Douro's river of red wine
Port is not the only tipple that flows from Portugal's ancient wine region
Douro is the name of the river that cleft and sculpted a steep meandering valley through mountains of granite before mingling with the Atlantic at Oporto. This UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Portugal is starkly and dramatically beautiful. Its hot-as-hell summers and bitingly bitter winters have ensured it is sparsely populated except for one noble inhabitant - the vine. The Douro DOC is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world and most famous for its Port, a fortified sweet red wine.
However, the last decade has seen a marked popularity in its quality dry reds - deeply coloured with robust and concentrated fruit flavours. Over 60 black grape varietals are planted in the terraced vertiginous slopes, led by the most prestigious, Touriga Nacional and supported by Tinta Roriz (called Tempranillo in Spain) amongst others.
Reserva in Portugal means an exceptional quality wine, but unlike in Italy and Spain, the term does not imply additional aging in barrel. Instead, Garrafeira is the Portuguese term for extended barrel aging. Quinta means a farm, literally, implying a single vineyard, while casa means a house, similar to chateau in French. Interpret a Douro red for yourself and open a bottle.
1) Quinta dos Aciprestes 2011, DOC Douro 14pc
Very tasty with firm tannins holding the concentrated black fruit flavours in focus. A graphite minerality adds interest and gives a drying finish.
€16.95 in Dublin at Donnybrook Fair; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Deveney's; Morton's; Redmond's; Baggot Street Wines; Jus de Vine; Nectar; D-Six; Sweeney's. O'Donovan's, Cork citywide and La Touche, Greystones
2) Charambra Reserva 2013, DOC Douro 13.5pc
A friendly attack of ripe and juicy blackberries supported by firm tannins and finishing with a mineral after-taste. Delicious with goats' cheese.
€13.99 at Florrie's, Waterford and in Dublin: Vintry, Rathgar; Drinks Store, Manor Street and McHugh's, Kilbarrack and Malahide Road
3) Crasto 2013, DOC Douro 14pc
A delicious taste experience cosseted in a velvety texture delivering a well-crafted balance between the black fruit flavours, mineral notes and tannins. Match with wild mushroom risotto.
€16 at Wines Direct, Mullingar and winedirect.ie
4) Cistus 2012, DOC Douro 14.5pc
Berry aromas and deep layers of black fruits with robust tannins on the palate. Full-bodied for gamy venison stew.
€13.99 at Dicey's, Ballyshannon and in Dublin at Mitchell & Son CHQ at IFSC, Glasthule and Avoca Handweavers
5) Papa Figos 2011, Casa Ferreirinha, DOC Douro 14pc
A fruity fragrance is reflected on the taste buds by an abundance of ripe black fruits and contrasted by mouth-drying tannins. A steak lover.
€17.99 at Blackrock Cellar, Dublin; Stack's, Listowel and Matson's, Bandon and Grange, Co Cork
6) Cedro do Noval 2009, Vinho Regional Duriense, Douro 14pc
Concentrated youthfully fresh with spicy oak dominating and still evolving. Will keep improving over the next few years.
€19.99 at Wines on the Green, Dawson Street; McCabe's, Blackrock and Martin's, Fairview. Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway