Our first impressions were unfortunately not great. We arrived in the city at tea-time on a Friday to discover that we had not experienced traffic this scary until now! After calming our nerves at our residence, we then set out to explore the famous quayside.
Again, our impression was not entirely a good one. Although, it was bustling with people and we did manage to find somewhere to sit and order a couple of bottles of Super Bock Portuguese beer. However, within minutes of being sat down, we were harassed with folk wanting to know if we were in the slightest bit interested in buying anything from plastic flowers to slippers of all things! We were also sat in close proximity to a musical band of sorts whose guitarist constantly played out of key. Combine this with the amount of traffic that seems to be allowed to travel past the many people trying to eat their dinners and throw in a group of children whose parents had simply left them to kick a football around everywhere. We were not impressed and could not understand what all the fuss was about.
However, things did improve from here and we must say that the view of the bridge at dusk is stunning.
We decided to walk further along the quayside and found a couple of seats outside a bar next to the Dom Luis I Bridge, that had a friendly waiter and where we enjoyed a glass of, Quinta do Cachao 2010 Douro: Fruit cake, Alfaraz Colheita 2010 Alentejo: full style of dark fruits and spice, Dados Reserva 2008 Douro: Lots of dark fruits and black olives
So the night did end on a pleasing note.
The following day, all was redeemed!
We decided that a must-do was to visit a couple of the Port houses in Gaia across the water. Taking first the Metro across Dom Luis Bridge and then getting a cable car down onto the quayside in Gaia itself.
At 11.00am the first port of call (pardon the pun!) was Ramos Pinto.
LBV: Deep ruby, fruitcake, raisin, red fruits, black forest gateau, smooth mouthfeel
Vintage 2000: Well integrated with red and dark fruits with muscovado sugar, refined fruit depth and maturity
Tawny 10 year old: Raisins, figs, dried fruits, orange peel and cane sugar
Tawny 20 year old: Walnuts and caramel, very smooth. Reminiscent aromas similar to a good dark rum (our favourite)
Tawny 30 year old: Hazelnut, caramel, dried fruits. Seemed sweeter than the 20 year old
Sadly, we could not get a cellar tour as it was closed for the day due to staff training.
We then called into the arty Porto Cruz but trying to arrange to get on an English speaking tour seemed to be a bit of a problem so we opted to come back later to try out their wonderful roof top bar instead. So instead we headed off to The Yeatman Hotel (built on the old Croft Lodges) www.the-yeatman-hotel.com. This is a fantastic hotel and a price tag that goes come with it. However, non-residents are more than welcome to call to sit outside on the terraced area over-looking stunning views of Porto. The hotel also has an extensive wine list (and we mean extensive). This is broken down into more manageable seasonal editions with selected wines.
The wine waiter led us out onto the terrace where we found an excellent place to take in the views whilst sat in the sun. As we couldn’t decide on which wine to start with, he went away and returned with a flight containing three glasses. These were:
Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Bairrada-Beiras 2010 – Bical grapes grown on limestone-clay soil and Cerceal & Sercialinho (a hybrid of Arinto & Alvarinho) in sandy soils: Citrus with a creamy edge and weight to the body – a glass was duly ordered
Fiuza Premium Fiuza & Bright Tejo 2011 – Chardonnay & Alvarinho: Quite a weighty body, touch of oak, pinapple, vanilla. The Alvarinho giving it some acidic back bone – a glass was duly ordered
Soalheiro Reserva Minho 2010: 100% Alvarinho (fermented and aged in French oak): Floral nose with peachiness and some pear, light body with not a lot of colour – the one that we both liked the least and it was the most expensive of the three wines
What a wonderful way to while away a few hours, sat in the sun overlooking panoramic views of Porto, sipping cool fresh wine whilst reading a good book (in this case, Rosie Garland’s Palace of Curiosities www.rosiegarland.com).
Whilst we could have remained there probably well into the night, we did want to take in another Port House, so with some reluctance we left our comfortable seats behind to explore the world famous Taylor’s Port House. Here, we were guaranteed both a tasting (though with less wines) and a cellar tour.
Upon entering the marquee style tasting room, we were greeted with a chilled glass of, Chip Dry White Port – often used as an aperitif and sometimes accompanied with tonic and lemon.
After being taken on a tour of the cellars, we returned to hear a short presentation about the Ports about to be tasted and then took to finding a table to try each out for ourselves.
LBV 2008 : Lots of red and black fruits, spice though we thought that it was a little closed and the alcohol stood out a bit, preferring the LBV that Ramos Pinto had to offer
10 Year Old Tawny: Medium brown in colour with notes of caramel, raisins and coffee. Very smooth and morish
We then returned to Porto Cruz www.porto-cruz.com to relax for the rest of the day on their roof top terrace, which also supports fantastic views across the river overlooking Porto.
Cassa Lote Miguel Castro E Silva Douro: House white and red (2007) especially produced for Porto Cruz – both mixed blends of typical Douro grape varieties and both equally respectable drinks
This followed a walk across Dom Luis bridge, taking the funicular to the top of the hill and onto our Metro to our apartment and concluded another wonderful day.
The next day we set off for Lisbon but not before taking in the beach at Matosinhos with its various bars and cafes preparing fresh fish for the BBQ’s that line the streets, as well as the pretty walled village of Obidos that was once used as a gift to the Queens of Portugal and to sample its famous Ginja d’Obidos www.ginjadeobidos.com/english cherry liqueur served in a small chocolate cup, and finally, the city of Sintra, famous for its National Palace.
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.