There is a wine that immediately characterises the Douro region – Port. Born in poor soils and steep slopes bathed by the river Douro, Port is the ambassador of Portuguese wines. Besides Port, this region is also famous for its excellent red and white wines.
Located in the north east of Portugal, Douro is surrounded by the Marão and Montemuro mountain ranges. Though the region has about 250000 hectares, the area occupied by vines is of only 40000 hectares. The river Douro and its affluents, such as Tua and Corgo, run through deep valleys and most plantations are fitted in the rivers’ hydrographic basins.
Most soils are made up of greywacke/schist, being particularly hard to work on, and the steep slope makes the job even harder. On the other hand, however, this type of soil is good for the vines’ longevity and allows the production of colour and sugar concentrated musts.
Human effort in converting bad soils into vineyards resulted in three different types of plantation: one of them resembles balconies separated by greywacke/schist walls and is common in areas with high inclination angles; the second one consists of mechanically built terraces, without walls supporting the lands; the third type takes into account the soil drainage and the space needed to move the machines in the vineyard.
The vines go from the top of the deep valleys to the margin of the river, creating a magnificent landscape, recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage, in 2001. Adding to this is the excellence of the wines produced in the three sub-regions of Douro: Baixo Corgo at west, Cima Corgo in the centre and Douro Superior at east.
The vines are not equally distributed. In Baixo Corgo, the vine occupies about 14000 hectares and the number of producers is of almost 16000, i.e., there is an average of less than one hectare per producer. Douro Superior is more desert-like and the number of producers is inferior to that of the vine’s hectares (almost 9000 hectares for little more than 7900 producers).
Each region has slightly different weather conditions, resulting from altitude and sun exposure in deep valleys. In general, the climate is pretty dry and the mountains protect the vines against wind. In Baixo Corgo, as there is some Atlantic influence, the air has more moisture and is fresher. There is also a higher precipitation rate, which helps fertilise the soils and increase production. In Cima Corgo the climate is Mediterranean and in Douro Superior it gets to be desert-like (temperatures reaching 50ºC in summer).
The best Port wine is made in the arid slopes near the river, while table wines are produced in the fresher slopes. Baixo Corgo, formerly considered the best region for the production of Port wine, is now thought best suited for producing table wine. In Pinhão (Cima Corgo), grape berries have a higher concentration of sugar, making the area perfect for the production of vintages. White wines, sparkling wines and the fortified Moscatel come from the higher regions of Cima Corgo and Douro Superior.
The grape varieties grown in the region are not famous for their high production values; however, their history is secular, since some of them are from the time of the Order of Cistercians (Middle Ages). In the second half of the 20th Century a study was performed to determine which grape varieties were more adequate for the production of Douro and Port wines. The conclusion was that the best grape varieties were Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Aragonez (known in Douro as Tinta Roriz) and Tinto Cão. New farms in the region grow mainly these grape varieties; however, they also plant other important varieties, such as Trincadeira and Souzão. White wines are produced from the Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Rabigato and Viosinho grapes. To produce Moscatel, one plants the Moscatel Galego grape.