We've covered the explosion of table wine in the Douro – but who are the producers driving it and what are they about? From west to east, Chris Losh meets the boys
Quinta do Vallado
Situated just above Regua, at the start of the Cima Corgo (which basically means ‘above the Corgo River’ as opposed to the Baixo Corgo – ‘below the Corgo River’), Quinta do Vallado was one of the first wineries to focus on table wine.
Set up by cousins Francisco Ferreira and João Álvares Ribeiro, descendants of the legendary Dona Antónia Ferreira, they have 70ha of vineyards in the area of the winery, plus a further 30 in the Douro Superior, making 100,000 cases of wine a year, 95% of it non-fortified.
As well as (classic) blends, they also make single-varietal wines. ‘Touriga is our best variety, no doubt,’ says Francisco Ferreira. ‘It produces fantastic, consistent wines, it helps a lot in blends but it’s also fantastic on its own. That said, my favourite is Sousão – maybe because it’s different.’
Their wonderful gastro-hotel is helping spread the Douro’s message to thirsty tourists, too.
Look out for
Reserva Field Blend 2016
Intense fruit-fest from 100-year-old, high-altitude vineyards.
£25.51, Bibendum, bibendum-wine.co.uk
Touriga Nacional 2016
A creamily approachable damson and dark-fruit wine with 16 months in oak. Highly quaffable.
£20, Bibendum, bibendum-wine.co.uk
Dirk Niepoort, with his wild curly hair, is one of the best-known figures in the wine world – and rightly so. His love of experimentation and restless energy mean that there’s never any shortage of stories – or controversy – when he’s around.
The fifth generation of Niepoorts, Dirk joined the family business in 1987 and has been instrumental in shifting it away from being purely a negociant port house to a serious producer of table wine and grower of its own grapes.
Stylistically, Niepoort’s table wines are less about big fruit than about freshness and a spicy, linear purity. ‘We’re always the first to start picking and the first to finish,’ says Luis Candido da Silva, winemaker for Niepoort’s still wines. ‘We want our wines to age on a backbone of acidity, not wood.’
Look out for
Redoma Rosé 2017
Launched in 1997, this is a serious, iron-cored food rosé produced from old vines and fermented in barriques.
£14.30, Raymond Reynolds, raymondreynolds.co.uk
Redoma Tinto 2016
Taut, serious food wine that zips through the palate on light feet – stem work gives this a savoury spicy character. Parker gave it 96 points, but don’t let that put you off.
£28.80, Raymond Reynolds, raymondreynolds.co.uk
Quinta do Crasto
In a region not short of impressive locations, Crasto still stands out. It’s named after an old fort (castrum) built by the Romans on a promontory from where they could keep an eye on goings-on up and down the river.
Understandably, the views are spectacular.
The last 15 years have been spent shoring up grape supply – Tomas Roquette and his brother Miguel have increased the family’s vineyard holdings from 60ha to 90ha in the Cima Corgo, with a sizeable chunk of vineyards in the Douro Superior as well. Now they’re adding more tank and vinification space to their winery to cope with all the extra fruit they’re harvesting.
It’s a happy story. The estate was bought by the Almeida family in 1918. Now, 100 years later, it’s a key player that makes great wines. Its Vinha Maria-Teresa, from an ancient mixed-vineyard below the winery, is one of the region’s most famous.
Look out for
Vinhas Velhas 2015
Quintessentially lush Douro fruit, but with well-judged oak, it’s good-natured and silky rather than powerful and exuberant.
£19.50, Enotria&Coe, enotriacoe.com
Douro Superior Branco 2016
Food-friendly white, with bâtonnage and six months in oak plumping out a natural acidity, this shows how good whites from the Upper Douro can be.
£14.15, Enotria&Coe, enotriacoe.com
Quinta Vale Dona Maria
The smallest of the Douro Boys wine estates, at just 27ha, Vale Dona Maria is a few kilometres from what is probably the valley’s most influential wine town, Pinhao. It makes a little port, but it’s mostly about table wines, much of which are field-blends from the curving vineyards around the winery.
Owned by the affably ursine Cristiano van Zeller and his wife Joana, the estate is, as van Zeller admits, a work in progress, having been acquired in a state of near complete dereliction. ‘Renovation is a kind word for what we want to do to it,’ he says drily, looking at a dilapidated building stuffed full of old barrels.
Wines are initially foot-trodden, then finished off with robotic treaders in old stone lagars, where 90% of their fermentations take place.
Look out for
Rufo Vale Dona Maria Branco 2017
From high, hilltop vineyards, this combines exotic pineapple flavours with a salty kick.
£8.92, Corney & Barrow, corneyandbarrow.com
VVV Three Valleys Douro Red 2015
A mix of Pinhao, Rio Torto and Douro Superior fruit, this mid-range red combines drink-me-now juicy flavours with long-term tannic grip.
£18.33, Corney & Barrow, corneyandbarrow.com
Quinta do Vale Meão
Antónia Ferreira (1811-1896) was the doyenne of the Douro, driving the region to greatness in the 19th century. She inherited and bought many wine estates, but in only one place did she buy virgin land and plant it from scratch: here.
Vale Meão is located on a tongue of land in a meander of the river in the depths of the Douro Superior, not far from the Spanish border. Even today it is a fair drive from the bright lights of Oporto; when Dona Antonia bought it in 1877 it was nearly two weeks cart ride away. No wonder she was such a vigorous lobbyist for the railway line.
This is a large estate – 300ha. Though only a third of that is planted to vines, it would still have been a formidable operation 130 years ago. It’s all red grapes here (summer temperatures get up to 45°C), but located in a tectonic fault, Vale Meão is literally split in half, with one side (typical) schist and the other (less typical) granite. Wines are initially foot-trodden, then further processed by robotic feet in 10-stone lagars.
Look out for
An equal blend of 30% Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and 10% ‘others’, this plush, spicy offering might be the estate’s second wine but it’s a class act, and highly affordable too.
£16.30, Raymond Reynolds, raymondreynolds.co.uk
Quinta do Vale Meão 2016
Mostly Touriga (50%) and 35% Touriga Franca, the estate wine is a clear step up in terms of ambition and longevity. Big, blue-fruited, perfumed and peppery.
£66, Raymond Reynolds, raymondreynolds.co.uk