Travelling from the Winelands of Portugal’s Douro
Valley to the Winelands of Spain’s Rioja
By Bill Warry, Wines and Tours Ltd.
The next time you’re enjoying a glass of port, thank politics. Without treaties, trade and conflict, you’d likely just be drinking red wine.
For centuries, much of the wine consumed in Britain has been French. It’s only natural that we’d look to our close neighbour, but neighbours sometimes fall out. And for England and France, that happened frequently, which disrupted the supply of wine from across the Channel. A back up plan was needed.
In the 14th century, England struck a deal with Portugal: the Treaty of Windsor gave merchants of each country the right to reside and trade in the other. Another treaty, in 1654, granted merchants from England and Scotland preferential customs duties, which became particularly useful – when, a little over a decade later, with the French and English courts engaged in a series of tit-for-tat import/export restrictions, English merchants based in the Portuguese port of Viana Do Castelo saw the opportunity to expand their wine businesses. But the wine made in the coastal areas around Viana Do Castelo was too thin for consumers in Britain; they preferred the full-bodied wine produced further inland, in the Douro Valley.
This Wine tour includes many interesting and spectacular wine regions –
we take in the Douro Valley, Vinho Verde and Rioja.
It was easier to transport this wine down the Douro River—in barrel-carrying boats called Barco Rabellos—than to move it over land to Viana Do Castelo, so many of the merchants shifted their businesses to the Douro estuary; to Porto. The wine they shipped—fortified to condition it for the long journey to England—became known as Vinho do Porto, or Port.
As you’d expect, port has a starring role in the Wines and Tours three-part trip to the Douro Valley region. We start in Porto, with post-flight relaxation and a Welcome dinner in the luxury accommodations of The Yeatman, the famous five-star hotel named for one of the most successful and influential merchant families. The hotel’s cellars contain a superbly comprehensive collection of Portuguese fine wines, and the views of Portugal’s second largest city—with its varied architecture: stately beaux-arts; extravagant baroque; village-style plazas—are wonderful.
In the morning there’s a conducted cellar tour of Taylor’s Port Lodge. This oldest of Port Lodges is just next door to the hotel, and offers the opportunity to learn about the different styles and qualities of port. And the chance to taste a few.
After lunch at Taylor’s Tres Seculos restaurant—which boasts the same top quality cuisine as The Yeatman—we drive to Vinhos Norte, a pristine family winery in the neighbouring Vinho Verde region, this includes a vineyard tour and some wine tasting; Vinho Verde literally means Green Wine, though rather than describing colour, the name suggests the age of the wine. In this region it’s usually designed to be drunk very young. These crisp, fresh wines are mostly whites, but rose and red are also produced.
The day’s discoveries are discussed over dinner at a Pombal hotel, and the next morning we continue in to the Douro Valley for an outstanding vineyard tour, our host is Victor Marques: farmer, wine-maker and poet. The fabulous barbecues in his vineyards are legendary, and the 20 year old vintage port made by Victor’s father is amazing; maybe the finest in the entire Douro Valley and quite possibly the smoothest you’ll ever have.
Douro Valley river tours and Vineyard tours
The next day, we take to the river, cameras ready to capture a tapestry of stepped vineyards flanking the river banks, with every bend revealing a scene more beautiful than the last. And along the way, we also include some wine tasting.
Spain and Rioja
The river trip takes us to a stone’s throw of the Spanish border, and the final part of the journey is in Rioja country. There, over the next few days the time is filled with wine tasting, superb food, fantastic company, and raw, rugged countryside; quite different to that of the Douro Valley, but still stunning.
The whole 9-day tour is made up of three different consecutive tours from Wines and Tours Ltd; we include a good selection of vineyard tours, wine tasting, cellar tours and promote a concept of sequential conducted wine tours. Essentially, these allow you to choose the length of your wine tour holiday.