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Douro Valley Wine Tour, Portugal

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 6 day(s)
Group Size: 4 - 14 people
Destination(s): Portugal  
Specialty Categories: Food & Wine  
Season: May
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: No
Minimum Per Person Price: 3295 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 3295 US Dollar (USD)

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. Here they make both traditional Port as well as dry premium table wine under a new Douro Valley appellation.

This 6-day wine tour starts in Oporto, where the Port aging lodges were built in the 1700s. At wineries like Grahams and Taylor Fladgate, we’ll get a crash course in the history and categories of Port. There’s also a river cruise and walking tour of this lovely Baroque city.

Then we move upstream, to where the vines grow. Here we’ll visit historic estates and also meet some of the pioneers, including the “Douro Boys” who launched a new class of dry table wine here. Highlights include lunch at the wineries Quinta do Passadouro and Quinta do Napoles, a scenic train ride up the Douro river, and nightly wine dinners.

Day 1. Welcome to Oporto.
Welcome to our Douro Valley wine tour! 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 viable replacement for embargoed Bordeaux. A river cruise follows, passing under 6 bridges, including one designed by Monsieur Eiffel. Lunch is on your own, perhaps at one of the dockside restaurants.

We then cross the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where Port is aged in riverside lodges. We start our crash course in Port at Churchill’s, one of the newer British port companies (f. 1981), where we’ll taste in style in their newly inaugurated visitor’s center. 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).

Day 2. The historic port lodges.
This morning 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, either at Taylor-Fladgate’s classy restaurant or at a more informal brew-pub on the river.

Our second stop is the wine museum of Ramos Pintos (f. 1880), which showcases the early days of Port. The Ramos family pioneered the marketing of Port to new international markets like Brazil—and the use of racy images in advertising! José Ramos Pintos Rosa became known as “the Pope of the Duoro” because of his pioneering experiments in viticulture and mechanization. His research, together with current winemaker João Nicolau de Aldeida, helped determine the top five grape varieties in the Douro. Dinner on your own in Oporto.

Day 3. The Douro boys.
Port is aged in Oporto, but its grapes are grown 90 miles upstream. In the morning, we 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 the historic Quinta do Noval (f. 1715), which lays claim to the creation of the LBV style of Port and also crafts its exceptional Vintage Nacional wine from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines. Tonight we settle into our second hotel, which is also a winery, Casa de Casal de Loivos, perched high above Pinhão. Dinner is at the hotel.
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Day 4. Quintas big and small.
The oldest British-owned Port firm is Warre’s (f. 1670), now in the Symington fold. We’ll drive upstream to its flagship estate, Quinta da Cavadinha, a prime source of grapes for Warre’s Vintage Port, known for an elegant house style. This property also has an experimental vineyard, where clones and varieties are tested. After lunch, it’s time for a change of pace, with a venture into Moscatel territory at Secret Spot Wines. In 2004, noted winemaking consultants Rui Walter da Cunha and Gonçcalo Sousa Lopes teamed up to make their own “auteur wines,” working with small plots of old wines. We’ll see what they’ve accomplished, including a 40 Year Moscatel do Douro, a version of Portugal’s other noteworthy dessert wine.

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.
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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 Spainish 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’ll eat with the locals in Pinhao.

Our final winery is 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. We finish the day with dinner in Pinhão, either at the upscale LBV or the homey, traditional Ponte Romana.
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Day 6. Boa Viagem!
Drive to Lisbon airport (3-1/3 hours; if anyone flies from Porto, we can detour there). En route to Lisbon, if time allows we'll stop at Coimbriga, a Roman settlement with a dazzling array of floor pavements still intact. B

Supplemental Tour Information:
Arrive and depart: Lisbon or Oporto (contact for details).

Tour Guide Credentials:
The tour-operator owners are your guide(s).

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

Price Includes:
- 5 nights accommodations (double room) in two 4-star hotels, with breakfast buffet
- 4 gourmet dinners (three courses with wine), including one at a Douro winery (Passodouro)
- 1 lunch at a Douro winery (Niepoort)
- All wine tastings mentioned
- Walking tour and river cruise in Oporto
- Scenic train ride along the Douro
- Shuttle at beginning/end of tour, as described

Price Excludes:
- $350 single-room supplement
- Air travel
- 1 dinner on your own & most lunches
- After-dinner drinks, or special wines at tastings that are not part of what is provided to the group
- Items of a personal nature
- Anything not specified as included