Quinta da Leda Estate / Pnoto courtesy Casa Ferreirinha
Far away, in the remote eastern mountains and valleys of the Douro wine region, where Portugal meets Spain, exciting things are happening. New vineyards, new owners and new red wines are coming from an area that was relatively inaccessible only 30 years ago.
“I remember it as the end of the world,” says João Nicolau d’Almeida, who has been visiting the Douro Superior region for 50 years. “It was biblical in its primitive wildness and its distance.” He retired as CEO of producer Ramos-Pinto and is now owner with his sons, João and Mateus, of Quinta do Monte Xisto, a spectacular vineyard in Douro Superior.
Francisco Olazabal, winemaker at his family’s Quinta do Vale Meão, remembers coming with the family from Porto as a child.
“It took five hours on terrible roads with curves [now it takes just over two hours on new roads]. But when we arrived, we were happy in this wild and inhospitable land. It was perfect for adventures.”
There have been a handful of major vineyards in this region since the 19th century. Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta do Vesúvio and Quinta do Vale Meão were all founded and developed by the iconic Dona Antónia Ferreira as she expanded her Ferreira empire eastward. All three vineyards still produce exceptional Ports and, at Vesúvio and Vale Meão, equally important red table wines.
Vila Nova de Foz Coa, Portugal / Alamy
A Bit of History
In 1756, the Douro became among the first defined wine regions in the world. Portugal’s prime minister, the Marquês de Pombal, issued the decree to stop British wine shippers from importing wines from outside the Douro and labeling them Douro. Douro Superior is so remote that this spectacular wine region wasn’t demarcated as part of the Douro area until 1907. But its history goes back much further.
In the heart of Douro Superior region are the astonishing UNESCO-registered wall paintings at Vila Nova de Foz Côa. Only officially recognized in the 1990s, but dating as far back as 20,000 BCE, they are among the oldest wall art in the world. Their presence underlines and emphasizes the region’s palpable and still living antiquity.