Not just spectacular in appearance, but in difficulty to work — the vineyard terraces of the Douro Valley.

Lauren Mowery

Though port remains one of the greatest wines in the world, it’s no secret the sweet fortified category has struggled to attract a younger audience. In a world focused on fresh, dry and new vintages, one might ask if port runs the risk of dying out. If that sounds outlandish, let me explain.

The region from which it hails, the Douro Valley, stands as a 9th wonder of the world with its breathtaking stone terraces hugging the contours of the riverside landscape. But those steep, sloped terraces are a beast to farm; backbreaking to harvest. And without good jobs in the valley, of which there are few, most folks fled to cities. Hard work, low wages, no people. Mechanization will be part of the solution. Drones have been discussed. But money for investment is needed and it can’t only derive from slumping sales of port. So, what’s the future of the valley? In part, dry table wines – which is where the Primeira Prova tasting event factors in.

The Douro Boys, a group of likeminded wine producers from leading estates, joined forces to celebrate, promote and market Douro Valley wines. Though technically competitors, they embraced the adage “a rising tide floats all boats.” Representing the following wine estates – Quinta do Vallado, Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale D. Maria, and Quinta Vale Meão – each member brings his own unique charisma, personality and commitment to quality. They also have a commitment to producing dry wines and sharing them with consumers and media as part of the new Douro.

To this end, the Primeira Prova serves as a Portuguese version of en primeur in Bordeaux, without the advance sales. It’s the chance to introduce international press to recent vintages and late released wines. And despite the 2017 vintage declaration, the majority of wines shown by 26 producers were white and red table wines.

The event, held in Régua in the heart of the valley, entails four days of silent tasting, culminating in reviews and scores for around 220 wines. I participated as the sole ambassador for the United States, as most writers hailed from European zones. Countries represented: Canada, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Czechia, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Austria.

The organizers of the event, Wine + Partners run by Dorli Muhr, held the tasting in the bosom of wine country, where it belongs. It used to be in Porto. As they astutely observed, how can one know a wine without knowing its origin? The Douro Valley’s landscape is incomparable to any place on earth, and the first wine region protected by UNESCO. Thus, an annual event has been born with next year’s iteration likely to take place in June 2020 in Régua again.

Now, for the wines. I’m giving prices in Euros because my selections won’t necessarily be in the U.S. soon and they’ll have different prices depending on the market, anyway. But if you’re in Portugal, you can expect prices to align with the ones listed in this article. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is to double the Euro price to get the approximate dollar value (after shipping, taxes, fees to import are paid.)

Here are my top twelve wines for value (in no particular order).

1. Lavradores de Feitoria, Lavradores de Feitoria 2017, 4.30 €

Made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, this dry wine has the sweet red fruits Americans loved to drink, especially at this price point.

2. Lavradores de Feitoria, 3 Bagos Reserve 2017, 8.50 €

A step up in price and the wine shows it, but it’s still a killer point. A blend of classic grapes Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, the wines is meaty, candied, and floral. Would be a great by-the-glass pour in the U.S.

3. Niepoort, Vertente 2017, 13.50 €

This field blend from Niepoort demonstrates why Portuguese reds are an amazing value and full of character. Vibrant, ripe fruits and fresh flowers on the nose and palate. Doesn’t get more complex than that, but that’s okay. It’s not for the cellar, it’s for drinking.

4. Quinta do Crasto, Crasto Red 2017, 9.90 €

This quinta knows what they’re doing. From their entry level wines to their singular old vine vineyards, most wines excel in their category. This blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca is brambly, black-fruited and spicy with a touch of rusticity. A perfect weeknight bottle.

5. Quinta da Rosa Vinhos SA, QLE Red Wine 2017, 10.00 €

Value done right. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca, this dry red is fresh, vibrant, and fruity with framing tannins. A good food wine at the right price. Lots stuffed inside that would appeal to American consumers.

6. Quinta do Noval, Cedro do Noval, 2017, 13.70 €

A blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Touriga Franca, this dry red presents Pez candy, violets, and crushed rock on the nose. On the palate, tomato leaf, glossy red fruits and a pretty tannin profile. Again, bang for the buck here.

7. Quinta do Pessegueiro, Aluzé Red 2017, 11.00 €

Red blend based on Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, this wine has a lovely aromatic profile especially for 11.00 € . It’s a great introduction to the Douro Valley for American consumers who like the tannins and fruit in Cabernet Sauvignon but want to try something new.

8. Quinta do Vale Meão, Meandro do Vale Meão, 2017, 12.00 €

A blend of Touriga Nacional (45%), Touriga Franca (33%), Tinta Roriz (15%), Tinta Barroca (5%), Alicante Bouschet (2%), offers Turkish delight, rose petals, violets, Pez, crushed rock. The nose is gorgeous for a 12 euro wine. On the palate, red ripe strawberries and tomato vine. Delicious.

9. Quinta dos Murças, Assobio Red, 7.50 €

A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz, this Assobio is another great value given the pleasures of the aroma, the concentration of fruits, ripe tannins and overall freshness.

10. Ramos Pinto, Duas Quintas Red 2017, 11.90 €

From the great tawny port producer comes this dry red blend of traditional Douro varieties (Tinta Roriz, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Barroca, Sousão, Tinto cão, Tinta Amarela). Fresh red fruits, mineral notes, and a dusty cocoa character, bolstered by good concentration and freshness for the price.

11. Wine & Soul, Manoella Red 2017, 12.00 €

A blend of 65% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Tinta Francisca, this wine brims with fresh roses, dusty cacao, and ripe black and red fruits. It’s a fairly soft, sensual, and shapely wine though full-bodied with firm tannins that are ripe and round. Fantastic value, drinking beautifully now.

12. Symington, Altano Organic Red, 2017, 6.50 €

No grapes were listed with this blend, so assume something similar to the above. Despite the relative ease of organic farming in the Douro (dry, warm weather), not many wines/wineries are certified, so it’s nice to see a sub-10 € wine in that category. Overall, it’s fairly simple and fruity with rustic tannins, but appeals for its straightforward approach and ease of drinking.

Tomorrow: my top twelve wines overall.

 



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