As it winds its way for over 900km down through the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, the majestic Douro River acts both as a border with its Spanish neighbours, while also providing the region on the Portuguese side with its iconic namesake. The earliest traces of grapevine cultivation date back as far as the late Bronze Age, with a significant proliferation happening during the Roman-influenced period in the 1st century AD. Visigoths displaced the Romans and took to the practice until the arrival of the Moors, who in turn, yielded to the forbearers of the modern-day Portuguese and their founding of the first Kingdom of Portugal in 1143. The most noteworthy wine-producing zone lies framed between the towns of Barca d’Alva and Régua. Here the river valleys point westward for a time; creating growing conditions that are conducive to red wine grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca, as well as, for white wine grape stock such as Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Gouveio, and Viosinho. The net result of all this prolific production is that wine has been flowing along the Douro for a very long time – shipped downstream to Porto in barrels that were loaded onto the regionally distinctive, Rabelo boats.
Many of the Douro’s red wines are vinified in so-called Lagares. These are large, open stone containers made of Granite and Schist that the sorted and destemmed grapes are poured into, then methodically crushed underfoot in a centuries-old, winemaking tradition. Natural fermentation begins when the wild yeasts that coat the grape skin come into contact with the sugar in the juice. Surprisingly, it frequently only requires 24hrs. to complete this step, after which the young wine is strained into stainless steel holding tanks to undergo a second, bacteria-induced ‘malolactic’ fermentation. This desirable form of intervention helps to convert the tart Malic acid in the fruit into Lactic acid, which markedly softens the mouthfeel of the wine.
Portuguese vintners are fiercely proud of their long-standing winemaking methods but are also embracing modern, international standards. Arguably, their output remains underpriced relative to the quality of what’s now on offer, which means that it’s still a great time to stock up before everyone else catches on to the remarkable value. In the case of this week’s feature of Cais da Ribeira Riserva 2014, the home of the Barão de Vilar winery is in an emerging region known as Douro Superiore: the most inland of the Douro’s three zones. Predominantly built on a blend of the classic grape varieties listed above, this bottling benefits from being decanted for several hours before serving or put some away for a year or two and be rewarded with an even suppler version of the vintage. At $13.95 this is a well-made, introductory level offering that should dispel most disbelief about whether dry, Douro DOC, red table wines can compete with those of their nominally related, Tempranillo and Monastrell-making, Spanish neighbours!
CAIS DA RIBEIRA RESERVA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #523639 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD
Made in Douro, Portugal
Release Date: November 11, 2017
Following on the dark, brooding fruit aromas, this mid-weight red wine has a surprising combination of a supple body accented with lively streaks of acidity and tannins. Pick a juicy red or black berry that comes to mind, and you’ll likely be able to tag it in the flavours of this bottling. Best alongside heartier and meaty food fare – try serving this with savoury stews, a herbed beef or lamb rib roast, and duck breast glazed with stewed prunes or apricots.