Terroir

We speak of “The Douro” as a single wine-growing region, but there are in fact three distinct sub-regions defined by their rainfall, soil and general topography, and within each region and even each property there is an extraordinary variety of micro-climates.  Because Graham’s has properties located throughout the Douro, we are able to make a wide variety of Port wines, each with a unique and complex character.

East of Porto, the Serra do Marão mountains rise as high as 1,400 metres, forming a natural barrier to the weather that sweeps in from the Atlantic.  They also establish the western limit of the Douro demarcated region which begins about 75 km from the coast and extends 90 km almost to the Spanish border.

The area immediately east of the mountains as far as the Corgo River and the village of Covelinhas is known as the Baixo Corgo.  Though in the shadow of the mountains, it receives the greatest rainfall in the region, typically 950 mm per annum, and has relatively moderate temperatures.  Broadly speaking, it has the richest soil and lushest vegetation.  This area produces large quantities of grapes with moderate intensity of flavours.

From the Corgo River to Valeira, the dam just east of Tua, is the Cima Corgo.  The heart of the port-growing region is characterised by a warmer, drier climate (650 mm rain per annum) and the predominance of the schist stone underfoot, so much so, we can hardly speak of “soil” in this area – what isn’t stone is only rock-dust!  Within this sub-region a half-dozen small rivers join the Douro, each with its own narrow valley surrounded by steep terraced hillsides.  Vines in the Cima Corgo are sufficiently stressed by their environment to produce grapes with great intensity of flavour, and the many microclimates created by the extreme contours of the land make for a great variety of flavour notes.

East of Valeira is the Douro Superior.  Here the terrain opens up a bit and in some areas it is possible to plant vineyards on relatively flat, smooth stretches of land, without the steep terraces that characterise the Baixo and Cima Corgo.  The climate is very dry and harsh, with less than half the rainfall of the Baixo Corgo and summer temperatures over 40° C.  Both schist and granite soils are found in the Douro Superior.  The extremely challenging climate and terroir result in small crops of grapes with powerful tannins and intensely concentrated flavours.

In the mid 20th century a system was devised to classify Douro vineyards by their potential to produce quality wines.   Every property, or quinta, was assessed according to its terrain and grape-growing methods.  Considerations of terrain include the property’s location within the greater region, altitude, angle of slope, aspect to the sun, soil texture, and shelter.   Vineyard qualities such as planting density, productivity, training methods, grape varieties and age of vines are also assessed.  The result of these calculations is an alphabetic rating, from F to A, with “A” rated vineyards combining the best possible terrain qualities and growing methods.

Graham’s ports are made from grapes grown at five different quintas, four within the Cima Corgo and one deep in the Douro Superior.  All five are “A” rated properties, and each one brings its unique character to our wines.

Quinta dos Malvedos is Graham’s flagship property, acquired by the Graham brothers in 1890.  It is located in the heart of the Cima Corgo just downriver from Tua.  The property is south-facing and situated on the banks of the Douro, from which terraces rise to 400 metres.  Very rich and concentrated black fruit, floral aromas and well balanced tannins characterise Malvedos wines.

Quinta do Tua is just east of Malvedos, on the east bank of the Rio Tua, where it runs into the Douro.  South facing vineyards at altitudes from 150 to 350 metres and many old vines produce wines of great tannic structure, concentration and complexity.

Quinta da Vila Velha is located on the south bank of the Douro, 1 km downriver from Malvedos.  The vineyards are predominantly west-facing and below 250 metres altitude, so enjoy a slightly cooler climate and later ripening than Malvedos.  The wines are well balanced and powerful, and characterised by rich red fruit flavours.

Quinta das Lages is located on the Rio Torto, a tributary which comes up from the south, and joins the Douro just west of Pinhão.  This quinta extends from the river right up to the hilltops (from 120 to 400 metres altitude) and faces north, which mitigates the effects of the intense heat which can be trapped in the narrow, twisted Torto Valley.  The Lages wines are beautifully balanced, with intense floral aromatics.

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas is in the heart of the Douro Superior, adjacent to the legendary Quinta do Vesuvio, another Symington property.  The quinta stretches out along 2 km of the south bank of the Douro, and as at Lages, the north facing aspect of the property is a boon, offsetting to some degree the effects of the extreme heat and dryness of the Douro Superior.  The wines reflect their region in their firm tannic structure and very ripe, powerful jammy black fruit flavours.

The Graham’s website provides much more information about each of these quintas, including historical background, vineyard maps and technical details of the production and viticultural regimes at each property.

2 thoughts on “Terroir”

  1. My wife and I will be in Porto Sept. 13,14,15. We are staying at Pousada Palacio.
    How do we get to your cellars and can we get a tour and tastings.

  2. We will be delighted to see you at the Graham’s Lodge during your visit to Porto. The Links page (menu tabs just below banner photo) includes a link to the dedicated Graham’s Lodge website where you can find all the information you need, and phone and email contact details if you have further questions. Our blog featured the Lodge in an article published on 27 July which will also tell you a bit more about what you have to look forward to.

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Crafting one of life's great traditions