Located on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe. Its territory is bordered by Spain to the north and to the east and is bathed by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and to the south. Apart from the mainland, two archipelagos are also part of Portugal: the Azores and Madeira, both with the status of autonomous regions.
Surface Area: 92 211,9 km² ² ;
Population: 10 427 301 inhabitants (2014)
Douro is a Portuguese sub-region, part of the Northern Region, integrating parts of the Districts of Bragança, Vila Real, Viseu and Guarda. It is limited to the north by Alto Tras-os-Montes, to the east by Spain, to the south by Beira Interior Norte and Dão-Lafões and to the west by the Tâmega river. It has an area of 4112 km² and a population of 205,902 inhabitants (2011 census).
History of the Wine
The origins of Douro wine are millennial. These wines have constantly evolved to become this beverage that makes any heart flutter. Drinking a glass of Port wine or Douro wine is synonymous with absorbing the history of the region, where there has never been a king as magnanimous as the wine.
The first traces that indicate the existence of grapevines in the region date back to the Bronze Age, some three thousand years ago.
The importance of the wine continues during the influence of the Swabians, Visigoths and Muslims. A large number of charters that were attributed to several villages and towns in the region during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, after the birth of the kingdom of Portugal on October 5, 1143, show the great wine producing vocation of the region.
During the thirteenth century, the city of Porto served as a strategic exit point for Douro wines, establishing connections with international markets. The wines were taken to Porto, also known as the Unconquered City, by rabelo boats, over the Douro river. The exportation of Douro wines begins to gain increased importance during the reign of King Fernando (1345-1383), in the fourteenth century, since the main state revenues derived from taxes on exported products. During the reign of King Manuel I (1469-1521), profound changes were made due to the large quantities of wine that were necessary for maritime expeditions. The monarch ordered that the fishing channels on the Douro River be demolished, in order to facilitate navigation between São João da Pesqueira and Porto. As a result, the flow of river transport increased considerably.
The first reference to Port wine came in 1675 and was made by the diplomat Duarte Ribeiro de Macedo (1618-1680), during the Speech on the Introduction of Arts in the Kingdom, referring to the wine exported to the Netherlands. France was the first main buyer of Portuguese wines, but it was with exportation to the United Kingdom that these wines acquired greater importance.
In 1703, Portugal and the United Kingdom signed the Methuen Treaty, also referred to as the Treaty of Cloth and Wines, granting preferential rights to the English in the purchase of Portuguese wines, while allowing free entry of British cloth into the Portuguese market. With this treaty, and the great appreciation that the British had for these wines, the region intensified production to meet increasing demand.
The General Company of Agriculture of the Upper Douro Vineyards (1756-1960) is created in 1756 to appease bad relations between producers, Portuguese traders and foreign traders, as well as to try to reclaim the region’s wines from the control of English merchants. This association, created by the Marquis of Pombal, is granted the exclusive rights to market Port wine in 1807.
The Alto Douro Wine Region was the first regulated wine region in the world, having been demarcated between 1757 and 1761, using large granite landmarks engraved with the word “Feitoria” (Trading Post) and the respective date. This region would be expanded by Queen Maria I (1734-1816) between 1788 and 1793, reaching the Spanish border in 1907, during the administration of João Franco (1855-1929).
In 1844, a map of the demarcated region was created, which includes the prominent estates of the time. The author of this map was Joseph James Forrester (1809-1861), better known as Baron Forester, one of the great pioneers of the Port wine industry. He dedicated his entire life to the Douro and it would be in its waters that he would perish, during a shipwreck in the area of Cachão Valeira, in São João da Pesqueira.
During the Estado Novo (authoritarian political regime from 1933 to 1974), the Casa do Douro, the Guild of Port Wine Exporters and the Institute of the Port and Douro Wines were created. Following the totalitarian regime, the Association of Producers and Bottlers of Port and Douro Wines was established in 1986, in order to allow these producers access to the direct sale of wine produced on the Douro estates and bearing the name of the respective producers.
