Thursday, 27 March 2014

Top 5 Wine Regions to Visit : #1 - Dynamite Douro Valley

By Sarah Turner

There was a time not so long ago when if you pulled up at a winery wanting to taste wine, you’d receive a shrug and a point in the direction of the local wine shop. These days, wineries are much more welcoming (especially the ones we work with!) and often you can drink, eat and even sleep there to fully immerse yourself in the wine experience. Topping my list of favourite wine regions to visit is the beautiful Douro Valley.

Why visit?
Spectacular, jaw-dropping, breathtaking scenery (this is one instance where it’s impossible to exaggerate). The area is so mountainous and the soil so hard that vineyards are planted on terraces carved out of the mountains using dynamite. Then there are the wines. You don’t have to love port to appreciate the Douro – they also make world-class table wines and a mean white port spritzer (the Douro equivalent of a G&T). But even if you arrived ambivalent about their famous fortified wines, I’d be surprised if you didn’t fall head over heels by the end of your trip.

Before you head up the Douro River, spend a couple of days in Oporto and visit the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. Many of the famous-name houses have excellent tours and tastings, including Taylors, Grahams, Sandemans and Croft. Be sure to make time for lunch at the Taylor’s Baroa de Fladgate restaurant and take in the stunning views along with great food.

For tasting in the Douro itself, visit the Quinta Nova wine house (the producer behind our Pomares wines) at the Pinhaõ railway station – worth a visit itself for the magnificent blue-tiled walls. It has a wine museum and you can taste a selection of wines in the shop but better still is to head up into the vineyards and stay at their 18th century manor house hotel.

Where to stay:
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo hotel is tucked away among the vineyards with its own restaurant, wine bar and swimming pool. When you’re tired of wine tasting (?), there are olive oil tastings, breadmaking workshops, winecaching (like a wine treasure hunt!) and walking trails to enjoy. You can even help out with the harvest if you visit at the right time of year. If this all sounds too much like hard work (those vineyards are seriously steep), you’re in the right place to relax with a good book or simply soak up the views.

How to get there:
You can fly directly to Oporto with budget airlines, Flybe, Ryanair and Easyjet. Then comes the fun part – travelling up the Douro. You can choose to hire a car but you’ll have to contend with scarily narrow roads, hairpin bends and even scarier Portuguese drivers. The alternative is to take the train which is one of the most sensational railway journeys in the world and highly recommended– you could even combine it with a return journey via boat. You can arrange pick up from Ferrão railway station with the hotel. Whatever you do, don’t be put off by the journey, because once you’re there, I guarantee you won’t want to leave.

Wines to get you in the mood for your trip:

Averys 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Taylors), Averys Late Bottled Vintage Port (Taylors), Pomares Branco and Pomares Tinto (Quinta Nova), Socalco Douro (Duorum)

Look out for #2 in my top 5 wine regions to visit - Truffle Hunting in Piedmont - coming soon...

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