I’m off to Portugal this evening. Back to the Douro, for some quality time with the Douro Boys.
I remember my first visit to the Douro. It was back in May 2002. I’d been to a wine dinner and met this Portuguese winemaker. A bloke called Dirk Niepoort. I sat next to him, and at the end of the meal, he asked me what I was doing in a couple of weekends’ time. I said I didn’t know. He said: you are coming to Portugal, to the Douro.
So I went to the Douro, and it was a magical experience.
This was when I was just starting out as a wannabe wine writer; it was also when many of the current superstars of Douro wine were just starting out, too. So it has been fun to track their progress.
I began the weekend in Porto, with dinner at Dirk’s parents’ flat (he was at this stage renovating the house he now lives in), and then the next day we had lunch and he put me on a train to the Douro. It was just €5.80 for one of Europe’s great railway journeys, and my first view of this spectacular wine region was from the train line that runs parallel to the river.
It was a memorable few days – among other things, Ray Isle (an American wine writer) and I watched Portugal get beaten 3-0 by the USA in the World Cup, on a small television at Quinta de Napoles along with a group of very upset Portuguese winemakers.
13 years later, and the Douro has changed quite a bit. I have changed quite a bit too. I’ve been back frequently, but still I feel like I’m only just beginning to get to know this remarkable place. It will be interesting to see it again – in October, just as vintage has finished. I’m looking forward to seeing another side of its personality.