Travel Guide to Portugal

Douro Valley Wine Region

By Guest Author

Having lived and worked in Portugal for over 20 years, it would be impossible for us to favor one particular region, as the entire country is worth exploring. That being said, if you love Port wine, or are interested in visiting its birthplace, then you must tour the Douro Valley.

The Douro Valley is not only the oldest demarcated region in the world but a UNESCO heritage site. And while the region is best known for its Port wine, the Douro produces just as much table wine (non-fortified wines) as it does fortified wine. The non-fortified wines are typically referred to as “Douro wines”. 

From historic wine brands to small family-run boutique wineries, there is a wide range of tours and tastings to match your needs. For those keen to pair a Douro wine with food, several wineries feature in-house restaurants to explore regional flavors. 

Where is the Douro Wine Region?

      • Baixo Corgo (below the Corgo river): This subregion is closest to the city of Porto. Neighboring the mountain range of Serra do Marão, Baixo Corgo has the highest precipitation and most fertile soil of the three subregions.

      • Cima Corgo (above the Corgo river): The largest of the three subregions and considered the prime real estate of the valley. It’s here that the famous Port-producing Quintas are concentrated in the center of the Douro valley. 

      • Douro Superior (Upper Douro): This region stretches to the Spanish border and is the hardest to access. It is the highest and warmest of the subregions. For this reason, the region is known for its table wines. 

    Alto Douro Vinhateiro or Upper Douro Wine Region

    Douro Valley Wine Tour

    The Douro Valley is one of the 13 wine regions with Portugal’s highest wine classification DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) and is also one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The Douro River and its main tributaries, Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto and Pinhão, form the backbone of the mountainous landscape, protected from the strong Atlantic winds by the mountains of Marão and Montemuro. Wine has been produced in the region for approximately 2,000 years.

    First demarcated and regulated in 1756 by the Marques de Pombal, the Douro Valley is still the most regulated wine region in the world. 

    Portugal is a country brimming with natural beauty but the Douro Valley is considered one of the country’s ‘crowned jewels’. Vineyards cover every slope of the valley and have transformed this natural landscape into a playground for any wine lover. The breathtaking views are truly indescribable!

    While it is possible to explore the valley on your own, it’s we highly suggest hiring a qualified local Douro tour guide. Due to the extensive history, complex winemaking processes, and narrow, winding roads, local guides provide a considerable amount of context and support. 

    Some of the Best Douro Valley Wineries 

    Douro Valley Vineyards rows and terraces. Picture by Ramiro-- at Pixabay. Pixabay Licence.

    In the Douro Valley, wineries are a complex mix of traditional and modern enterprises. While some adhere to more modern winemaking practices, many wineries are returning to their roots, whereby producing Port Wines ethically and sustainably. Below are a few of Catavino’s suggested wineries that should be on your “tasting” list. 

    • Quevedo – Having over 5 generations of grape growing history, it was only in the 90’s that the brother and sister team of Oscar and Claudia began creating their own wines.
    • Tourais – A 17th-century Quinta once part of a Cistercian monk’s farm has now been remodeled to host wine tourism visits while maintaining the essentials of the original design.
    • Quinta dos Murças, Esporão – Located on the right bank of the Douro River is a historic Estate where, in 1947, the first vertical vineyards in the Douro were planted. Esporão is currently the largest organic vineyard in Portugal.
    • Quinta da Gaivosa – Awarded twice “Producer of the Year”; the father/son team is committed to respecting the land that has provided them with exceptional wines.
    • Quinta do Pôpa – Recently converted to organic, Pôpa is a fun place to stop on your way from Regua to Pinhão for a drop-in wine tasting.
    • Quinta do Bomfim – This winery is famous for producing Dow’s legendary Vintage Ports and some of the 20th century’s most renowned port wines. Stay for lunch and dine in their restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Pedro Lemos.
    • Quinta da Gricha – The Quinta has been restored and furnished but kept the essence of this historic house, combining its character with modern-day comforts. Today they have a few rooms you can stay in while enjoying the quiet surroundings.
    • Quinta do Vesúvio – The largest vineyard in the Douro, with 326 hectares, of which 133 hectares are planted with vines. They recently added a 5-star hotel to their offer.
    • Wine and Soul – Sandra and her husband Jorge run this winery with both quality and family at its core. Famous for their table wine Guru, today they offer a top selection of specialty port wines.
    • Quinta do Infantado – Known for being the first Quinta to bottle Port wines in the Douro region instead of bottling them in Vila Nova de Gaia. Infantado is a leader in sustainable winemaking in Portugal

