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The discovery of Douro terroir

The Douro’s soils were long seen as one and the same when it came to growing Port grapes, of whatever variety. But thanks to new approaches from the major shippers, the regional subtleties of terroir are now being appreciated. Margaret Rand reports

Terroir in Port

Above: Paul Symington

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Paul Symington notes the differences between his family company’s Quintas da Cavadinha and do Bomfim. Just 4km apart, Cavadinha has an average annual temperature of 13.8°C, while Bomfim is 15.9°C; Cavadinha has 1,065mm of rain a year, Bomfim has 777mm. Cavadinha faces southwest and is at 240m-380m altitude; Bomfim faces south, and goes up to 180m. Not surprisingly, Bomfim makes a sturdier, denser wine.

David Guimaraens of The Fladgate Partnership (Taylor’s, Croft, Fonseca) makes no table wines but has been obsessed with terroir for years. For him, and it would be hard to find anyone in the Douro who disagreed, the grape varieties, especially in old mixed vineyards, are a key part of Port terroir.

‘Quinta de Terra Feita has a different fruit and tannin profile from the same varietal mix as Quinta de Vargellas: terroir has huge influence. But subtle differences come from the grape mix, which changes from quinta to quinta, and depends on who ran the quinta.’

He said there was the Portuguese school, which favoured lots of varieties – like Quinta do Crasto’s Maria Teresa vineyard, which has 47 varieties in it – and the British school, with fewer. ‘Touriga Franca was the main variety in the Douro Valley, but Alicante was important in the Torto Valley and at Quinta da Roeda; but it’s not planted at Quinta de Vargellas at all. The Crofts planted it, but not the Fladgates.’

Terroir in the Douro as everywhere, includes the hand of the grower.

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