Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal

Douro Wine Region -Quinta da Soalheira, Portugal

Douro Wine Region – Quinta da Soalheira, Portugal

Monica Tindall

Look at the header photo. Were you thinking, “Wow, those Asian rice terraces look dry?”

The successive steps along the slope could easily be mistaken for parts of Asia. However, this photo was taken on the other side of the world. It’s the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, one of the planet’s oldest and most important wine regions. Internationally, it’s known for Port wine. Still, a wide variety of quality red, white, and rosé wines are also produced here.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Quinta da Soalheira, Portugal

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its unique terroir. The region’s diverse microclimates are primarily due to the Douro River’s presence. The river is a thermal regulator, tempering the Portuguese summers’ scorching heat and mitigating the harsh winter frost. This equilibrium permits a prolonged growing season, nurturing the grapes to full ripeness and infusing them with complex flavours.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Douro Wine Region, Portugal – Quinta da Soalheira

Douro Wine Region, Portugal

The region’s rugged terrain, with its labyrinth of steep hills and mountains, necessitates terracing, a centuries-old technique used to cultivate the vineyards. These labour-intensive terraces offer an excellent example of the harmonious coexistence between humans and the landscape, as they prevent soil erosion and maximize sun exposure for the vines. Just about all grapes are hand-picked in the Douro. With the rugged and steep terrain, it’s the only viable option.

Quinta da Soalheira
Grapes Are Predominately Hand-picked in the Douro Wine Region

Grape Varieties

The Douro wine region boasts an astonishing variety of grape cultivars, each playing a vital role in the symphony of flavours that define the wines produced here. While many international grape varieties have found a home in Douro’s vineyards, indigenous varieties truly add an authentic and distinctive character to the wines.

Touriga Nacional takes centre stage among the acclaimed indigenous red grapes, celebrated for its intense aromas, deep colour, and robust structure. Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), and Tinta Barroca are also significant contributors to the region’s red blends. On the white side, Viosinho, Rabigato, Gouveio, and Malvasia Fina are some indigenous varieties that yield crisp and refreshing white wines.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Grapes for Douro Wine


The winemaking practices in the Douro wine region reflect a blend of tradition and modern innovation. Some small quintas (wineries) continue to uphold age-old production methods, including foot-treading the grapes in granite lagares. This process gently extracts the juice and enhances the wines’ complexity, honouring the wisdom of generations past.

Conversely, modern winemaking techniques have also found their way into the Douro. Stainless steel fermentation tanks, temperature-controlled systems, and oak barrels for aging are examples of contemporary approaches forward-thinking winemakers employ. This fusion of old and new allows for a diverse range of wines catering to different palates while upholding the quality standards of the Douro Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC).

Quinta da Soalheira
Terraces Make the Best Use of the Steep Terrain

Quinta da Soalheira

We’re fortunate to have a two-day visit to Borges’ breathtaking Quinta da Soalheira, where we eat, drink, dance and immerse ourselves in the beauty of the Cima Corgo sub-region in the Douro Valley. To arrive, we drive along N222, acclaimed as the best road in Europe for its spectacular scenery. The estate was acquired by the Borges brothers in 1904, and it has been producing grapes for the company’s Port and Douro wines ever since. Soalheira, meaning “sunlit,” is a beautiful historic estate with terraced vineyards and rolling hills. The property includes a manor house built in the 18th century. Recently refurbished, it’s now a luxury stay and a dream location for wine enthusiasts like us.

Douro Wine Region Portugal
N222 Winds Along the Douro River, Portugal
Quinta da Soalheira
Quinta da Soalheira
A Beautiful Stay at Quinta da Soalheira
The Old Manor House Refurbished into Luxurious Accommodation
A Beautiful Stay at Quinta da Soalheira
A Beautiful Stay at Quinta da Soalheira – Douro Wine Region

The Torto River divides the estate in half. The vineyards are located on the right bank of the river and planted with various grape varieties, including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca. The climate here is warm and dry, allowing the grapes to ripen fully and, at the same time, preventing the growth of unwanted microbes. The soils are schistose, rich in minerals, holding both water and heat – an essential element in the vines’ survival in the Douro extremes. Climate and soil conditions create an ideal environment for growing grapes, and you’ll find some of the north’s most delicious drops here.