    Wines found in the Douro Valley

    Portuguese wine tours

    Port Wine

    Port wine must come from the demarcated and regulated Douro Valley region in northern Portugal. Grapes destined for Port wine must also be grown and vinified within the wine appellation. 

    There are six main grapes used for the vast majority of Port wines: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela. Officially, there are 64 red and 48 white grape varieties approved for use in Ports. These grapes would often be planted as a “field blend,” where plantings were mixed together in the vineyard. Today, they’re often found as “block plantings,” where grapes are separated by type.

    After the grapes are picked, they are either foot trodden in stone tanks, called lagares, or placed in large stainless steel or concrete tanks where they are crushed. The grapes are then left in the tank or lagar for 1-4 days for fermentation to convert the sugars to alcohol. When about half of the sugar has been converted, brandy is added to stop fermentation. It is then transferred to large stainless steel or wooden tanks or casks to age for a minimum of 2 years. It’s only after this point that it is determined what type of Port they will become.

    There are over 10 distinct styles Port wine ranging from red to white. White Ports are made from white grapes, while Rosé Ports are often made with white and red grapes. Ruby and Tawny Ports are often made from red grapes, and occasionally white grapes. The difference between a Ruby Port and a Tawny Port is that Ruby Ports are generally aged primarily in bottle, while Tawny Ports are generally aged primarily in wood casks. 

    To explore a wide variety of Ports customized specifically to your taste, take our Port Wine Tasting Tour.

    Douro Table Wines

    Wine Girls of Portugal

    For most people, even for many wine geeks, Portuguese wine is uncharted territory. Aside from Port wine, the occasional bottle of Vinho Verde, or even Mateus Rosé, it’s relatively rare to come across Portuguese wine.

    Portugal’s sub-regions characterize the wines just as much as the grapes do, and sipping different wines is very much like taking a tour through the country itself. Each bottle speaks not only to the landscape from which it came but to the empathy and warmth of the people who pour themselves into the wine’s creation.

    Tucked in the northwestern corner of Portugal, along the Atlantic coast, lies the country’s coolest, wettest wine region, Vinho Verde. The region’s namesake blends, though literally translated as “green wine,” are typically white wines meant to be drunk young (or “green”). Red and rosé Vinho Verdes are produced as well, though in much smaller quantities.

    Surrounded by mountains, the Dão lies just below the Douro region and uses some of the same signature grapes to produce some of Portugal’s best reds, but often takes on more of an herbal quality here. Though hot and dry during the growing season, altitude helps to preserve freshness in Dão wines. 

    The best wines from Bairrada, a region west of the Dão, are mostly centered on the Baga grape. Here, you’ll find age-able wines ranging from light and delicate to dense and structured. 

    The hot, southern region of Alentejo, which covers nearly 30% of the entirety of Portugal, is starting to trend towards hand-crafted wines that show good acidity. More often you’ll find ripe, full whites and rich, structured reds.

    This is far from a comprehensive overview of the grapes, wines, and regions of Portugal; rather, it is a sampling of the diversity of Portuguese wine that you can explore on our Portuguese Tasting Tour. 

