Prior to our trips to Portugal I knew oh so very little about Portuguese wines. I knew of port wine, although I didn’t understand much about how it is made or why ruby red is different from tawny. I knew of Vinho Verde, but could not have pointed on a map where Vinho Verde came from. I also had never heard of the Douro Valley. After our trip wine tasting around the Douro Valley, though, I was surprised I’d never heard of this gem of a wine region.
Located along the Douro River, Porto is one of the oldest European cities. It’s also a city split in two. On one side of the Douro River is the historic center of Porto, and on the other side is Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the large port houses, or port caves. This is where the production of port was historically centered.
But, before the fortified port wine was aged and exported out of Porto, the grapes were grown in the Douro Valley, just up the river.
We’ve toured a lot of wine regions in Europe, and even in South America. Mendoza, set at the foothills of the Andes is a particularly stunning wine country. The Emporda wine region, in Catalunya, is another, where we saw vineyards set on the hillside overlooking the Costa Brava.
There was something special, though, about touring the Douro Valley. The Douro River splits the wine region in two, and winds through the countryside. It leaves steep hillsides of stunning vineyards throughout the region. It makes a perfect background for Douro Valley wine tasting.
The other unique thing about touring the Douro is the sheer number of wine varietals that grow in the region, and for that matter, everywhere in Portugal. There are hundreds of different varieties of wine grown throughout Portugal. To a wine tourist like me, that’s almost a relief. Rather than learning about all of the different varietals, I just enjoyed the wine, the food, the scenery, and the company. To me, that meant a successful wine tour.
Douro Valley Wine Tasting – Quinta Nova
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora Do Carmo. It has to be the longest name of any winery, or hotel, we’ve ever been to. Unfortunately, we only stayed one night at the hotel, meaning we barely had time to learn how to say the name of the hotel. Regardless, it was a perfect base for our wine tasting tour in the Douro. The white-washed buildings, old family chapel, and centuries old wine cellar were all stunning, not to mention the views over the Douro River.
First, we dined on the patio at Quinta Nova’s restaurant, Conceitus. The chef does his best to only offer the freshest, and most local ingredients. As a result, there is rarely a menu. Instead, diners can request 3, 4, or 5 courses, all paired with Quinta Nova wines. We dined on local lamb, salmon terrine, and an autumn mushroom soup.
In addition to having a lovely restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese cuisine with a twist, Quinta Nova offers different ways to explore the wines of the valley. One of the coolest ways to explore the Douro Valley is on a helicopter ride from Porto to the Quinta Nova helipad. We did not get to test this route, though, as we had a driver bring us out from Porto. Maybe next visit.
Of course, wine tourism activities at Quinta Nova include wine tastings and tours, but we also experienced what it is like to be a winemaker for a day. Just after breakfast, we blended our own wine, which we, of course, labeled “With Husband In Tow Private Label.”
I felt a little like a mad scientist, with apron and all. We had large plastic beakers with different varietals. We tasted each one as we learned about their characteristics. Then, we decided how to blend the wine based on what we liked, as well as learning what goes into a balanced wine.
It was a lot harder than it looks. I have an entirely new found respect for winemakers. How did it taste? Well, let’s just say, I’m going to leave the wine making up to the experts from now on.
Douro Valley Wine Tasting – Morgadio da Calçada
After our morning at Quinta Nova, we drove through the countryside for the next stop on our Douro Valley wine tasting tour. Our driver did a pretty impeccable job navigating the winding roads, and sometimes very, very narrow passageways through cliff side villages until we arrived at Morgadio da Calçada in the Alto Douro.
Set in the small village of Provezende, Morgadio da Calçada is part of the growing wine tourism trend in the Douro Valley. As much as it’s a new wine hotel, the family house was established in the late 17th Century.
Manuel met us in the parking lot as we arrived. An affable guy, with wavy hair, and a kind of crooked smile, he quickly walked us through his family’s centuries old house. He started with the vast wine cellar, loaded with with ancient barrels. I could smell the history and tradition, and would’ve loved to sit and enjoy a glass of wine surrounded by the history.
Then, Manuel walked us through the main house, with high, painted ceilings and antique furniture. I know it’s pretty rare to have a tour of a house like this. Growing up in the U.S., where a house from the 1920s is considered ancient, this was a pleasant treat. I didn’t take a lot of photos of the inside of the house. It kind of felt strange taking photos of someone’s private house, no matter how historic.
Manuel and his family still live in the main house during some of the year. I just couldn’t imagine his young children using the antique furniture in the same way as my nephews use their TV room back in North Carolina. I was afraid to lean on the furniture, or even breathe on it, worried that I would destroy some precious part of his family’s history.
