There are few places where wine has had such a profound impact on the history, culture and very existence of the inhabitants as in the Douro, and there is no place where wine has had such a dramatic impact on the landscape.
Wine has been made here for at least two millennia and most probably even longer. Its modern importance has roots in the animosity between England and France in the 17th century. England boycotted or taxed French wine punitively and granted trade advantages to the Portuguese. Deprived of their beloved claret, English wine drinkers soon pragmatically developed a taste for Port, the Douro wine named after the port from which it was shipped. To protect the quality of the wine, the Douro wine making region was demarcated in 1756, one of the first in the world.
This wine was at the time in principle simply unfortified red wine. By the 19th century, however, the process whereby neutral grape spirit with an extremely high alcohol level is added to the fermenting grape juice had been perfected. This arrests the fermentation by killing the yeast cells before all the sugar in the grapes have been converted into alcohol, leaving sweet wine with a high alcohol percentage, “fortified” against the rigours of the sea journey to England. It has basically been made the same way since.
In the last few decades, however, there has been a marked swing back to unfortified or simply “Douro”, wine. Tastes have changed and it now seems incredible to read old accounts of a single person having a few bottles of Port during a meal. While there are attempts at increasing Port consumption, for example by promoting its use in long drinks such as “Port tonic”, Port is predominantly seen as an after dinner drink and even then mostly reserved for special occasions. There is now at least as much Douro wine as Port.
And the world is a better place for it. Port is now being made as well and better than ever alongside excellent and unique Douro wines. In fact, the quality of Port is being improved by the lessons learned in making Douro wine. And the exceptional terroir, vast number of grape cultivars and relatively recent focus on unfortified wines mean that there is still huge potential waiting to be tapped.
There is nothing like drinking and learning about these magnificent wines right where they are produced.