This was to be a bit of a whirl-wind tour to gain a snap-shot of Portuguese wine, some of its many indigenous varieties and regions. Mission to be completed within a 10 day spell!
After only just completing our stint as Crew Members at the International Wine Challenge and feeling rather exhausted, the promise of sun and wine all set amongst some very beautiful scenery wasn’t to be sniffed at.
We arrived at our Algarve £10 a night apartment (yes, really a tenner!) to acclimatize and begin planning the trip ahead (we had a rough idea of what we intended to do along with one or two appointments with wine producers but the rest was a work in progress!).
A trip to the local Pingo Doce to shop for food including that of the vegetarian kind (which was surprisingly easy to find, although a la 1980’s in style, though no one was complaining) and of course a bottle or two of wine. We soon found an ample selection of very reasonably priced wines, which at first, left us wondering as to the quality. However, we weren’t to be disappointed as those purchased did the trick.
The next leg of our tour involved a very long (although very scenic) trip up to Villa Real in the Douro.
The Portuguese come across as friendly and relaxed folk but put them behind a wheel of a car! To put things politely, there were some very hairy moments on the roads with a fear that did not dissipate throughout our stay!
This drive involved taking in the beautiful village of Tomar and watching the sun set over Fatima. We arrived late in the early hours at Villa Real to find that our hotel was closed for the night! A quick (and very tired) dash around town, we were fortunate enough to find a lovely 4 star hotel (out of our agreed budget range for this trip but what the heck, at this point, it was just what the doctor ordered!). It was great to awake from a comfortable nights sleep and to step out onto our balcony to panoramic views and with the knowledge that breakfast had been prepared for us www.hotelmiracorgo.com
Here, we did have a plan. We had arranged to meet up with both the wine maker and viticulturist at Quinta do Portal on recommendation from Marta Vine www.martavine.co.uk
We were taken on an extensive trip of the vineyards by Miguel Sousa (Viticulturist since 1994) including breath taking views of the Douro Valley. Miguel pointed out that his wife works as wine maker at the neighbouring Quinta do Crasto www.quintadocrasto.pt/uk and at harvest time they can see little of each other. When pushed to say whether he thought Quinta do Portal made better wine than that of his wife, Miguel very diplomatically chose to comment that both wines were excellent but in their own ways!
We were also taken to something of an experimental vineyard where vines were being grown not on terraces but running vertical down the hill. This is less labour intensive and easier to manage in many ways. However, Miguel pointed out that the proof of any success will be in the wines that come from this particular area.
After a very Portuguese lunch with both Miguel and head winemaker Paulo Coutinho (since 2002), we headed for a tour of the winery and cellars. The winery is state of the art with automated lines all controlled via computer. Paulo was happy to demonstrate how the machines worked and what effect that this had had on making improvements to the wine making.
Recent developments have seen a new winery, cellars, tasting room and shop, including space for events built by the Modernist Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira www.alvarosizavieira.com and make for a stunning and compatible impression upon the landscape.
Afterwards, we were then given a tasting of most of the current range of wines that included Port and fortified Muscatel.
We then spent the night in the wonderfully quaint village of Sabrosa (home to the 16th Century explorer Ferdinand Magellan who completed the first circumnavigation of the earth), where the guys from Quinta do Portal had found accommodation for us as we had decided not to spend a night in our booked hotel as it had locked us out the night before.
That evening, we sat in the village square drinking a glass or two of Portal Grande Reserva 2009, eating cheese and bread purchased from the village shop, whilst watching the sun fall over the picturesque buildings.
We spent much of the following day “having a go” at bud pruning with a couple of the vineyard staff. We have to take our hats off to them – the work is very precise and very hard to do, especially after a few hours (it certainly makes you appreciate every sip of the wines even more!). During our time in the vineyard we were made to feel very welcome, even attempting some sort of conversation between (our) very bad Portuguese and Bruno’s (better) English! An added bonus was the sound of a Cuckoo in close proximity.
We came away feeling very looked after and privileged to have spent so much time with such incredibly nice people.
The following day, we made our way to Porto stopping off at Amarante, famous for its phallic pastries (which we decided to give a miss), though we did stumble upon a small family run shop that had a good stock of wine and a very friendly proprietor on Rua de Janeiro (www.merceariacosta.blogspot.com).
We purchased a bottle of Quinta do Crasto Crasto Superior 2010 – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousa & Vinhas Velhas (old vines – usually in vineyards of mixed varieties – the old traditional way of grape growing). A bottle that we brought home with us and is yet to be had.
Visit our Wine Lab for our thoughts on the wines we tried.