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Though sounding like a Portuguese Fado singing folk group, the Douro Boys are in reality an affable and extremely knowledgeable band of skilled winemakers spanning two generations, with enough combined energy to create a maelstrom of media excitement on behalf of their collective Quintas. My first prolonged encounter came at the biennial Douro/Duero Pool Party during Bordeaux's Vinexpo week, where as a guest I gained a clear sense of the quintet's infectious humour and generous spirit. I met the irrepressibly charming Dorli Muhr, saw Cristiano van Zeller's substantial and near naked torso displace untold litres of chlorinated pool water, and marvelled as Vito Olazabal danced the night away like a whirling dervish on speed. For those already acquainted with the multitalented group, this was perceived as an appropriate introduction and helped prepare me for what lay ahead...


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Quinta do Crasto's opalescent chapel
Five Quin
tas: The five properties owned by the Douro Boys cover a broad spectrum of micro-climates and schistous terroir: moving upstream along the Douro river from immaculate Quinta do Vallado in the Corgo valley you cross the massive Régua dam and eventually arrive at Niepoort's imposing Quinta do Nápoles, sternly towering over the calm green waters of an angularly secreted Tedo River, a stream whose placid confluence with the mighty Douro is overlooked by diagonal north-bank neighbour Quinta do Crasto. In early morning light, the pinnacled placement of Crasto's opalescent chapel is often obscured by mist, offering no hint of the vinous principality concealed behind a modest wooded backdrop. This lofty hamlet peers into a bleached sunrise as the pewtered bow waves of oncoming river craft peter shoreward, temporarily corrugating the polished surface.


Tracing the river's eastbound contours for nearly 10 kilometres you reach another terrace-clad aperture, this time larger than the Tedo's with several disparate buildings charmingly clustered around an aqueous T-junction and adjacent moored barges. Reminiscent of a nearly spent mayfly, the waters of the Rio Torto reach journey's end and succumb to the inevitable tributarial conclusion of supplementing a massive parental flow. Turning south on the road to S. Joao da Pesqueira and travelling a dozen kilometres from the stately Douro, you rise up into the Torto valley and by-pass Ramos Pinto's Quinta do Bom Retiro on the distant right, eventually finding Cristiano and Joana van Zeller's ochre tinted haven of Vale Dona Maria - cocooned within a micro-climate of seasonal temperatures, ranging all the way from Ice Station Zebra to Death Valley.

 

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Pewtered bow-waves temporarily corrugate the water's surface...

 

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Freixo - a beautifully kept railway station
Quinta do Vale Meão, the most remote and sprawling of the Douro Boy's estates is in the ‘far flung east' of the high Douro... 175 kilometres from the ocean and close by Vila Nova de Foz Coa, a small frontier town not famed for its night life, where Portuguese Douro becomes Spanish Duero. The best way to arrive at Vale Meão is by train to Pocinho, the journey is mesmerizing and hugs the main Douro river passing within precipitous canyons and tunnels blasted through sheer granite. A trip peppered with beautifully kept railway stations - Tua, Vesuvio, Freixo, all adorned with neat picket fences, flower boxes and vegetable gardens. Undoubtedly, this is one of the world's great train journeys. By road, river and train: Although my personal acquaintance with the Douro valley began in 2006, it was not until September 2007 I began to travel around the region, by road, river train_interior_300
Train Interior
and train. The latter mode of transport afforded my first glimpse of the Douro dwellers natural affinity for their famous railway line. No stomach churning twists and turns as suffered by four-wheeled passengers on the absurdly spiralling roads, but a leisurely chugging along the gently snaking track while admiring ever more breathtaking views of riverside vineyards. Comfortably seated on large padded bench seats, one has time to stop and stare, absorbing the atmosphere with local people as they animatedly chatter inside the large American style carriages. Though a little jaded and without air conditioning, the old rolling stock offers a relaxed way of travelling and helps define the specialness of a place where saving time is not a priority.

 

 

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A sun dappled journalist's luncheon at Quinta do Vale Meao
I was invited by Dorli Muhr to travel for a few days in the company of an international group of distinguished wine and food journalists, this early September trip offered a perfect opportunity to enjoy the companionship of like-minded people while gaining rapid acquaintance with the boy's fascinatingly colourful world. Our visit began in the Matosinhos district of Porto enjoying a brief but delicious outdoor lunch at a local fish restaurant. The bustling atmosphere of this commercial fishing area is heavy with the strong scent of roadside grilling and visually punctuated by fishy activity, here we witnessed the surreal sight of two porters deftly pall-bearing a massively proportioned turbot at shoulder height, in the style of confident Parisian wine waiters. After a somewhat gruelling road journey to the town of Peso da Régua, we decamped at the new five star Aquapura Hotel , a modern symbol of the Douro's burgeoning tourism status. This luxury berth was my base for the next few days and provided a serious insight to the Douro Boy's many and varied wines. The first evening provided a perfect introduction with a comprehensive master-class for all five Quinta's: the professionally staged event was hosted by Dirk van der Niepoort, Francisco Ferreira, Tomas Roquette, Cristiano van Zeller and Xito Olazabal, among those attending were members of the Portuguese press and local wine aficionados. Rather than po-faced reverence, the evening was full of joy and laughter, from an elegant reception on the elevated sun-baked terrace, to the witty verbal fencing of Messrs van Zeller and Roquette before an attentive audience. My four days accompanying this fine journalistic group provided an entirely different perspective, peppered with humour and shared perceptions of a wild and wonderful place. Thereafter, I travelled for over two weeks in the company of the boys at harvest time, staying at their five respective estates while recording my own vivid impressions of the Douro life of wine.

 

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The Douro Boys await the start of their master-class in the dimly lit interior of Aquapura

 

 

A wind of change is blowing vigorously through this old world region and as each flight of D.O.C. wines was poured, the real breadth, depth and individuality of Douro winemaking became apparent. The Douro Boys offer a bottled snapshot of their respective vineyards - the commitment and dedication to making original wine with true typicity is evident in every vintage. From the immense complexity of Barca Velha's birthplace at Vale Meão, to the freshly minted whites of Vallado and Niepoort's Tiara, the tremendous variety offered by this quality driven group, tangibly demonstrates why the New Douro is such an exciting place for wine lovers.

 

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