Monday Musings: Portugal on My Mind After Wildfires

Portugal is on my mind because of the devastating wildfires that are raging there and the loss of life. I thought I would post this article which I wrote for Binnotes in January of this year.


People say you never forget your first love. In terms of countries, Italy and France have always been on the top of my list, but this past September I was again struck with that feeling. I had met a new love, the Douro Valley in Portugal. While not my first trip to Portugal, it was [my first] to the Douro, which made me believe you can really fall in love again at any age. I know I have with the Douro Valley.

What attracted me so to the region? Firstly, the striking landscapes, with terraced vineyards everywhere made of schist and granite. Named a Unesco world heritage site in 2001, the region is simply stunning. Secondly, it has a lot of history. In 1756, the Marquês of Pombal demarcated the Douro Valley, the first [wine] region in the world to be so designated. Producers showed us the stones from that demarcation.


Thirdly, it is an amazing place to visit for wine tourism, where there are small and big wineries happy to host you, allow you to taste their wines, and in many cases, participate in harvesting. The Douro is a feast for the senses: the sound of the river everywhere you go, the beauty of the hills, the delicious foods and wines, the lagares – old-fashioned stone tanks that are still used to crush grapes give texture to your trip, and more than anything else, the people.


Portugal was under strict authoritarian rule for much of the 20th century that left many areas of the country in a state of despair and many of the people grey. No longer. Portugal today is a much different place, filled with verve, excitement, and brimming with innovation.People can’t wait to talk to you about their country. Still, there are many traditions that it holds dear as well. The combination of new and exciting projects with century old traditions is really what stuck with me, and made me yearn to discover the region even further.


Like many people, I always associated the Douro Valley only with stodgy English run Port wines houses, not with individual producers or still wines. Clearly, I didn’t know enough about the region. I attended a seminar last summer where they showed a film of the boat regatta in Porto. I love to sail, so the combination of the boat race plus the Port houses made me both salivate and want to visit immediately.


I wanted to see Oporto and taste those gorgeous wines. I was not at all disappointed, and I think you won’t be either – although hurry to get there soon. Travel and Leisure named Portugal one of its “top destinations” for travel this year. I’m a part-time editor at a financial magazine and I was just reading how well Portugal is doing thanks to tourism. The economic stats show booming growth.

Most still wines produced are blends made from the traditional port wine red varieties such as Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and white grapes Rabigato, Viosinho, Moscatel Galego and Malvasia Fina, among others. Few are making mono-varietal wines except from Touriga Nacional, which they are trying to make into their signature red grape variety, much as Carmenère has become to Chile, Malbec to Argentina, and Tannat to Uruguay.

The Portuguese have significantly lowered their drinking per capita, as have most other European nations, and thus in order to sell their products, they must look abroad, which is great for us in the USA, because it means that more of their products will make it to our shores. At least I hope so. I am excited to have access to more Portuguese wines and can’t wait for my next trip to the Douro.

Mostly today I hope they are able to quench the fires and that no more lives are lost. Thoughts to all those living through these scary times in Portugal

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