Douro is a DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) in the northeastern province of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro. The DOC produces both fortified and unfortified wines. The fortified wines from this region are released as DOC Port.
Douro can be divided into three distinct sub-zones. Baixa Corgo to the west has the highest density of plantings, the output of which mostly goes into bulk wines. The mountainous Cima Corgo to the east has the highest total vineyard acreage and the best reputation for quality. The area is so mountainous and the soil so hard and schistous that vineyards are planted on terraces carved out centuries ago by hand or, later, with dynamite. Douro Superior, the farthest east abutting the Spanish border, is the largest, most arid, and most sparsely planted region in Douro. This is the site of most new vineyards.
Demarcated in 1756, the Douro is the world’s first wine region and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wine has been made in Douro since the Roman Empire. The earliest mention of Port wine dates back to 1675 when it quickly became an important part of Portuguese trade with England. In fact, Port was invented when British merchants added brandy to the Portuguese wine they were shipping to England to help sustain it for the long journey. The Methuen Treaty between Portugal and England in 1703 allowed the British to establish Port lodges, explaining the Anglo names of many of today’s Port houses (e.g., Taylor, Graham, and Churchill). Historically, these Port houses used the seaside city of Porto as a nexus for trade. They would send wine from their inland vineyards down the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia, a suburb of Porto, for maturation in their lodges. Until 1986, when membership in the EU disrupted the monopoly, all Port wines were required to be aged and shipped from Vila Nova de Gaia. Removing these restrictions has made it easier for smaller Port producers to enter the industry.
From the 18th century, Douro almost exclusively produced Port. It wasn’t until 1952 that the winery Ferreira produced a dry, unfortified Douro wine and named it Barca Velha. Douro wines gained popularity in the ensuing decades, leading to an explosion of vineyard production in the Douro Superior sub-region. Demand has grown so much for Douro’s unfortified wine that it now makes up approximately 50% of the region’s output.
The Douro is one of the most mountainous regions in Portugal. The landscape is truly breathtaking – vineyards carved into towering mountains overlook the Douro River below. Because the roads are as winding as the river and public transit is poor, tourism has been limited and historically the Douro has been almost exclusively dedicated to producing Port. Recently, however, a tourism industry has been developing with river excursions departing from Porto and venturing into Douro wine country.
Porto, the coastal city that acts as Douro’s commercial nexus, is one of the oldest urban centers in Europe. Established in Roman times as a port city, Porto is a UNESCEO World Heritage site. Its stunning architectural and gastronomic legacy celebrates its centuries of uninterrupted history.
The cuisine of Douro is simple but hearty and reflects the region’s rugged terrain and long winters. Traditional meals highlight smoked ham, spicy sausage, and wild boar.