Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Portuguese dop named after the river which rises as the Duero in Spain (see ribera del duero) before turning south to form the frontier with portugal, then weaving west where it cleaves through the hard, granite mountains of northern Portugal before finally slipping past Oporto into the Atlantic swell (see maps under portugal and spain). Most famous as the source of the fortified wine port, the Douro Valley is also well known for the production of (unfortified) table wine labelled Douro DOP. First demarcated in 1756, making it one of the world’s oldest delimited wine regions (see delimitation and portugal, history), the Douro Valley’s since-modified irregular outline corresponds closely with an outcrop of pre-Cambrian schist, which is hemmed in by granite. For over two centuries, the demarcation applied only to port, but in 1979 it was extended to include table wine. Although (poorly made) ‘blackstrap’ table wines dominated Douro production until usurped by port in the latter part of the 18th century, the first glimmer of the region’s true potential for table wines appeared when port shippers ferreira launched Barca Velha 1952, a red wine from the Douro Superior, upstream of the port heartland. Making table wines did not take hold, however, until the 1990s, following Portugal’s accession to the eu. This provided invaluable funds for research and new equipment. It also led to the demise of the port shippers’ de facto monopoly over exports, enabling estates to make and sell their own wine. In the spirit of Barca Velha, early efforts focused on ambitious, upmarket reds. But this century has seen the emergence of many a mid-priced and even entry-level Douro table wine as the number of port shippers and independent wine farms (quintas) making table wine has mushroomed. While quality is correspondingly more variable, the Douro still produces some of Portugal’s most consistent red wines.