Once known only for its collectible port wines, today Portugal's formerly stodgy Douro Valley rocks. The region's winemakers have put their considerable talent towards producing world- class table wines and most oenophiles agree that the region is producing the most exciting dry red wines in Portugal. The vines grow on the same dizzyingly steep schist hillsides as the port vineyards. And, for the most part, the key grape varieties are drawn from the 40 authorised for port production. Top varieties in the blends include touriga nacional, tinta roriz (known as tempranillo in Spain), tinta barroca, tinta cao and touriga francesa accented with a dollop of spicy tinta da barca.
Surely one of the most spectacular and dram- atic wine regions in the world, it is hard to believe anyone went to the trouble of planting vines on the Douro River's steep, gorge-like walls. The hillsides are so precipitous that the steep, stony mountainsides have to be blasted to fragmentise the stone and soften the inclines for replanting. Labour, too, has been an issue, as the region's youth have fled these dry, remote, craggy canyons for city life.
Winemakers are fighting back, with highway access, stunning vineyard hotels and an infectious passion for excellence. The finest Douro table wines are rife with black-raspberry and plum fruit punctuated spicy overtones. These wines pack a tannic heft, so serve with meaty or full-flavoured winter dishes.
Quinta do Portal, Auru 2007 (pictured)
Dense, juicy fruit with spice and profuse violets. Firm tannins, youthful with defined floral and blueberry palate.
Available for 1,580 Macau patacas at JCM Holding (tel: 853 6682 1078)
Quinta do Crasto, Vinha da Ponte 2007
Vinha da ponte means 'vineyard of the bridge' and this lush, rich wine is a bridge to a new world of winemaking. Plush fruit framed by firm tannins, this is a smart and classy wine.
Available for HK$1,050 at Adega Royale (www.adegaroyale.com)
Niepoort, Redoma 2007
Earthy 'old-world' style. Fine quality tannins, elegant structure, leathery farmyard hints. Needs time to open up, so consider decanting before dinner.
2005 vintage available for HK$538 at Cottage Vineyards (tel: 2395 1293)
Quinta do Vale Meao 2007
Inky, dark and dense. This is a serious, lean and regal wine, with a blackberry core. As the oak spice is quite prevalent, I would suggest holding this beauty for a few years, until the oak influence is seamlessly integrated.
Available for HK$788 at Adega Royale
Alves de Sousa, Abandonado 2005
Plush, elegant and round mid-palate. Meaty, with charry, smoky notes. Excellent tannin structure and, with its peppery, savoury finish, is a great food wine.
2007 vintage available for 580 patacas at Agencia Superar (tel: 853 6688 5211)
Lemos a Van Zeller, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2008
Savoury, earthy and round. Soft palate, sandy tannins. Ready to drink now.
Available for HK$315 at Saveurs International (tel: 2543 6339)
Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2007
Round juicy fruit, full, ripe mid-palate finish with a gentle softness. Excellent length.
Available for HK$860 at Tudy's Wine Merchant (tel: 2838 3075)
Debra Meiburg is a master of wine