On the opposite side of the property stands the wine tourism operation. The wine hotel includes 8 beautifully renovated rooms. Because the property is registered with the government as a protected historic property they need to be very careful about how they use the property and how they renovate.
In what was once a storage area, or a space for the livestock, we saw clean and crisp white-walled rooms, and a pool built inside an original ancient wall. I was disappointed to only have a glimpse into the rooms, and would love to have spent time more time there. I could imagine writing a novel at Morgadio da Calçada, overlooking the vineyards. This is especially true in the fall, when the grapes on the vine are at the juiciest!
The best part of our visit, though, was the lunch. We joined Manuel in his family’s sitting and dining room area. In a more modern part of the house, this was the room I could see his kinds hanging out in, with comfy sofas, and a television.
Manuel served us a few courses for lunch, along with some of his own wine, as would be expected from a wine hotel.
Along with the Douro Valley white wine, we ate our new favorite Portuguese dish alheira. Alheira is a bread sausage, where the meat is soft and tender, but surrounded by a crisp skin. Although we ate alheira a couple of times before, including while traveling through Alentejo, this version was the best we had. At Morgadio da Calçada, it was rustic. Served with cabbage, potatoes, and a fried egg. I practically wanted to lick the plate, but thought that would portray the wrong image during a wine tasting tour.
The true highlight of the meal, though, was the conversation. I love meeting wine makers, and it is one of the things I truly love about exploring wine regions. Yes, the wine is good, and Manuel’s was quite tasty. But, meeting him was the best part of our visit. Within about a half hour, we felt like we had met a kindred spirit. We created a connection that people can only do over a good meal and a great glass of wine.
Morgadio da Calçada is remote. It’s a sanctuary. It’s solitude. It can be a place to seek out Douro Valley wine tastings in the region. But, I think it’s true secret is in Manuel, and the staff, and the history that makes it a truly special place. I look forward to being welcomed back with open arms, and hopefully another plate of tasty alheira.
Douro Valley Wine Tasting – Quinta da Pacheca
One of the more commercial stops on our Douro Valley Wine Tasting was at Quinta da Pacheca. I call Pacheca commercial, in part, because it was the next stop after our personal lunch with Manuel. In fact, I was still rubbing my belly from our lunch at Morgadio da Calçada, and may have shut my eyes a bit in the car on the way. Good thing I wasn’t driving.
We arrived to a large farm house, even larger than the prior two, set down a long driveway with tall, arching trees. There were several smaller buildings surrounding the main house, with a wine tasting room and wine shop. There is a restaurant and a wine hotel, but all a lot bigger than at Quinta Nova and Morgadio. Although we had the chance to tour their wine cellar, and taste some fabulous wines and ports, one part of our visit made this stop at Pacheca exciting.
We were lucky enough to arrive at Pacheca during the harvest. We saw a little bit of the harvest while tasting wine in Alentejo. At Quinta Nova, we were told we were a few days too early to see their harvest. It was perfect timing, though, at Pacecha. As soon as we met our guide, he immediately whisked us away to the loading area as several farmers were unloading basket upon basket of white Douro valley grapes.
Some of the wine tourism options at Pacheca include grape stomping and other harvest related activities. I would suggest planning a tour to Portugal during the wine harvest, or really to any wine making region, in order to see how the wine is produced, from the grape on. Truly a unique experience, and a perfect way to end our Douro Valley wine tasting tour.
Douro Valley Wine Tourism – the Details
It’s possible to take the train out to the Douro, or to even book a boat tour from Porto. But, the best way to get to the more remote pars of the Douro is by renting a car and booking at one or more of the gorgeous wine hotels throughout the region. Or, it’s possible to book day tours, with a driver from Porto, starting at only €60 for a day trip. Multiple day trips are also an option.
We only had one night, and it was not enough. The Douro is big, and there is a lot to explore. Because of the river and the hills, many of the best spots to visit are down winding roads, and seem a little remote. It’s necessary to take the time to explore these hidden gems!
Smaller operations, like Morgadio require advanced booking for a room and lunch. Larger wineries, including Pachecha are almost always open, and are happy to receive pop-ins!
Rooms at Quinto Nova run approximately $130 a night and at Morgadio da Calçada rooms start at approximately $120 a night. At Quinta da Pacheca, wine tours and tastings start at €8 a person and are available most days between 10:30-5:30. Pacheca also has a wine hotel, but we did not see any of the rooms.
Looking For Great Food and Wine Tours in Portugal?
And, for more Portuguese culinary travel inspiration, check out our Portugal food travel guide.[table id=6 /]
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
We were supported by the Porto and North Tourism Board, during our Douro Valley wine tasting tour.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.