Welcome to the Valley of Gold: Douro, Portugal

The Douro River Valley has steep and twisting canyons that have been sculpted over the years into terraces by hard-working farmers. The birthplace of port wine, the Douro River Valley was demarcated in 1756 by the Marquis of Pombal and is one of the oldest regulated wine regions in the world.  It is also one of the most beautiful regions in the world to visit. Indeed, this spectacular region was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. It’s not surprising, given the history and beauty of this place. I was rendered speechless by the majesty of this region, this valley of gold, and what it has to offer.

While there are numerous theories on why this region was called Douro, the name might be traced to the Celtic god of water Durius, or perhaps to the phrase “De ouro,” which means “gold” in Portuguese. Either way, this region is a region of many riches and experiences to be had.  While this valley is known primarily for its port wine, it is now starting to be recognized also for its high-quality table wines.  All of these wines come from the terraced vineyards of Portuguese grapes, such as you can see in the photo below.

The Douro River actually begins in north central Spain, where it is called Duero; it then flows from there to Porto, Portugal, where it is called Douro.

How to get there: As you can see from the map below, the easiest way to get to the Douro River Valley is actually via a flight from Lisbon to Porto.  Then you can travel by boat or train to Régua or Pinhão, the two most popular cities of the Douro River Valley.

Plan on spending at least two days in this beautiful valley. Port wine enthusiasts will likely want more days to visit all the beautiful Quintas (country inns or estates) along the river. When planning your trip from Porto, it is about two hours in car, or two to three hours by train, to the cities of Régua or Pinhão. It is advisable to visit during the week, since weekends in the summertime may be quite busy.

 GLPWorldwide.com Map of Enticing Douro

Where to visit: Quinta de Covela– S. Tomé de Covelas Covela My recommendation would be to take the train from the São Bento station in Porto directly to Régua. While in Régua, stop off and visit the Vinho Verde region of the valley. Visit Quinta de Covela, where some of the best tasting Vinho Verde is made. (The direct translation of vinho verde is “green wine,” otherwise known as white wine.)  Under the management of Mr. Tony Smith, part owner of Quinta de Covela, and renowned winemaker, Rui Cunha, Quinta de Covela has come back from near ruin to prosperity.  Their award-winning wines are making strides in the wine world—in particular, their Covela Escolha Branco 2012, and my personal favorite, COVELA Edição Nacional Branco.  This last wine is made with 100% Avesso grapes.  I had the pleasure of enjoying their wines and their beautiful Quinta this past fall. I even had the chance to go running with the Covela dogs, Teddy, Alef and Spot, through the small towns of Portinha and Covelas. Stay tuned for my interview with Mr. Tony Smith.

Quinta de Napoles– Niepoort Winery in Santo Adrião Niepoort, while well-known in Portugal for their high-end quality Ports, their modern still wines are stunning. I have yet to have a Niepoort that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.  This beautiful Quinta de Napoles is situated in the town of Santo Adrião and has a brand new facility with state of the art equipment and a spectacular view of the valley. If not for the wines, come for the view.

State of the art facilities at Niepoort.

State of-the-art facilities at Quinta de Napoles of Niepoort

What to experience: 

One of the most beautiful times of the year to visit this region is during harvest, usually around September of each year.  If you happen to visit during this time, I recommend taking a three-hour boat river trip along the Douro River, starting in the morning to mid-day, and departing from Pinhão.  You can take the train back to Regua and spend the evening at Quinta Sta Eufêmia, where you can experience grape stomping in traditional lagares (a large, typically stone trough in which grapes are stepped on and pressed, separating the grape skin from the pulp to create must, grape juice).

When I first came here with the University of La Rioja as part of my master’s program in viticulture and enology, I left with unforgettable memories, including wading in grapes while dancing to accordion and drums at Quinta Santa Eufêmia Winery in the Douro River Valley. Take a look!

