Picturesque and Perfect, Wine tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley

The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?.

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Late last winter we were scrambling to plan a spring gateway as Manitoba winters can be brutal. One of my friends is Portuguese and she had always recommended Portugal. So we decided it was about time and booked our ticket. A couple of weeks later, one of my coworkers asked where I was going  on my holiday. “Portugal” I told her. She looked at me and said “Let me guess, the Douro Valley.” ” Yes” I replied shocked ” How did you know?” She gave me a look  and replied “Well , the wine.” It is true, wine is absolutely a driving force for me when I travel. I  am fascinated  by regional wine making, grapes, and traditions. And the Douro Valley is home to some of Portugal’s best wines and ports. I couldn’t wait.

And well I did my wine research and looked into all Porto had to offer, I somehow missed all the information about just how incredibly beautiful the Douro Valley actually is. So The day we set out for the Douro Valley, I was ready to taste wine but was  blown away by how beauty of the Douro Valley especially in the spring. Our first stop was the Sandeman Quinto do Seixo. At this point, we had visited Sandeman in Porto and it is one of the best known port houses. The service in Porto along with the Port was excellent, so I wasn’t sure exactly what the Quinto do Seixo could offer to improve on it. Well the Ports were still excellent ( we got 4 tastings) and the white was surprisingly my favourite, but the views, the views were out of this world.  213The Douro valley so named for the Douro river running through it is steep. Many if not all the vineyard are on awe inspiring terraced systems. The Quinto do Seixo offered a floor to ceiling windowed tasting room to view the vineyards or you could step out on to the courtyard, feel the spring sunshine and sip your 10 year old tawny port with its hints of figs, sultanas, and honey and just enjoy. And I did just that, while @benton8tor searched for the spot to take the perfect picture. We both came away happy, me bolstered by the port and the few sips, I stole of @benton8tors, and him by the views.

http://www.sandeman.com/our-wines

After reluctantly leaving Sandeman, we made our way to the beautiful village of Pinhao for lunch. Pinhao on the Douro River offer river tours as well. It like the rest of the Douro Valley is beautiful and lunch is enormous, complete with rice, we had a choice of 3 proteins (fish, pork, and chicken) which we shared, accompanied by salad and followed by a delicious port cake, I wasn’t sure I could fit anything else in my stomach. But luckily I always have room for wine. Which was lucky considering our next stop took us to Quinta do Panascal to taste some beautifully complex tawny ports.

The ports were rich again with notes of honey and fig along with another spectacular tasting room, with old barrels doubling as tables. The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?. http://www.fonseca.pt/en/visitors-centre/

Well maybe not better but still amazing. Though I love Port, I was at this point desperate for some actual wine for variety. Luckily the Quinta da Pacheca in Lamego did just that. Again anther stunningly beautiful tasting room in a stunningly beautiful locale ( I am actually running out of superlatives). We were able to taste some beautiful Douro Valley whites and reds. The red was my favourite. Light, easy drinking but with a depth of flavour perfect for a spring day. but a tasting wouldn’t be complete without Port and we finished in the courtyard and a beautiful sunny walk in the vineyard.

http://www.quintadapacheca.com/en

I was loathe to leave the Douro Valley as it had entranced me with its beauty and delicious wines. Douro, I can’t wait to come back.

Port or Sherry? Porto or Jerez ? Both Please

But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.

Most people if not everyone know, i love wine, in particular reds from France (especially the Rhone) so it should come as no surprise that I love port and sherry, fortified wines and in the case of port sweet. Or maybe it does. Certainly the majority of wine drinkers I know detest both port and sherry. But that is not the fault or either port or sherry. Rather I lay the blame on Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry or a ruby port, cheap, smelling and tasting like cough syrup. I can’t blame them. However this is prevalent in Canada, In Europe it is much more common to understand the diversity of both port and sherry.

It took me a long time to drink either. My first foray was Christmas 1998. @benton8tors parents served me sherry, Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry. I brought champagne every Christmas since then. However, I knew in the back of my mind, there had to be more o sherry but I was to preoccupied with discovering red wines and champagnes to find out.

Fast forward to 2015 and a wine store in England hosting a port tasting. My introduction into good ports! Fast forward 1 more year and @benon8tor and i are in Seville, about an hours drive from Jerez de la Frontera,  the sherry capital and home of its production. IMG_4214Now @benton8tor really likes sherry so he wanted to do tastings, try the different styles, and really discover sherry. I wanted to eat tapas and sit rooftop and poolside at our hotel overlooking the cathedral but unfortunately it isn’t all about me so I wen with good grace to Jerez. Our first stop was Tio Pepe http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/. Tio Pepe is omnipresent in Spain when it comes to sherry.. Bonus points they offered a tapas and sherry tour! But it didn’t start for another hour and a half. The staff at Tio Pepe were very helpful and suggested waiting in a cafe on the square. Which turned out to be a great idea. Southern Spain in August is very very hot and Jerez is fairly arid so a cafe with some petty views an a tortilla (Spanish omelet) was a perfect was to kill some time. Once again, the service was awesome.

