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Oh Schist!

David has delivered over 500 newsletters over the years, informative, comical, educational, enticing and occasionally just goofy. Not being the of journalistic or prosaic side of the family, I have given you nothing so far. So here is a quickie:

In July I was fortunate enough to a week to visit ome of Portugal's wine regions: Porto, Douro, Dao, Tejo and Alentejo.

In the Douro it's all about the





  1. a coarse-grained metamorphic rock that consists of layers of different minerals and can be split into thin irregular plates.

It's the tan schist, brown and red schist. It's the grey, pale and blue schists. They have them all and some seem to lend distinct characteristics to the wines more than others. This region has recently begun to to market themselves as the "Blenders", something they have always been but never marketed as such. Typical and prominent varietals include Touriga Nacional (weight, tannin and flavor), Touriga Franca (touch floral), Tinto Roriz (body), Tinta Cao (spice), and Tinta Barroca (oddly for the alcohol and it's aromas) among a host of others. The region runs along and above the mighty Douro River, with vineyards growing on incredibly steep incline, making it very attractive to the eye but very difficult to manage with harvesting being something of a Herculean feat. There are some plots where they actually "clip in" using rock climbing harnesses for safety and expedience. One of the steep vineyards we looked at when translated from Portuguese was named, "Fall Down, Fall Down" because if you do fall it is always more than once!!! Beautiful, hot, dry, and dramatic countryside.

Okay, back to the schist. It seemed to me that the heat, low rainfall, and sun exposure in this area would produce a very dry, earthy and grippy wine. While in some cases this was true I noticed that the vineyards with tan, brown and red schist consistently delivered a bright style of fruit, something young and fresh along with the earth, dust and wind. Almost jovial and juvenile in its way (Hmmm, how many wineries that day)? Is this due to the schist or that there is more clay here than near the pale schists? Well, I'm not sure even though I asked again and again!!! I did notice the pale, grey and blue schist seemed to lend a higher minerality, complexity and depth to those wines. (I also noticed higher price points).

Anyhow, the Douro region of Portugal....Hot, dry, beautiful and arid. You get a bit of relief in the shade during the day. However, as evening falls and the air begins to cool out in the open, a fascinating thing happens close to ground: smells of dirt, and dust with a touch of orange leaf come out..... and it gets HOTTER , hotter than any other time of day as heat and aroma rise from the ground, swirl around your ankles and up to your nose. What's going on?: it's the SCHIST relaxing and releasing the heat of the day, feeding your grapes.

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