The small, rather rundown town of Pinhão in the Upper Douro
The Upper Douro – undoubtedly one of the world’s
most spectacular wine regions
It was back in August 1980 that CRM and I first passed through the Douro. We were heading back to the UK after a long summer holiday trip through France, Spain and Portugal, which included some rough camping on Portugal’s Atlantic coast – but that is another story. We drove through Pinhão headed that evening for Braganza.
This was pre-EU days in Portugal – before EU assistance and money transformed the country. I remember thinking we would drive towards Lisbon but soon gave up on the single carriageway road that included all forms of traffic including oxen pulling carts.
A little over a decade later when I had started to write about wine (from late 1988) I was invited to spend the weekend as part of a press at Taylor’s, which included a two-night stay at Quinta de Vargellas in the Upper Douro. We travelled up the Douro by train on the magical line that hugs the river – one of the great train journeys of the world starting from the highly atmospheric São Bento station in central Porto.
In those days in the early 1990s tourism in the Douro was hardly existed. There were few places to stay unless you were part of the wine trade or wine press, so were invited to stay in a quinta during the harvest.
A recent #winelover trip to Porto and the Douro underlined how much has changed. A new section of motorway has transformed the time it takes to get from Porto to the middle and upper Douro. It is now just an hour of 15/20 minutes from Porto to Régua. making day trips to the valley easy and practicable.
At the same time Porto itself has undergone a remarkable transformation in just a couple of years. Two years ago there were plenty of derelict buildings in the centre, Now that has all changed with fashionable shops and buzzy restaurants moving in and the town is packed with visitors.
The iconic centre of Porto
(above and below)
Port, of course is one of the attractions of coming to Porto and the Douro, although its importance has been a little diluted by the rising of the still wines of the Douro.
I have to confess that my feelings towards Port have long been rather ambivalent. Although I have been privileged to drink old Vintage Ports, which can be very fine, I find younger vintage Ports and LBVs etc. to be much less interesting than good Vins doux Naturels from the Roussillon be they Rivesaltes, Maury or Banyuls. I suspect that the genesis for Vintage Port was on the playing fields and dining rooms of English boarding schools.
Happily from recently spending generous amounts of time in Portugal – both in Porto and Lisbon – I have become increasingly enamoured with wood aged Ports – be they Tawnys or Colheitas, which I find have very considerably greater complexity and interest. Colheitas are single vintage wood aged Ports, while Tawnys are released as 10 YO, 20 YO, 30 YO, 40 YO – in the styles of where the average Port of of the stated age.
1948 Porto Niepoort
– a lovely complex treat
Finally the lovely Andresen 10 YO White Port is a reminder that these Ports can be complex and not just suitable for Port and tonic – refreshing as they are on a hot Douro day.