Ever since I went to Porto a couple of years back, I’ve been longing to return and do a tour of Douro. Porto opened my eyes to so many exciting wines and grape varieties I’d never tasted before, as well as giving me an excuse to drink port all day in the name of culture. As soon as I’ve figured out how to conquer my fear of mountains, I’m booking into the wonderful looking Six Senses Douro Valley, and spending a week being driven from vineyard to vineyard, stopping occasionally to sleep off my hangover by the pool.
We finally decided to do a Douro themed wine club after we visited the newly opened Bar Douro a few months back, where we spent a wonderful evening being tutored by the patient sommelier, surrounded by wine glasses and plates of lamb rolls, cheese and various bits of pig. It’s in Flat Iron Square, a cute collection of bars and restaurants near London Bridge, with plenty of outdoor seating and a holiday atmosphere. Well worth a visit in lieu of actually going to Douro.
So, what is our wine club?
Our “wine club” started 5 years ago, when 6 wine loving friends decided to try and learn a bit more about wine, rather than drinking the same wines for eternity. We meet once a month, and with a budget of £75, taste 4 bottles, generally themed around a country, region or grape. We taste blind and guess grape, country, region and price. We frequently get it wrong.
What we drank
Maos Reserva Branco 2012, Douro DOC – £11.10
This tastes like the bastard love child of a Chardonnay and a Riesling. There’s some citrussy and tropical aromas, but on the tongue it’s rich, full, and buttery with some of the oiliness and petrol notes you’d associate with Riesling. It’s is a blend of several indigenous grapes – Gouveio, Rabigato and Viosinho. Unusual, but wonderful and tastes far more expensive than it is. Good with fatty fish.
Meruge 2013, Douro, Braixo Corgo – £18.27
We’d had this wine before, paying £31 a bottle from a local wine merchant, so were delighted to discover it for under 20 quid. If you love white Burgundy, this is a wine for you. Gorgeous golden colour with aromas of vanilla and hazelnuts, and SO rich and creamy. There were flavours of vanilla, toasted nuts and coconut – even more so when we ate it with a salad of radicchio, butternut squash, endive, toasted pumpkin seeds and coconut shavings. We also ate some pastéis de bacalhau (salt cod fritters) alongside, which we’d bought from one of the amazing Portugese delis in Stockwell. 100% Viosinho grape, and 100% wonderful.
Dona Graca, Tinto Cao Reserva 2013, Douro DOC – £19.70
100% Tinto Cao grape – this is one of the most challenging grapes to grow and produces low yields, hence the higher price. This was a wonderful deep colour, with a slightly herbal scent. Highly tannic, and a great match for the chickpea and chouriço stew we served with it.
Churchills Touriga National 2012, Douro DOC – £16.50
You know, I can’t actually remember the aromas on this wine, because this was our 6th bottle of the evening (I didn’t tell you about the two bottles of fizz we had prior to the wines I’ve described here). What I do remember was its deep violet colour, and the way it almost tasted of port (unsurprising, seeing as this grape is one of the main varieties used in port). It also managed some berry flavours and a chocolatey slightly spicy finish. 100% Touriga National grape, and a bargain considering how expensive it tastes.
A bit about Douro
Centred on the Douro river, Douro is about 350km from Porto, sheltered by mountains. The region is associated primarily with port production, but has a huge selection of local grape varieties, and produces many wines other than port. There are three main regions:
- Baixo Corgo – has the mildest climate and the most rain. Considered to give wines of lesser quality.
- Cima Corgo – the largest region, where the most famous wine houses are located.
- Douro Superior – the hottest region, featuring many of the newer wine houses, producing some good quality wines.
Portugese wines don’t seem to enjoy much popularity here in the UK – perhaps a legacy from the tooth achingly sweet rosé wines of the 1980s (Mateus Rosé has the dubious privilege of being the first wine I ever tasted). However, we all loved these wines, and what struck us was the value for money. Portugal has a rich history of wine making and a diversity of wines that goes far beyond the port and rosé image. What impressed us about Douro was the quality of each of the wines we tasted, which far exceeded our expectations given the price.
All wines were purchased from Portugal Vineyards.