Quinta da Soalheira
Looking Over the Estate
Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
A Closer Look at Those Terraces

Grapes for both fortified and still wines are grown at Quinta da Soalheira. Look for Borges Quinta da Soalheira White, Rose, Red, and Vinhas Velhas Red. The first three offer approachable wines at accessible prices with characteristics typical of the region. The latter is a wine made from old vines. Forgoing oak barrel aging, the intense and fresh aromas of the grapes shine through. The wine is dense ruby, with a vibrant young and fruity aroma, featuring notes of black fruits enveloped by nuances of eucalyptus. The wine is full-bodied in the mouth with velvety tannins and acidity, resulting in a unique elegance and a persistent finish.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
A Wide Range of Wines Made in the Douro
Douro Wine Region Portugal
Borges, Douro, White, 2020
Borges, Douro, Red, 2019
Borges, Douro, Red, 2019 – Douro Wine Region

It’s also worth exploring the range of Port wines the estate produces. White, tawny and ruby Ports are all made with meticulous attention to detail. They are beautiful examples of the range of flavours found in these fortified wines.

To be classified as a Port wine, it must come from the Douro region, the oldest wine-demarcated region in the world. It can only be produced with approved grape varietals. The process starts similarly to still wines, but fermentation is stopped by killing the yeast with a pure grape spirit. This leaves the wine with natural sugars giving its distinctive sweetness. Stopped at this stage, wines would generally have a low alcohol content, but the same spirit used to control the fermentation also adds alcohol, bringing up Port’s ABV to around 20%.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Borges, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2018

Under the title of Port wines, you have white (made on white grapes), tawny (made on red grapes but a dark blonde colour thanks to aging in barrels), and ruby (red grapes aged in the bottle). All come in younger and vintage (aged) versions. Those aged in barrels (white and tawny) will not develop further in the bottle, so today is the best time to drink them! However, quality ruby ports will age in the bottle – the more time spent in the bottle, the more integrated and indescribable they become.

Gil Frias, commercial director of JMV Group, says, “A tawny port is a creation of man and their discriminating use of barrels. A ruby port is a creation of God because only God can define if it’s a good year or not.” Gil tells of Port’s evolution, noting that “the wine will lose fruit and gain complexity as it ages. The best wines become so elegant and complex that they’re difficult to describe.” He recommends “buying 12 bottles of a good ruby vintage, so you can try one year after year and appreciate the change.” On the other hand, he’s also of the opinion that “the best time to drink wine is today because tomorrow I could be dead.” We like him. A lot.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Borges Vintage Port 2003

Douro Wine Region, Portugal

The Douro wine region of Portugal is a testament to the resilience of viticulture and the enduring connection between man and nature. Rooted in a long and storied history, the region’s distinct terroir and indigenous grape varieties create wines that sing of their unique origins. As the sun sets over the terraced vineyards and the Douro River meanders through the landscape, we sip and toast to this extraordinary region, grateful for our stay at Quinta da Soalheira and even more so for the people who have created and cared for it.

Douro Valley Wine Region, Portugal
Quinta da Soalheira – Douro Wine Region
Portuguese Sparkling Wine
Borges Also Produces Bubbly – But That’s Another Story …

Find more recommendations for gourmet travel in Portugal here and stay up-to-date with our latest gourmet travel finds here and here.

Find some Douro wines in Malaysia here or follow them on Instagram @vianau_wines to discover the latest products available in the country.

One Comment

  1. Beautiful terraces on the hill slopes…

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