triggered the change, says Mario Negreiros, who revived his family wine business in 2004. It freed producers to exploit the region’s unique attributes for producing table wines.
“It’s a mountain wine region. It’s got micro-climates and micro-micro-climates. On the same vineyard you can have two slopes with completely different characteristics,” says the journalist-turned-producer of smooth, dark reds bearing the Negreiros family name.
Proximity to the river also affects the wines variety in the soils.
“Then there’s the unique winemaking tradition,” he adds. “All that contributes to the richness of the wines that are made there. It’s a complex region, complex like the wine that it produces.”
The region’s success in developing table wines is also partly explained by the emergence of a new generation of oenologists, or winemaking experts, coming out of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro in the wine-growing region’s main city of Vila Real.
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