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Tras_Montes.jpgIn the remote north east of Portugal, cut off from the coast by a series of mountain ranges, Trás-os-Montes is wild, high country, its soils poor and unproductive, granite with here and there the odd patch of schist. The extreme continental climate brings long, hot summers followed by long, icy winters.

Whichever way you approach Trás-os-Montes, up in Portugal’s far north-eastern corner, there are mountains to cross. Indeed, Trás-os-Montes means ‘Beyond the Mountains’. And once through those barriers (easy nowadays on new, modern roads and motorways), you find yourself in one of Portugal’s most beautiful regions. The scenery changes rapidly, sometimes moorland, sometimes pine forest, lush green valleys, or ancient hills covered in a patchwork of grey-green olive groves, bright green vines, fruit and almond trees, irrigated by little streams. Always high, altitudes vary hugely, with higher land offering cooler temperatures for vines. The weather is cooler in the north, ragingly hot in the south in the summer months, but then snowy in winter, often with late spring frosts. Wines in hotter spots can be very gutsy. But there are also aromatic dry whites, and sparkling wines – a huge range of styles because microclimates (altitude, rainfall, temperature, soils etc) are so varied.

The whole of this north-east corner can make Vinho Regional Transmontano. There are also three enclaves of DOC Trás-os-Montes:

Planalto Mirandês - on a high, remote plateau over to the east where the Douro river flows down along the Spanish border before entering the Douro wine region to the south of Trás-os-Montes.

Valpaços - in the centre of the region, is a hilly plateau crossed by many streams and rivers, including the River Tua, on its way down to the Douro.

Chaves - bordering Spain to the north, the vineyards lying on the slopes of little valleys running towards the main river valley of the Tâmega, famous for its thermal springs, spas (some recently and grandly renovated) and the sources of some of Portugal’s most famous mineral waters.

These three sub-regions are entitled to tack their names onto the DOC, for example Trás-os-Montes-Valpaços.

Soils are mostly granite or schist. Only a few years ago there was a tiny handful of private producers bottling their own wine; now there are more than 50. Many smallholders still deliver their grapes to co-operatives. Some old vineyards were grubbed up in response to EU grants, but there has been support in recent years to replant and restructure vineyards in a modern, quality-conscious way.

Principle white grapes in this region include: Côdega de Larinho, Fernão Pires, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Síria and Viosinho.

Principle red grapes in this region include: Bastardo; Marufo; Tinta Roriz; Touriga Franca; Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira