Douro wine region - Portugal

Often overshadowed by the popularity and prestige of port wine, the Douro’s increasing amount of high-quality table wine is making a big splash in restaurants up and down Portugal.

Taking its name from the famous river flowing through it, the Douro wine region has a long tradition of viticulture stretching back more than 2,000 years. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques, but not all of the land is suitable for making port wine.

The soil where port wine can be produced is composed of a slate-like schist that needs to be broken up (either by digging or, in extreme cases, by dynamite) before the precious vines can be planted. In the parts of the land where slate gives way to granite, authorisation to make port wine is normally refused, which in turn limits its production to the region’s growing number of excellent table wines.

And there’s great additional potential: the Douro wine-making area is very hilly and, in parts, mountainous and such variations in altitude can aid the ripening of grapes in different ways. For instance, the best vineyards for port are generally located at lower altitudes while the grapes gown at higher altitudes tend to be more suitable for table wines. Climate and rainfall also play a big part in the process of making Douro table wine, both white and red.

The Douro has a greater range of varieties than any other wine region in Portugal, including the highly-esteemed Tinta Roriz. An interesting trend is the fact that more and more port wine producers are experimenting with table wines, including some of the biggest names such as Borges, Cockburn, Real Vinícola and Ferreira.

Despite its rugged terrain, the Douro wine region is special in that there’s a choice of ways for the wine-loving visitor to explore the area and savour its different varieties, including the much-savoured port.

Where to go in northern Portugal

Much the best way to appreciate the Douro Valley’s breathtaking grandeur is to take a train, most commonly from the magnificent city of Porto, which travels through the heart of the region. Check out the MiraDouro line which operates between Porto’s São Bento station and Pocinho to the north of Vila Nova de Foz Côa (home to the ancient rock carvings), stopping at Peso da Régua, Pinhão (indicated on the Google map below) and Tua en route. Summer visitors might also like to consider taking advantage of a historic train service (Comboio Histórico do Douro) which also runs between Pinhão and Tua.

Several cruise operators (most notably the river specialist Douro Azul) offer regular itineraries up and down the river with on-board meals and accommodation provided. Passengers also have the chance to stop-off for lunch and visit cities such as Lamego and local wineries along the way, with the chance to taste the different Douro wines before purchasing.

Driving is perhaps the most satisfying way to discover the Douro, which is accessible via the N222 which follows the route of the river as far as the Côa Valley Archaeological Park not far from the border with Spain. The views are stunning along the steep and winding roads and the chance to stop spontaneously for a delicious regional-style lunch in an old stone village is a major advantage for visitors exploring the Douro region by car.

Another rare treat for tourists is the chance to take part in the annual grape harvest (known locally as the vindimas) in September and October when treading the grapes by foot to extract the juice is still a common ritual in some parts of the Douro, with travellers invited to take part in the group activities and ensuing festivities.

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