Here I review Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson. This is the 3rd edition, which was originally published in 2013, but I have a paperback version published by Infinite Ideas in April 2016. It has an RRP of £30, but I didn’t pay a penny of my own money as I was sent a review copy. This printing was apparently “heavily revised” – from the first printing of the 3rd edition presumably. But as I do not have the original 3rd edition, I cannot really comment on that, apart from to say that all vintages are described up to and including 2015, and the sales and production statistics now go as far as 2014.
The look and feel is very similar to Biodynamic Wine, which I reviewed in my previous blog post: a 234 x 156mm paperback with clear printing and a rather nice general feel to the book. But this is a bigger book of 308 pages and a slightly smaller typeface. Most of the illustrations are hand painted sketches, but there are a few diagrams and maps, and several colour plates clustered together in the centre of the book. The text is also broken up by boxes. This is something I generally do not like, as I would much rather the author figure out for me how best to incorporate everything into the flow of the narrative, but here I thought the series of boxes on the theme Men who shaped the Douro worked rather well.
The book is very much in the mould of many other specialist books on wine regions, and in that sense it works well – very well indeed, to extent that it is difficult to fault. Better maps perhaps? But I am very much aware how much good quality cartography costs. Tasting notes? Maybe, but I personally find them of very limited value. Another possible criticism is that it somehow fails to excite. But what sort of excitement can one reasonably expect from a book on Port and the Douro? For me, perhaps only in the sense that I regard the Douro region to be the most atmospheric wine region I have ever visited, with its vastness and haunting beauty, and it would have been nice to have more of that feeling communicated. Though I admit it is a big demand on a specialist wine writer – there are only so many Andrew Jeffords in the world 🙂 However, still on the subject of the feel of the Douro region, I was delighted to find that Mayson mentioned Miguel Torga’s novel Vindima (Grape Harvest in English translation). It is a novel I had been intending to dig out after visiting Quinta da Cavadinha, which features in it, but later forgot the name of the author and book – now I am grateful to be reading it in translation on my Kindle, and it is giving me my required shot of Douro poetry. But I digress… there follows below a description of the contents of Port and the Douro.
The first chapter covers in some detail the history of Portugal – Porto and the Douro in particular. This is followed by one on the vineyards, vines, major grape varieties, and quintas (farms or estates). Then a description of the various types of Port, with a separate chapter devoted to Vintage Port. Port producers and shipper then get their own chapter, which is followed by one on Douro (unfortified) wines. Finally there is some guidance for the visitor to Porto and the Douro.
So – a very good solid book with very little to criticise (even if I seem to have spent most of this review writing about my criticisms).