The Tio Pepe tour was good, informative but a little corporate. However the sherry is awesome.We had 4 tastings, a ranging from dry to sweet and all made differently as you’d expect. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t understand the diversity of sherry and the nuances. How could a dry sherry still have a taste of hazelnut and 20160828_195228sweetness without being sweet. Why did the sweet sherry remind me of Christmas cake and not just pure sugar? It definitely awoke a taste for sherry. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time n Jerez but I want to go back and visit and taste at the smaller sherry bodegas. However that night back in Seville (one of the most stunningly beautiful cities) we did sit poolside and enjoy a rebujito, a refreshing sherry cocktail made with dry sherry, sprite or tonic water and mint.

With a love of sherry now certain, it was time to conquer Port and to do that you best go to Porto. Which is what we did. Porto is the epicenter of Port production. In fact the entire side of the river bank is depicted to port houses. We were lucky enough in Porto to visit Port houses (Kopke and Sandeman) do part tastings at the Wine Box http://www.thewineboxporto.com/ ( a must do) and tour the Douro Valley, home of port production and fabulous views.

Port is diverse as Sherry, if not more so. The menu at the Kopke Port house https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g580268-d6965338-Reviews-Casa_Kopke-Vila_Nova_de_Gaia_Porto_District_Northern_Portugal.html showcases just how diverse port is, you can have white port, rose, ruby and tawny, all aged differently , made with different levels of sweetness. Despite all the tastings, I still found myself drawn to the tawny ports, aged ones in particular. the nutty, Christmas cake, dried fruit taste of an aged tawny port with a blue cheese? out of this world!

Sandeman is as omnipresent in Porto as Tio Pepe is in Jerez. http://www.sandeman.com/ That said, they have amazing port offerings and some of the best views of the Douro Valley. In fact to truly appreciate port, tour the Douro Valley with its terraced vineyards, beautiful river and some of the most relaxed and petty settings to sip your port, smell the wisteria and watch the world go by.

Both Porto and Southern Spain are often overlooked as tourist destinations in favour of there more famous regions. Spain has Barcelona and Malaga, Portugal has Lisbon and Madeira. But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.220

Port, Portugal’s Wine Gift to the World

Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. If it isn’t from Portugal, it isn’t port.

I was out for dinner last night with some friends and we were chatting about my recent trip to Portugal and the port tastings. As my friend noted, her dad loves to finish a meal with port but she hasn’t been able to develop a taste for it. ‘ Why do you like it’ she asked as I ordered a Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny to finish the dinner. It was this question that inspired this post. Why do I like port? When did I start to like it? It is a good question, one I am not sure I have the answer to. One thing is for sure, I didn’t always like port, in fact for a certain period of my life, I am quite sure I hated it. In fact bad port ( or port posers) can often taste like sugary cough medicine but good, interesting ports, well they can blow your mind. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. If it isn’t from Portugal, it isn’t port.

I can pinpoint when I started dipping my toe in the port waters, and it wasn’t in Portugal but a small town in Suffolk England, Bungay. It is the town where @bentn8tors grandfather retired and we were visiting old haunts back in 2015. Maybe it is because it was rainy, maybe because it was cold and maybe just maybe I have associated ports with old English manor houses, smoking jackets and fires that when passing the Russell and Newness wine shop advertising port tasting I convinced @benton8tor we needed to check it out. http://www.russellandnewnes.co.uk/

It was obviously surprising to Ben that I would want to taste port but he gamely accompanied me. I will also point out that he got easily distracted in the shop by the whiskies, leaving me mainly on my own with the proprietor to taste the ports. And it was a fabulous experience. Port actually varies exponentially in flavour. I learned the difference between ruby and tawny ports that 2 months later I promptly forgot. (but I know again now). We went home with a port that tasted like drinking Christmas cake and paired beautifully with blue cheese. Or so I thought @Benton8tor hates blue cheese so he can’t back up my claim. Probably because it isn’t meat.

So fancying myself a port expert I served a port at my wine club that could be best described as Buckleys cough syrup. It was then I realized if I was going to dish out money on port and enjoy, I better figure out what it is. Flash to Portugal April 17 ( a mere 4 weeks ago) We are in Porto the heart of the Douro Valley and port country and I recommend these 5 tours/ tastings to help anyone understand and grow to love port.

5. The Douro Valley wine tour

The Douro Valley is beyond beautiful and that alone would make it worth it but the 3 tastings on this tour were fabulous.224 Often favouring smaller producers, you can really get a taste for the Douro Valley wine but more importantly the port. We had 3 stops and tasted a total of 12 wines (4 of which were wine and 8 were port) I quickly discovered that tawny ports get their flavour from the process of the wine making and time spent in oak barrels. Also I infinitely  prefer tawny’s to ruby ports which I found sweeter and less complex but also less strong in taste. Also there was such a thing as white port which was also delicious.

