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Final Thoughts on the Douro and Portuguese Wine

From the moment I first visited Porto in the winter of 2003 I have been in love with this city. I’m not entirely sure what grabbed me, but whatever it was, it’s never let go. Sitting in my room at the Yeatman Hotel, overlooking the Douro river and the colorful hillside of Porto’s historic center, I feel incredibly fortunate to be here. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is diverse and exciting. And the downtown is undergoing a revival, where new shops, restaurants and hotels are popping up like mushrooms after the fall rain, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Rain can be absolutely magical, especially when the river sparkles from little pitter-patters of gentle drops; but it can also be a curse when your glass runs low of Port as you snuggle up to a warm fire.

Recently, I celebrated Portugese wine at the Yeatman Holiday Tasting, where 70 producers each showed 2 wines from across the country. Thinking back, it’s been about a year or so from when I last tasted such a concentrated selection of Portuguese wines, and to be perfectly honest, Portuguese wine is incredible. I’m still amazed that it’s not a requirement for every restaurant menu around the globe! And I’m not just saying this because I love the country, but because the wines are truly stunning and diverse. Take the Yeatman Tasting. Beatriz Machado, the wine director at the Yeatman, hand-selected every wine for the Holiday Tasting, and despite the quality being slightly skewed, how many tastings feature 140 wines that are both easily drinkable and thought provoking? Not to mention with prices ranging from 4€ to almost 300€ retail. That’s what I call, diversity.

From an array of espumantes that amazed me with their level of quality to contrasting fortified wines showing many facets from the Port trade including: Colheitas, Old Vintages, 30 year Tawnies, and so much more. The still wines showcased Viognier that weren’t flabby, Loureiro that shined, intense reds that dazzled by their powerful elegance. I would imagine that any wine buyer would have had an incredibly difficult time at this tasting. With such variety it was hard to nail down the “Portuguese taste”. Spain has Tempranillo. France has Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. Italy has Sangiovese. Germany has Riesling. And Austria has Gruner Veltiner. Every country has their unique identity they perpetually fall back upon. And yet Portugal is still working to craft its identifying brand.

A few years ago, Portugal tried to put Touriga Nacional as its identifying grape, a grape we love so much that we named our cat after it. However, it’s a grape that unites others, but rarely stands on its own. Portugal is too diverse to put all its “eggs in one basket”.

Diversity is what we love and diversity should be Portugal’s calling card. If that confuses the masses, so be it, but it’s why we love it.

Many people suggest that Portugal needs to move beyond Port, to which I say bull***t. Portugal would be losing an appendage if it moved “beyond Port”. Port is misunderstood. Port is magic. However, Port is surrounded by Douro reds and whites. Its neighbors are those of Vinho Verde, the Dão and Barraida. Vinho Verde is said to to be lacking seriousness. It is serious! It’s deadly serious and can age for over a decade, which is notable for a white, but many people never take the time to do so. True Vinho Verde can be playful and light, but tell that to Ameal, with wines that are thought-provoking and meditative. Barraida is “difficult” you hear? No way! Baga is so versatile it creates sparkling wines that pull at your heart strings and dense reds that battle the thickest steak with finesse. The further south you go the more diversity there is: Alentejo, Tejo, Setúbal, Colares and so much more. Portugal is a varied and amazing wine country. This particular weekend reawakened me to how special Portugal really is.

Portugal is the aperitif, first course, main course and dessert of fine wine dining. There is no one particular strength. There  are many.

One last thought as we wrap up our month of Douro and Port wines here at Catavino. When it comes to Portugal, the promotion of one grape or style will only hurt Portugal as a whole. Celebrate the diversity, but do so through wine tourism. Tourism sells wine. In a country that is only 349 miles (562 km) from top to bottom and 135 miles(218 km) east to west there is a diversity of landscapes that can cater to all. The prices are affordable; the hotels are downright cheap; the restaurants are dynamic and evolving; the people are pure kindness; and language is not an issue, as the majority of the population speaks English.

Would Portugal be a good place for a vacation for my family? Yes! In the coming months, we’ll be adding more tours to our tours page, to ensure we offer you several options to explore Portugal. But don’t wait for us, book a trip this year. Come to Portugal. We’ll be waiting for you.


Ryan Opaz

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