Portugal's Douro valley is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world. It's also one of the most beautiful. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Douro is lined with terraced vineyards bordered by schist walls on vertiginous slopes. This tour explores a mix of large Porto houses and small, boutique estates.
Day 1: Welcome to Oporto.
At 9 a.m. we begin with a walking tour of Oporto, a lovely port town with baroque churches and tiled facades. We’ll hear why taxes and a war with France drove the British into the welcoming arms of the Portuguese, where they seized upon Porto as a replacement for embargoed Bordeaux. At 11 a.m., we take a river cruise, passing under 6 bridges, including one designed by Monsieur Eiffel. Lunch is on your own, perhaps at one of the dockside restaurants. Then we shuttle across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where Port is aged in riverside lodges. We visit Calem for a 3 p.m. tour, then go to Kopke for a private tasting. Founded in 1638 by a Dutch family, Kopke is the oldest Port shipper of foreign origin and has stocks of tawny port that go back to 1938. Dinner at an elegant river-view restaurant introduces Portuguese cuisine, which includes such dishes as kale soup (caldo verde), chouriço sausage, sucking pig (leitâo assado), and 365 versions of codfish (bacalhau). D Pestana Porto.
Day 2: The historic port lodges.
At 10:00 a.m., we visit Graham’s (f.1820), where we’ll delve in the styles of Porto and learn the differences between ruby, tawny, late-bottled vintage (LBV), and vintage. Here we’ll see the various aging methods, including cigar-shaped barrels called “pipes” for tawny and massive oak casks for ruby. Tasting two flights of Graham’s rubies and tawnies will then help crystallize the lesson. Lunch will be in Vila Nova. Then at 3 p.m., we visit the tasting room of Quevedo, an up-and-coming Port producer who is one of the most visible Port presences on social media. After that, there’s free time for the rest of the day. You can either linger in Vila Nova and visit more tasting rooms on your own, walking back to the hotel. Or we can shuttle you directly there. Dinner on your own in Oporto. B Pestana Porto.
Day 3: The Douro boys.
Port is aged in Oporto, but its grapes are grown 90 miles upstream. In the morning, we leave at 10:30 and drive up the Douro Valley to the Cima Corgo, where many of the finest vineyards lie. We arrive in time for lunch at Quinta do Nápoles, the oldest estate (quinta) owned by Niepoort. Although this Dutch family has been making Port since 1842, we’re here to taste their dry table wine. Since buying this property in 1987, Dirk Niepoort has supervised its wholesale transformation, turning a dilapidated quinta into a sleek state-of-the-art winery. As one of the so-called “Douro Boys,” he has also spearheaded a dynamic revolution in premium dry wine taking place in the Douro today. During a hearty, home-cooked lunch, we’ll taste some of these top-scoring wines, many of which are sourced from old, field-blend vineyards owned by 100 different growers. (We’re sure to sample some of their delectable Ports, too!) Then we visit Sandeman’s Pinhao property, Quinta do Seixo. Tonight we settle into our second hotel, which is also a winery, Casa de Casal de Loivos, perched high above Pinhão. Dinner is in Pinhao at LBV, a waterside restaurant. B, L, D LBV House Hotel.
Day 4: Quintas big and small.
Take the 9:40 train to Tua, where the folks from Grahams will pick us up and shuttle us to Quinta dos Malvedos on the confluence of the Douro and Tua rivers. This is Graham’s flagship vineyard, considered to be one of the Upper Douro’s finest vineyards, which forms the backbone of Graham’s Port in vintage years. Here we’ll see some vintage lagares (large stone troughs) where foot-treading takes place alongside more modern vinification techniques. After a leisurely lunch in Tua, we’ll return to Pinhão by train, then drive to Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, the smallest of the Douro Boy wineries. Formerly with Quinta do Noval, owner Cristiano van Zeller is slowly reviving his in-laws’ property, which was abandoned and in complete ruin. Now he makes drop-dead-gorgeous table wines here, as well as luscious ruby and LBV ports. Our charismatic host will regale us with Van Zeller family history, a truly fascinating narrative that includes a grandfather who introduced Tinto Roriz (tempranillo) into Portugal, spearheaded age designations for tawny, and possibly created the LBV style. Tonight’s dinner is at DOC, the area’s top restaurant, located on the Douro river. B, D LBV House Hotel.
Day 5 – The most beautiful train ride in the world.
The Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today we’ll soak up its awesome beauty. The occasion is a scenic train ride from Pinhão to the Douro Superiore, the driest, hottest, and most remote region for Port grapes. We’ll take the train to Pocihno, the eastern terminus of the Douro railway, just shy of the Spanish border. (There’s nothing to see in Pocihno, so we’ll have 40 minutes to kill at the station before our return trip.) For lunch, we can either eat in Pinhao or head to Regua, a larger river town in the Baixo Corgo, where, if time allows, we can stop in its wine museum. Our final winery visit is the Quinta da Gaivosa, a winery created in 1987 by Domingos Alves de Sousa, a grapegrower who had previously supplied the big Port houses with grapes, and now makes stellar table wines and Ports, including the cult wine Abadonado. Then it’s back to Pinhão to freshen up and get ready for dinner at a winery and B&B, Quinta do Passadouro in the beautiful Vale de Mendiz. The winery manager will show us around the facility, a smaller-sized operation that makes exceptionally good Port and dry wine, and his wife will cook up a storm! We’ll dine al fresco and break out the Passodouro wines. B, D LBV House Hotel.
Cost: $3,195 (6 days/5 nights); single room supplement $350.
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