Okay. So I didn’t come up with this great saying…
The Douro is not to be observed. It is to be felt.
The Douro, by all accounts, is one of the wonders of the wine world. It not only reflects the exquisite heritage derived from man and nature working together but is also home to 350 flora species of the 450 total that are native to Portugal. In other words, it’s a treasure trove of biodiversity as well as the nesting ground for over 80 varieties of grapes.
And, most famously, it’s the birthplace of Port Wine. Port wine, the sweet, usually deep ruby red (sometimes tawny), fortified wine, wasn’t always so. In fact, the history of port wine’s evolution is one of those “Happy Accidents.”
The short version is that the Douro, though hauntingly beautiful, is one of the world’s most inhospitable terrains for cultivating vines over its vast 927 sq. kilometers of land surface that sits between Portugal and Spain. So several hundred years ago, when the English importers, along with their Portuguese growers, were trying to figure out how to get the originally dry red wines to market in England without first oxidizing, they hit upon the genius idea of adding brandy and making the wines sweet. Success!
It took another hundred years or so to decide that Sweet Fortified Wine would be “Porto’s” official identity as a wine. In fact, heated discussions raged throughout the region for about 50 years before it was decided that Porto would be codified, if you will, as the sweet fortified wine that we know it as today.
Port wine and the Douro is a region I’ve studied extensively – in books. And not had much occasion to taste. So it was with great enthusiasm I attended a recent Porto Wine Tasting. All these different styles of Port Wine – Lagrima, Tawny, Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, Colheitas – would be available for tasting.
My greatest takeaway from this tasting experience is that studying these historic and epic wines without spending time in the region and without meeting the people whose generations of families have made the wines, is little substitute for doing the legwork and actually visiting the region. It’s sort of akin to trying to describe to a blind person what colors look like.
So, having little depth in my repertoire of what Portos taste like, but a lot of wine facts about the region in my head, I can simply say that all of the Port Wines I tasted at the event were extra-ordinary. Even the dry red wines the producers opened and had us taste were noteworthy.
This experience is a real case in point that true wine appreciation is a tandem endeavor – visceral and intellectual. The experience is just not complete, the one without the other.