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Dow's Vale do Bomfim 2014
The home of Port—perhaps the most internationally acclaimed beverage—the Douro region of Portugal is one of the world’s oldest delimited wine regions, established in 1756. Less well-known but often of excellent quality, are the region’s dry table wines, both red and white. The vineyards of the Douro, set on the slopes surrounding the Douro River (known as the Duero in Spain), are incredibly steep, necessitating the use of terracing and thus, manual vineyard management as well as harvesting. The climate here is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The best sites, typically with schist-based soils, are reserved for high-end Port production, while table wines are usually grown on granite.
While more than 100 indigenous varieties are approved for wine production in the Douro, there are five primary grapes that make up most Port and table wines. Touriga Nacional is the finest of these, prized for its deep color, tannins, concentrated structure, and floral aromatics. Along with Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Spain's Tempranillo) helps to provide the backbone to these wines, while adding bright acidity and red fruit flavors. Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca help round out the blend with their soft, supple textures. Tinta Cão, a fine but low-yielding variety, is rarely planted but still highly valued for its ability to produce excellent, complex wines.
White wines are generally crisp, mineral-driven blends of Arinto, Viosinho, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina and an assortment of other rare but local varieties.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to create complex wines with many different layers of flavors and aromas, or to create more balanced wines. For example, a variety that is soft and full-bodied may be combined with one that is lighter with naturally high acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.