At the beginning of October my colleague Meg and I went on a short wine trip to the Douro region of Portugal to visit esteemed producer Alves de Sousa. This was part of a well planned visit by Top Selection Wines, alongside a few colleagues of the wine trade.
On arrival, Porto greeted us with a brisk rain, a sign of the constant influence the Atlantic has on the shores and even further inland of Portugal.
We left Porto the very next morning with the sun starting to show lively rays. The drive to the Douro involved some amazing views across the mountains and a belvedere stop at the entrance to the river valley.
Some local grapes – table grapes – made their way onto our palate at this point, just to remind us that the Douro grows a vast array of vitis vinifera .
We soon settled in Regua, a workman’s no nonsense central point in the wine region, a little bit less touristic than the famed Pinhao.
The lunch came and we started to “work” on tasting some of the wines from Alves de Sousa portfolio accompanied by deliciously crafted local dishes served in a former railway station turned restaurant.
Atlantic weather caught up with us in the meantime and on departure from the restaurant we wondered if we were not back in England.
Immediately Douro reminded us where we were with a few, full to the brim, tractors and trailers of crated grapes.
The harvest has been going on here from the beginning of September and it sometimes doesn’t stop until the very first snow.
We drove to the heart of the Alves de Sousa estate, the Quinta de Gaivosa winery, perched on the high side of the hill that separates the Douro river basin from that of its tributary the Corgo.
There is a new winery nowadays and as the owner Domingos informed us 2015 will be the first vintage that the new winery is going to produce.
Right next door is the pale yellow traditional Portuguese Quinta, the original Gaivosa.
The new winery is headed by Tiago – the son of Domingos – a hands on winemaker whose mission it is to keep traditional methods of Douro but with more modern equipment and with definitely a modern attitude.
The wines that we tasted were all great and some were absolutely incredible. All had a part of the terroir in their expressive aroma and taste, and we were about to find out even more, this time about the land itself.
It was nearly dusk. The sun, winning its battle with the Atlantic clouds, showed us the way to the top of the hill. We worked our way between groves of cedar trees and onto a small , patchy, grassy vineyard, full of ground-hugging, gnarled very old vines. This was the Abandonado, a 80+ year old vineyard that was, as you’ve guessed it from the name, abandoned for a good length of time due to its difficult accessibility and even more difficult to work steep slope. The fruits of this vineyard we tasted a few hours before and I can vouch for it’s absolutely amazing taste and sense of place.
We ended the night soon after with a well-deserved dinner and some more wine.
Visiting the Douro could not have been complete without a trip on the river itself. Starting in the heart, as it’s called, Pinhao, going past mesmerizing patches of vine that have not only great names , but also amazing results.
To conclude, Douro is a unique region, a heart and palate grabbing one that would entice almost everyone who finds it and it’s wines.
Some of the wines I’ve tried and we will stock very soon or are already stocking include :
- Caldas White Port – it has rich deep intense nutty dried fruit. Sultanas, dried apricots some light spice and oxidative elements.
- 10 Y O White Port, is well balanced, fresh with sweet spice, dry fruit and a long spicy finish. Well integrated wood.
- Berco 2011, aged for 18 months in oak. A field blend that feels rich, but also very fresh. Intense buttery fruit, aromas of mango and lemon sorbet with a oaky vanilla notes .
- Caldas Reserva,2011. 25 years old vines of Touriga National. Aged for 15 months in oak.Has a rich,dense,plum and dark forest cherry nose,spicy and minty reminiscent of eucalyptus.Good solid structure, backed by a balanced minerality/acidity backbone.
- Vinha Abandonado, 2011. Intense juicy fruit,very fine minerality on nose. Blackberry, coffee bean,chocolate and black pepper,elegant but full bodied, great structure.
With the hope that you found this short, descriptive story interesting or informative, I greet you on the new and updated website and invite you to be drawn to our Portuguese shelf next time you are visiting one of our shops,