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Grapes have been grown in the Douro Valley for over 2,000 years, with Port (the fortified wine which gets its name from the town of Porto) produced since the 17th century. Made with fruit from the Douro Valley, the wines were traditionally shipped along the river to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, where they would age until ready for release.
While these remarkable fortified wines – white, tawny and red, from vibrant ruby to long-ageing vintage styles – continue to be made and savoured by wine-lovers around the world, a new generation of winemakers is working with old vines and native grapes on the region’s dramatic slopes to craft a new wave of wines that speak of this unique region. By necessity, work here is painstakingly and back-breakingly done by hand, and there’s a clear movement to more sustainable practices in both the vineyard and winery. Settle down with a white Port and tonic, and read about five of the region’s estates you need to know.
Rita Marques is a rising star of the Douro. Her family had long owned vineyards, selling fruit to larger Port houses such as Taylor’s. Although she’d originally worked as a mechanical engineer, she decided to return to her roots. After gaining experience in Bordeaux, South Africa and New Zealand, she came back to her family home in the eastern reaches of the Douro Valley to create her own label – Conceito (literally “concept”). Here in the Teja Valley, one of the coolest parts of the Douro Superior, she farms her vines organically to produce elegant, pure expressions of the region’s native grapes.
Established and run by husband-and-wife duo, Jorge Serôdio Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva, Wine & Soul aims to celebrate the Douro Valley’s old vines and native grapes. The new-wave venture has rapidly made a name for itself, with minimal intervention in the vineyards and winery (with organic certification underway). They work with tiny parcels of old vines on the region’s steep terraces, producing both fortified styles and exceptional single-vineyard table wines, and olive oil.
Heading south from Porto, you’ll find Barraida – a region that is earning quite a reputation for its wines, particularly reds made with the Baga grape. The young Luís Patrão of Radio is a leading name in the region – and a key member of ‘Baga Friends’, a group dedicated to championing the potential of this variety, which can produce serious wines that age beautifully. Visit the Vadio estate to try his spectacular renditions of the grape, fresh whites and sparkling styles too. The property is a little over an hour’s journey away, but well worth the trip.
This property sold its grapes to the larger Port houses for years, but reclaimed its fruit to start bottling fine Port under its own name in 1988. Sophia Berqvist is at the helm today and has championed sustainability at this top-tier single estate, which is one of the smaller quintas in the region. Winemaker Jorge Moreira is focused on expressing sit in his wines, avoiding masking the fruit and sense of place with oak or fancy winemaking – and the results are impressive. Alongside more traditional Ports, you’ll find vibrant table wines, craft beers and olive oil.
This is by far the most traditional and biggest name on the list, but don’t let that put you off. The wild-haired Dirk Niepoort is a legend of the wine industry and rightfully so. The forward-thinking winemaker has championed not just the region’s traditional fortified wines but terroir-driven reds and whites, as well as collaborations with producers around the world. It’s all about the work in the vineyard here and a visit is guaranteed to help you get under the skin of the region.