Quinta de Vesuvio– W.J. Grahams of Symington Family Estates

I had the pleasure of studying under Pedro Leal of Symington Family Estates and experiencing harvest in the Douro River Valley for the 2011 Vintage at one of the most prestigious and well-known Quintas, Quinta de Vesuvio.  The 2011 Vintage is now known as one of the best years for wine in general, as well as the best Vintage year for port wine.  I was honored to be a part of the punch downs of the Tinta Roiz (also known as Tempranillo grape varietal) while I was there.  Watch this:

Where to eat:

While there are plenty of great places to eat, one of my most memorable and exquisite experiences was at the Restaurante DOC- Rui Paula in the town of Folgosa, located off Estrada Nacional 222:

tel.: +351 254 858 123, e-mail: doc@ruipaula.com.

Every small plate was paired with a regional wine. Needless to say, there were many glasses of wine and many, many memories to pair it with.

Here is an example of their version of Terra/Mar or Surf and Turf.  All I can say is that it was one of the best meals I had ever had in my life.

If all of this isn’t reason enough to visit, I don’t know what is.  Time for you to add this beautiful valley of gold, the Douro River Valley, to your list of must-see places!

Note:  It is highly recommended to call or e-mail for reservations at this world-class restaurant.

If you are interested in having me lead you through a tour of the valley to a number of unforgettable Quintas in the Douro River valley, please contact me to discuss options.

About.me/aprilyaphennig

Oregon’s Top Values Under $20

Thankgiving is a time for sharing–Why not share a wine that won’t break the bank?

After moving to Oregon, I was stunned not only by the incredible Pinots but also by the price of these beauties. I decided to go in search of the best values in the Willamette Valley. It is often a question I get asked from friends from out of state, and I decided it was time to create a list of some of my favorites.  With the help of other bloggers and lots of visits to local wineries, I found four top values just in time for the holidays. With all of these wines priced under $20, why not enjoy all four?  Cheers!

Amycas_2011

2011 Oregon Brooks AmyCas– $15

This Alsatian-style white wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (27%), Riesling  (26%), Pinot Gris (20%), Gewurztraminer (14%), and Muscat (13%).  This blend makes this a very interesting and versatile white wine with crisp acidity and a touch of residual sugar.

Tasting Notes: Lychee, rose petal, and white floral with a lemon-lime finish.

Winemaker: Chris Williams of Brooks Winery

Thanksgiving pairing: Due to its versatility, you could pair this wine with a spicy turkey dish or simply with a white meat such as chicken or veal with a creamy sauce(especially with mushrooms).

 Visit them from 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday with no appointment necessary. For more information, click here.

Rainstorm_Pinot_Gris

2012 Oregon Rainstorm Pinot Gris – $14

Rainstorm is a 100% Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley which has been aged on its lees for 4 months, giving the wine a nice roundness.   With 0.4 percent residual sugar, it is not an overly dry wine and offers good acidity and modest 12.5% alcohol, making it a refreshing wine to drink alone or with food.  This 2012 Vintage is a vintage that is clearly showing amazing wines and character. Act soon to get your hands on many 2012 whites and reds from Oregon.

Awards: 89 Points – Wine Spectator

Tasting notes: Lemon-grapefruit crispness, some tropical fruit, and stone fruits like apricot, with a bit of slate and minerality.

Winemaker:  Nicolas Quille of Rainstorm Winery

Thanksgiving pairing:  I picked this particular Pinot Gris as it was a medium-bodied Pinot Gris that wouldn’t get lost in the spices and butter of traditional Thanksgiving cooking. Brussel sprouts tend to be commonplace in Thanksgiving dinners. One option would be to cook the Brussel sprouts with bacon in order to create bitter and salty components to that dish, which would then create an ideal contrast and pairing. The crisp acidity of this wine will cut through the bitterness and saltiness, creating a pairing to remember.

You can find their wines in national chain supermarkets and most recently at Costco. For more information, click here. 

