Douro Valley Summers: Three months of hell, great wine
Only the truly determined make it here
Two hundred and fifty years is not old in many parts of the world, but to a Californian even the turn of the nineteenth century feels historical. So with great excitement we visited the Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo in the Douro Valley. Same trip to Portugal that I’ve described in two posts, with a little detour into smelling aromas in my previous post.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Quinta Nova lies in the Upper Corgo region of the Douro Valley. Corgo is one of the tributaries of the River Douro, with highly regarded ports coming from its mid and upper regions. It took a lot of twisty turns to reach the Quinta with our guide Francisco Sobral. And when we arrived at the beautifully appointed estate, we were surprised that the surrounding hills seemed drier and more inhospitable than those around Quinta do Panascal, which we had just left.
The vineyards of Quinta Nova are about 250 feet to 950 feet above the Douro. Temperatures are high in the summer, registering 95 Fahrenheit to 100 F, day after day. Someone called it ‘three months of hell.’ The weather is drier, the soil, poorer, and the yields, lower. The result: high quality red grapes.
The simple structure, with a basic cross and the year 1795 inscribed above the door, was the first thing I noticed. This is a church of the Carmelite order, constructed as insurance against the treachery of the river that could flush out all in one huge wave. It is a private chapel for the families that have lived here.
The Winery and Restaurant.
After a tour of the winery, where again we saw the lagares or the troughs for foot-crushing the grapes, we headed to the charming Conceitus Winery Restaurant at the Quinta. Check out the gorgeous gramophone.
The restaurant offered only prix fixe menus with wine pairings.
We tried four wines – the 2016 white Grainha Reserva, the 2011 Unoaked Red, the 2013 Grande Reserva Red, and the 2017 white Pomares Moscatel. Once again, most of the wines were a blend of the grapes grown locally – Viosinho, Gouveio, Fernão Pires, Rabigato, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, and Moscatel. My favorite was the fourth wine, the Moscatel– off dry and beautifully aromatic with stone fruit and jasmine.
The food was delicious. Quinta Nova’s restaurant, like so many other establishments around the wine country in Portugal, is only now becoming serious about tourism. We saw it in their attempt to please: In other words, they were happy to see us, not just getting through the lunch traffic.
Torn between wanting to go back and pressing ahead to see one more place, knowing we may never visit Douro again, we caved to tourism. Francisco, ever the enthusiastic guide, said he would show us one more place – a quick drive through. The ride may have been quick, but was even more circuitous than the earlier ones. Not entirely pleasant after a big meal with wine, we did get there, guts still buried deep inside us.
Provesende offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards on hills, but is about as sleepy a town as one can imagine. We saw few people on the square, cobblestoned like all of Portugal. A church always becomes the first port of call on a visit such as this one. Small and gilded, it wowed with its ornateness. We declined Francisco’s suggestion to visit the bakery with the wood-fired oven, focusing on the manor houses instead.
It seems a lot of rich folk built fancy homes here, possibly country homes, and we paused and pondered what kind of life they must have had in this town. Francisco pointed out the coat of arms above the front door of one of the houses, not a sign as much as an announcement of the owner’s status. But then a couple of houses up, we saw the same coat of arms on the side of the house. That’s because, Francisco explained with a chuckle, the bastard son wasn’t allowed to display it above the front door. Poor bastard son, I said, but at least his dad acknowledged his own role in his son’s existence!
And then we headed home.