The current hillside landscape of the Douro began to take form in the 70s, with the application of new vine planting techniques on narrow cultivated ledges, with schist walls delimiting each level.
The wines produced in the Douro region have come a long way, having conquered numerous awards. These distinctions have graced not only Port wines, but also table wines, which have been acclaimed as the best wines in the world.
In December 2001, UNESCO declared the Alto Douro Wine Region a World Heritage Site. The title was awarded unanimously and acknowledges the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, decreed by the Marquis of Pombal in 1756. This is a unique region, as it brings together the virtues of the schist-filled soil and its privileged exposure to the sun with the unique characteristics of its microclimate and the arduous labour of the Douro workman.
Its landscape highlights three main aspects: the unique character of the territory, the natural relationship of the wine culture with olive and almond trees and the diversity of the local architecture. In addition to these aspects, the candidature brought to light the remarkable work done by man in the construction of schist walls that extend the slopes and, above all, the authenticity and integrity of the cultural landscape.
The demarcated Douro region, where wines corresponding to "Port" and "Douro” designations of origin are produced, covers 250,000 hectares, of which 48,000 are occupied by vineyards, covering 22 counties. . However, only 24 000 hectares, that is, one tenth of the area, covering thirteen municipalities, has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Nevertheless, the classified area is representative of the Douro diversity, as it includes land from Lower Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior.
The territory of the Alto Douro Wine Region, considered classified area, comprises the Douro river valley, whose outmost points, namely the city of Porto and Coa Archaeological Park, were already considered World Heritage. The thirteen municipalities that make up the area distinguished by UNESCO are: Alijó, Armamar, Carrazeda de Ansiães, Lamego, Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Sabrosa, Santa Marta de Penaguião, São João da Pesqueira, Tabuaço, Torre de Moncorvo, Vila Nova de Foz Coa and Vila Real, stretching along the slopes of the Douro river and its tributaries, namely Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto and Pinhão.
The classification of Douro as a living and evolving cultural landscape encouraged and contributed to a series of changes that were already taking place in the Douro region. River traffic in the form of tourist cruise ships increased and numerous traditional estates joined the philosophy of the Port Wine Route, opening their door to visitors, promoting wine tasting visits and hosting events. It was with pride, but also with a sense of heightened responsibility that, in 2006, and through numerous cultural events, the Douro Valley celebrated 250 years as a Demarcated Wine Region.
Wine Producing Landscape
The Douro region is inextricably linked to the production of its wines. As such, the landscape is carved to suit wine and the habits of the region are molded according to wine production. The narrow cultivated ledges, the immensity of grapevines and the Douro river are the main components of such a singular view.
In the Alto Douro Wine Region the landscape is marked by narrow cultivated ledges that shape the face of the mountains, hovering over the crystal-clear river. The waters reflect the immense vineyards, changing color with every season. Its hues range from green to golden brown and include tones of orange and red. White or red grapes protrude through the leaves, some lighter, others darker, depending on vine variety. The corpulent and colorful grape clusters are deserving of any table, although most of them are intended for wine production.
In September, the slopes of the Douro fill with people who head there specifically to harvest among the hills and slopes, in order to obtain Port wine and table wines from the magical fruit.
The Douro landscape shows its deep and millennial bond with wine culture, providing a framework in which man and nature work hand in hand, in search of the perfect beverage.
Wines from the Region
Douro wines are recognized worldwide, not only Port wine, but also table wines, which are increasingly appreciated. In the Douro region, the range of wines is extensive and there is always a wine for each person’s individual taste.
These wines are divided into three major categories: Red wines, White wines and Rosé wines. The young Red wines, consumed during the first years after the harvest, are distinguished by their ruby colour and their fruity aroma. They should be served at between 13°C and 15°C, accompanying light meals prepared with meat or pasta. The Red wines for laying down, marked with "Reserve" or "Grand Reserve" labels have a more intense color and aroma. They are served at between 16°C and 18°C, and accompany well seasoned red meat dishes, or game meat dishes.
