Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. the Douro Valley

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. the Douro Valley

Article excerpt

They're called quintas, Joana tells us, because the rich families who owned the land along this stretch of the Douro river used to let others work it in return for a fifth of the profits. And in this part of northern Portugal, 'work' means only one thing: wine. We're here in the Douro Valley to learn more about it all, including this trip to Quinta do Bomfim, the winery where Dow's port is made. The valley also produces Cockburn's -- but don't worry, the Portuguese needed those TV adverts telling them that the Scottish name is pronounced 'Co-burn' too. The Americans just dispense with the 'ck' -- hence James Coburn, who was of Scottish descent.

The biggest vat here holds 84,000 bottles of wine, and the grape-treaders wear tartan shirts in honour of the quinta's owners, the Symington family (also from Scotland -- they've been here since 1882). Stay at the Six Senses hotel in harvest season (September and October) and you can join in. Be prepared for a workout: the first hour sees everyone marching in step to release the tannins uniformly, then the next is splash-around party time -- including music -- to mix them up. 'I'm amazed the EU health commissars still allow it,' I say to Joana. She reminds me that fermentation will kill anything unpleasant that our feet leave behind.

Back at Six Senses , local winemaker Francisca provides a tasting lesson, leading us through the herb garden to gather fennel, mint, chive, rosemary, lavender et al, then seeing which of the scents we can detect in various wines. She reacts with amazingly good grace when I say that one of the reds smells like Cadbury's Fruit and Nut. …

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