    Moscatel do Douro/Moscatel de Favaios

    Favaios Portugal

    Moscatel´s rich flavors are made with the white Moscatel Galego Grape. Often overlooked these wines age beautifully and pair extremely well with Portuguese cheeses. 

    Aged White Ports

    White Port is a style of wine few people have ever heard of. When aged, this wine shows incredibly aromatic flavors of honey and orange marmalade. The younger versions are fantastic to mix with tonic water to make the famous Port Tonic cocktail.

    Douro Sparkling Wine

    Elegant, delicate and bubbly with a bright and fruit-driven aroma. Made with grapes grown at higher altitudes, these wines are refreshing and a delicious way to start any meal.

    Douro Valley Wine Tours

    Favaios Portugal

    There are many reasons to book a wine tour in Portugal, primary of which is to have a trusted guide ensure that every tasting, tour and experience is specifically catered to your needs. In the Douro Valley, our tours and experiences provide cozy accommodations, traditional family-run restaurants, diverse and sustainable wine tastings, and stunning views of the Douro River. 

    So, if you are ready to discover some of the world’s most outstanding wineries and taste Port Wine produced in the Douro Region, then take a tour of the Douro Valley. Escape the routine and immerse yourself in a new culture with a tailored wine tour:

    Douro Valley: Full-Day Tour and Tasting

    Port Wine Tasting

    As one of our most popular Douro Valley tours, this option is wonderful if you’re looking for a spectacular day in the Douro!

        • Two winery visits with guided small-group wine tastings;

        • Traditional regional lunch highlighting local ingredients;

        • 1-hour leisurely Rabelo small-group boat cruise with wine.

      Douro Valley Premium Wine & Food Tour

      Organic / Natural Portuguese WIne Tasting Porto

      This private luxurious day tour is custom designed to meet your wine level, style and preference.

          • A private chauffeured vehicle with an English-speaking driver

          • Exclusive visit and premium wine tasting at two world-renowned wineries

          • Premium lunch at a traditional family-run restaurant

          • Private boat cruise along the Douro River with premium wines.

        Port Wine Tasting Tour

        Port wine tasting

        You’ll taste your way through the city at your desired pace and style! This experience will become a lifelong memory!

            • Expert Port Wine Guide and native English speaker

            • 30-minute call with your expert guide to fully customize your experience

            • Private and fully customized Port Wine Tasting and Walking Tour through Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia

          Wine Tasting: Introduction to Portuguese Wines

          Organic Portuguese Wine Tasting

          This is for those who don’t have the time to get to the Douro valley. In Porto, you’ll explore many rich and complex wines that will provide you with a new appreciation for Portuguese wines.

              • Comprehensive understanding of Portugal’s exciting wine culture

              • Taste 6 unique Portuguese wines while learning about their history, style,  and orient yourself to Portuguese wine styles

              • Receive a discount on any wines purchased in our retail shop, theLAB.

            Catavino Tour Itinerary Planning Service

            Festivals in the Douro

            An incredible team of passionate people will create a customized experience based on your specific needs. Throughout your trip, we will provide VIP personalized customer service from the beginning to the end of your trip! Our guides and chauffeurs speak fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese (among other languages).

                • Accommodation suggestions with multiple options

                • Tours or Experiences based on your interests

                • Restaurants that cater to your dietary needs or interests

                • Logistics and transport suggestions

              What to know before visiting Douro Wine Region

              Enjoying this region’s scenic beauty with its numerous wine cellars alongside the Douro River is more than enough reason for the Douro Valley to be a top destination for your next holiday. The Douro Valley will charm you with breathtaking views, diverse architecture, mouth-watering food and, of course, the distinctive Port Wines.

              But before you visit the quiet serenity of the Douro Valley, check out this post: The Douro Valley: Why and what to visit. You will find everything you need to know about touring the Douro including: must-see places, wineries, local cuisine, and valuable information on how to get to the Douro Valley and where to stay.

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