The White wines are the ideal drink to accompany fish dishes. They are the result of vine varieties such as Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Gouveio and Rabigato. The younger wines, consumed at temperatures between 8°C and 10°C, are refreshing, with bright colors and fruity aromas. The White wines for laying down are more golden in color and denote roasted aromas, acquired during the time spent fermenting in wooden casks. They should be served at approximately 12°C, accompanying more corpulent fish such as salmon and cod, or white meats such as chicken and rabbit. As in the case of the Red wines for laying down, they are marked with a "Reserve" or "Grand Reserve" label.
Rosé wines are of recent production in the Douro region, and therefore are less in number. As the name suggests, they are wines with a pink colour and with fruity aromas that mix sweetness with acidity. They should be consumed one to two years after harvest, at temperatures between 10ºC and 12ºC. They are ideal for accompanying light meals or simply as an aperitif.
Composed of schist covered uplands and granitic slopes encircled by meandering currents of limpid water, the Douro region is a haven for game wildlife and freshwater fish. Its famous local cuisine includes an immensity of delicious and varied dishes.
There is a multitude of meat dishes, of which, the most important are: wood oven roasted lamb, accompanied with rice and potatoes; stewed wild boar; Mirandesa beef steak; cozido à portuguesa (traditional Portuguese stew); spit-roast partridge; chicken blood rice; Transmontana bean stew and hare or wild rabbit with mushrooms.
The fish of the region is caught in the Douro river and in its tributaries and is normally eaten marinated or fried. Codfish is also widely used as an alternative to meat dishes.
The region´s traditional desserts make us forget any diet or doctor's recommendation. Conventual sweets like peixinhos de chila (fish shaped pumpkin sweets) or Teixeira biscuit are famous in the region. Pão de ló (traditional sponge cake) and bolo rei (traditional fruit cake) abound, especially in the festive seasons. Arroz doce (Portuguese sweet rice) and aletria (sweet angel hair pasta) are also specialties of the region.
Traditional bread accompanies any meal and can be filled with meat or prepared using olive oil. It can be covered with locally made honey or homemade jam. Artisanal cheeses and regional smoked meats are eaten at any time of day, alone or accompanied with a piece of bread.
There is a wide variety of fruits in the region, harvested at various times of the year. Cherries, almonds and apples are plentiful. In the colder months, roasted chestnuts, walnuts, persimmons and tangerines are the fruits of choice. Olives and grapes are the region´s main fruits, although they are used mainly to produce wine and olive oil, respectively, rather than for eating off the vine or tree.
Olive oil is used in most meals, either in the cooking process or later on as a dressing. Any dish is seasoned with salt, although this can be replaced by herbs, which abound in the region. Rosemary, parsley and laurel are the most used herbs, mainly for cooking meat.
Before starting the meal, nothing better than a glass of Port wine or Muscat wine to whet the appetite. These are served as an aperitif, as opposed to table wines which accompany the main course. The liqueurs produced in the region, resulting from a mix of fine brandy and fruits such as arbutus unedo (also known as strawberry tree), blackberry or cherry, serve as a digestif, replacing the international scotch. For non-alcoholic beverage lovers, natural juices, as well as aromatic herbal teas are always a treat. In the Douro region, there are many natural water springs from which fresh water flows in abundance.
Home of national heritage treasures and jewels, the Douro region concentrates within itself one quarter of the entire edified heritage of the Northern Region.
Near the watercourses of the Douro river´s tributaries, or near its banks, prehistoric peoples such as the Romans, Moors and Christians built chapels of barbaric origin, bridges, medieval roadways and castles, abbeys, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque churches and stately houses in villages, towns and cities. Today, these locations are the guardians of their own historical treasures. Here, in the past, is where the parchments of charters attributed to villages, towns and cities crossed paths with the legends of the founding of the nation, such as the miracle cure of the nation’s father D. Afonso Henriques in Cárquere, or the romanticized stories of the Lamego Courts, at the Church of Almacave.
All over the region, manor houses, farmhouses and testimonials of errant peoples from different cultures indelibly mark the landscape.