2010 Oregon Evening Land Celebration Gamay Noir – Eola-Amity Hills– $19Gamay Noir

Celebration Gamay Noir was a gem of a surprise for me after visiting the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee, Oregon. This is not a typical varietal seen in Oregon, as Gamay Noir is more notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley. Here in Oregon, it is grown organically and bio-dynamically.

Gamay Noir is actually a close relative to Pinot Noir. Gamay Noir is a cross between Pinot Noir and an ancient white varietal, Gouais. Today, Gamay Noir is commonly made into Rosé or into a young table wine that is uncomplicated and easily drinkable.

Tasting Notes: Medium-bodied, with a beautiful balance of acidity and freshness with ripe red fruit, cranberries and raspberries. It has a touch of herbaceousness and earth, making this wine an easily pair-able wine for Thanksgiving

Winemaker: Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land Vineyards

Thanksgiving pairing:  Given its medium body and fruit, this wine would be well suited for white-meat pairings like pork, chicken, or an herb-roasted turkey.  You could even pair it with some light cheeses as appetizers.

Visit them in Dundee  Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except major holidays. For more information, click here

Pinot_Noir_Underwood

2012 Oregon Underwood Pinot Noir– $10.99

Now, this is a Pinot Noir I have been wanting to talk about for a while. A blend of a number of different vineyards throughout Oregon, this 2012 Pinot Noir from Union Wine Company embodies the 2012 vintage by showing the beautiful ripeness of the season and what Oregon can offer at a great pricepoint like $11.  Made by up-and-coming winemaker Ryan Harms, this wine is made for “working people” and at a price point that everyone can afford.

Awards: Best Buy – Wine Enthusiast

Tasting Notes:  Easily drinkable Pinot Noir with ripe red fruit of raspberries and black cherries with a medium body. Clean, with some earthiness.

Winemaker: Ryan Harms of Union Wine Company

Thanksgiving pairing:  Pinot Noir is probably one of the easiest things to pair when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. With this medium-bodied Pinot Noir, a beautifully roasted turkey in a light marinade would make it a great pairing. Given the versatility of Pinot Noir, this wine would also pair wonderfully with a bone-in ham and corn stuffing.

You can find their wines in New Seasons and Whole Seasons. For more information, click here. 

Other Great Values for Thanksgiving:

If you have any wines you would like me to try out and to evaluate, please leave your recommendation in the comments. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I have not been gifted any of these wines nor paid to evaluate them. I purchased these wines from the wineries or from wine stores independently to create this post. Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday! Cheers! 

The 2013 Harvest in Oregon

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According to NPR, September was the wettest September since they started recording the rainfall in Oregon.

It seemed that 2013 was going to be just like 2012 with Winemakers predicting harvest would take place two weeks earlier than 2012 given the unseasonably dry spring and warm summer. However as the smaller bunches started to mature and was almost ready to pick, there was a large amount of humidity and eventually rain that hit in the last few weeks of September. This lead to many wineries picking early to avoid the onslaught of rain that drenched the state the last week of September. However, for some wineries, the fruit just wasn’t ready and let it hang longer.20131012-161235.jpg

As a winemaker, you run many risks in doing this but you may win the battle against mother nature if you know just when to pick. Picking after the rains meant you obtained more ripeness but ran the risk of botrytis, berry burst or worse, berry rot. For the lucky ones this meant losing 1-5% of the affected crop, for others this meant losing the entire crop. I’ve know of a few who scrapped the entire lot as it just wasn’t up to the standards they needed and didn’t harvest this year.

With a dry spring, the berries were already quite small in development, the warm summer was ideal to ripen these small clusters, and it would have been an ideal harvest for all of Oregon, had it remained dry. It didn’t and many winemakers made different calls leading to what you would call an interesting vintage with a number of variations. Some call it one of the rainiest and most difficult vintages they’ve ever seen. With that said, Oregonians have never been the ones to let that stop them.

Overall, it should make for an all around interesting 2013 vintage.