The power of the blend

One of the Douro's (and Portugal's) trump cards has to be its long list of indigenous grapes, many of which are unique to the region. Unlike many parts of the wine world, the Portuguese have held true to their native varieties and have not been tempted to opt for more well-known (and easier to pronounce!) varieties.

Portugal's red grapes, and particularly those in the Douro, can be quite tough and tannic - they were intended for making port to age for a long time after all! So, in the production of table wines, yes, some have used more well-known international varieties to soften the blend; another way of doing this was to age the wine for long periods in oak.

But now, with a greater emphasis and more focus on high-quality table wines, growers are learning more about the merits of the many grapes they have to play with and how best to use them to make increasingly interesting and better-quality wines.

Traditionally, port was a blend not just of different wines but of different grapes too. In the past many of the wines would have been made from 'field blends', that is many different grapes planted within the one vineyard.

These mixed vineyards, which may contain up to a dozen different grapes, still exist, but winemakers are increasingly replanting vineyards with single varieties. Five in particular have become noted for producing high-quality wines.

Douro's top 5 red grapes

Here's our shortlist of the top five grapes in the Duoro:

  1. Tinta roriz - known as tempranillo in Spain
    and aragonez elsewhere in Portugal, this is
    prized for its raspberry, red-fruit flavour
  2. Touriga franca - the most widely planted red
    grape in the Douro, important for giving
    structure to the wines
  3. Touriga nacional - probably the best-known of the grapes;
    perfumed aroma and dark, concentrated fruit
  4. Tinta barroca - lots of dark, plummy flavour
    and colour without too much tannin
  5. Tinto cão - floral wines that age well
Tinta roriz Tinta roriz
Blending The Society's Exhibition Douro

At Quinta do Vale Meão, home of our Exhibition Douro, owner/winemaker Francisco Olazabal, is block-planting all his vineyards.

He argues that he can have better control over each variety this way, plus learn more about how each performs in a specific spot on the estate.

"I harvest and vinify all the blocks separately which means I can fine-tune the blends I put together more easily and let the different terroirs on the estate shine through."

Francisco Olazabal

Francisco pointed out that though they have a long tradition of making table wine from grapes grown on their quinta (this was the original home of Portugal's legendary Barca Velha wine), they are still in the early days of learning about their grapes and how best to make Douro table wines. If you ask him which is his best vintage, he'll say, 'my last one'!

It's exciting to see how things are improving year on year and to taste living proof of this!

A unique spot at Vale Meão

Schist is the dominant soil throughout the Douro Valley but Quinta do Vale Meão is a little unusual in that it has three types of soils on the estate - schistous, alluvial and granitic.

The complex blend of soils is a result of the geological fault line which runs right through the property.

Adding to the complexity of the terroir is the estate's position on a huge meander of the Douro river (which gives its name to the property - Meão means meander), and the mix of gentle to steep-sided slopes.

Olazabal is a great proponent of the touriga nacional variety and this dominates the blends; nuances of flavour are achieved by blending wines from many different terroirs on the estate.

It was fascinating tasting the same grape grown in different parts of the vineyard. The tasting lasted several hours and it was a real eye-opener to appreciate the level of detail that goes into blending just one wine.

Block-planted vineyards on Vale Meão's rolling slopes - not the vertiginous terraces of the central part of the Douro Valley

Read more about Quinta do Vale Meão and the history of the domaine in our article >

Browse Quinta do Vale Meão's wines >

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