Exciting things are happening in Portugal’s Douro region! It has always had some of the world’s most spectacular terraced vineyards (see above) and an ideal climate in which to ripen some high quality local grape varieties. But, since the best parts of the Douro were officially designated by the Marquês de Pombal in 1756, the most highly regarded – and profitable – output of the region has always been port. Wine only came from the lesser vineyards – those not considered good enough for port.
But times are changing fast. Today, many port estates are realising the commercial importance of wine and are taking it far more seriously. As a result, we’re seeing some really good reds (and even a little white) alongside the traditional ports. Producers are using the same grape varieties they use for port – grapes like Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, for example; it’s what goes on in the winery that’s different. For port, fortifying grape spirit is added part way through the fermentation process; this kills the yeasts before they’ve converted all the grape sugar into alcohol, leaving the strong (20% abv), sweet drink we’re used to. Wine is, in many ways simpler: you leave the yeasts alone to complete their job, turning all the sugar to alcohol and giving a lovely, rich, smooth dry wine.
You won’t have to search too hard for very drinkable Douro wines – nor pay silly prices for something really enjoyable. Take the simply named ‘Crasto’ (available from Majestic), for example; a delightful blend of the 4 port varieties mentioned above gives a medium-bodied unoaked red full of lovely blackberry fruit and spice and with excellent length. A little tannin suggests there’s no hurry to drink up and all for £8.99. A bargain! I struggle to think of a better wine anywhere for the money.