By Annette Alvarez-Peters
THIS MONTH, I have some advice for win-ter-weary wine lovers: Consider exploring
wines from Portugal or, more specifically, the
A brief stop in Oporto last spring revealed
a surprisingly wide range of wines beyond the
fortified port wines the
region is so famous for.
Recent wines from this
historic part of the
world are definitely
worth seeking out.
Oporto, about a three-hour train ride north
from Lisbon, is a picturesque town packed with
history, and is the home
of port. The area features a landscape of
“lodges”—huge warehouses where port producers have stored barrels of this renowned
wine for centuries. The lodges are gateways to
an expanse of underground cellars that
maintain the perfect cool temperature to age
The vineyards are a two-hour drive east
from Oporto in the Douro Valley, named for
the Douro River. The vineyards are stunning,
with soils of schist and granite, making this
one of the most difficult areas in which to
cultivate grapes. The oldest vineyards lie on
traditional hand-built terraced sites that are
narrow, steep and rocky, while newer vineyards are built on patamares—wider contoured sites that are more cost-effective and
easier to farm.
cultivate grapes. The oldest vineyards lie on
Myriad indigenous grapes grow in the
hot, arid Douro Valley. More than 40 varieties
are used in port production, with five predominantly used in blending. The most significant of these grapes is Touriga Nacional,
offering pronounced black currant characteristics and big tannic structure. Touriga Franca
contributes many of the aromatics and adds
softness and roundness to the wines. Tinta
Roriz (aka Tempranillo) delivers finesse and
firmness. Tinta Barroca imparts deep color
and richness, and Tinta Cão adds more complexity to the blend.
Making a traditional port
The grapes are typically hand-harvested,
and most port houses continue traditional foot
treading. The grapes are placed in lagares—
wide, low granite troughs where workers macerate the grapes with their bare feet.
Port is always sweet. During fermentation, a neutral grain spirit is added, leaving
residual sugar in the wine. Most ports range
between 18 to 20 percent alcohol by volume.
Port is produced in a wide range of styles,
determined by how the wines are aged and
stored, either in wood barrels or in bottles.
Blending is critical to the winemaker’s expression of how all of the component grapes fit
into the finished wine. The most common
ports, ruby and tawny, account for half of the
Ruby port is usually non-vintage, dark in
color and full-bodied, and spends time in bar-
rels before going into stainless steel tanks for
blending. Tawny ports are a blend of different
vintages, are aged more extensively in wood
barrels and are lighter in color, with lovely
nutty flavors. Some tawny ports are aged any-
where from 10 to 30 years, depending on the
desired style and flavors. A more modern,
ready-to-drink port style is late bottle vintage
(LBV), which represents a specific vintage and
is aged in barrel for four to six years.
The most famous port is vintage port.
Each producer determines if a vintage is “
declared” based on exceptional quality of a single
year’s harvest. On average, a vintage is declared
three years in every 10. Vintage ports are aged
in bottles for two years and display flavors of
rich, dark fruits with floral and chocolate
notes. These wines are powerful, with huge
tannic structure, and benefit from further
years of bottle aging in your cellar.
The other reds of Douro
Dry red wines from the Douro Valley
have become very popular and trendy. Using
the same native grape varieties as port, the
wines feature silky, soft tannins with rich,
dark fruit profiles with both power and
finesse. Recently, several members of the
Costco buying team and I tasted Douro reds
and were most impressed with the quality and
value these wines have to offer.
The Douro Valley is one of the most striking wine regions in the world. Despite incredible challenges in grape growing, great,
time-tested winemaking is producing exciting
wines from the native varieties. So many complex flavors and styles are available, I encourage
you to experience the Douro. Cheers! C
Annette Alvarez-Peters oversees Costco’s wine,
spirits and beer program.
Exploring all the offerings of
Portugal’s Douro Valley
You’ll ;nd these ;ne wines from
Portugal at select Costco locations:
For chocolate and port pairings,
see page 53.
Kirkland Signature™ 10-Year-Old
Tawny Port, Oporto, Portugal
Fonseca Port Bin 27 Finest Reserve,
Quinta de la Rosa Red,
Joao Portugal Ramos Reserva Tinto,
Caves Velhas Catedral Red,
Item #559182 NW