4. The Wine Box. Located just off the Douro River in Riberia District of Porto, the Wine Box is a fabulous place for wine tasting. In fact it is where I would take my wine loving friends to taste Portuguese wines and warm up their palates for the ports that followed. Beautiful, cozy and full of choice, it is a great stop for wine tasting.

http://thewineboxporto.com/

3. Sandeman With a port house in Porto but also a port house in the Douro Valley, Sandeman is one of the bigger producers of port. It also offers beautiful views of the Douro Valley or if in Porto a fabulous tour. There are many times available for English tours and Sandeman is easily identifiable for the black capes

( Porto university students were them and inspired the capes in Harry Potter) and black hats. Sandeman also produces a wide range of ports, beautifully served. The 20 yr old tawny remains my favourite.

2. Kopke Port House is right along the river and though smaller than Taylor or Sandeman it has a fabulous introduction to port. 170Rather than pay for a tour, it is set up like a restaurant and you pay for your tasting. Their port menu is extensive, interesting and bold. They will pair your choices with chocolate to enhance your experience. It makes a huge difference and if you want to start understanding port, this is the place to go.The staff really know their port and will do their best to introduce to it and help you enjoy it. http://www.sogevinus.com/lkopke

1.The Wine Quay Bar. By far my favourite Porto wine experience. Located on the Douro River but slight elevated, the Wine Quay Bar has the best views, best service and best selection of wine. Since we were in Portugal I wanted to drink Portuguese wines but also I wanted to know more about them. The sever asked which wines I usually drink and I told her French, Rhone or Provence are my favourite (that I can afford ahem Burgundy). She then recommended a couple of wines from the south of Portugal and her recommendations were spot on.

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view from the Wine Quay Bar

the wines were beautiful, well balanced, bold but not overpowering. Later I asked her recommendations for port and she again was spot on with a white port and a beautiful tawny. Bonus points, they give all their guests water pistols to keep birds away from stealing food. As a bird phobic, i was elated. http://www.winequaybar.com/

There are many Ports, Port houses and tasting opportunities at home and when traveling. I strongly recommend a port tastings as an introduction, especially paired with food (or you know a rainy English day). But I also recommend Porto to try Port, all the Port houses are there (there are so many try as many as you can!) We often don’t get all the interesting ports or smaller producers in Canada so visit Porto,iIntroduce yourself to all the different types of Port and enjoy a fruitful relationship. And apparently bad puns.

 

Porto, A Gastronomic Delight

So if you are so inclined to do this tour, go with an empty stomach and open mind and you won’t be disappointed.

Visiting Portugal wasn’t really on my radar 10 years ago. However a a friend of mine is from Portugal (her family) and they go back often.After hearing her talk abut it for years, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t wanted to visit. This year I was lucky enough to visit. The big question is where to go. Lisbon is an obvious option as is the sunny south coast. But for my first foray into Portugal, we chose Porto. Porto is located in the Douro Valley ( the stunningly beautiful Douro Valley but that is for a later post) and the home to Portugal’s many famed Port Houses. Since I believe wine is a food group, Porto it was.

Arriving in Porto in early April is a good time. weather is warm but not too many tourists yet. @benton8tor and I often like to start a visit to a new place with a food tour. It is usually a good way to get to know a city, find out where and what you might like to eat, and get a feel for the culture. Luckily in Porto it was a food and wine tour. Yes, yes ,yes. Sure it started at 9:30 in the morning but whatever, I am sure they wouldn’t start with wine until lunch (OK i thought 10:30 but I was wrong it was 10!). Of all the things to do in Porto I can’t recommend this tour enough. https://www.viator.com/tours/Porto/Porto-Food-and-Wine-Tasting-Tour/d26879-5902FOODWINE

We met our tour guide Sara (one of the best guides we have ever ever had) at 9:30 and started with a coffee and Portuguese pastry the famous Pastéis de Nata.thumbnail_IMG_6752 It was so good that a seagull even stole one from the table next to us. Our guide then led us to the Porto Market which was an amazing experience. So much fresh food, fruit, seafood, cheese, wine and tons of souvenir type gifts including tea towel, wine openers and other knickknacks with the infamous rooster on them. we then proceeded to a local specialty shop with cheese, wine, and meats. After trying several cheeses and meats, we got to sample the world famous ports including a white that was sweeter and more interesting than I would have thoughtthumbnail_IMG_6766.Afterwards we had my favorite stop of the tour Where we tried the infamous bifana, a slow cooked pork sandwich flavoured with spices and a sparking green wine that is considerably lighter than i thought. ( the wine isn’t green, it is named for the region) from there we headed to the absolutely breathtaking Porto train station. Though Porto itself is full of beautiful blue tiles on the building, the train station’s tiles are truly a work of art with each section representing a portion of Porto’s history. From there we stopped at Casa Leandro a small cafe off one of the busy tourist streets. Here we tried a local liqueur with anise and a traditionalthumbnail_IMG_6788 codfish cake, from there we headed to the Wine Box to taste local wines (My first red of the trip, delicious! Also it as noon so I didn’t wait to long) and more ports. Tawny ports especially the longer aged were emerging as my favourites. http://www.thewineboxporto.com/

 

From there we reached our last spot, a tiny tucked away cafe just off the busy tourist area by the river. Walking in is like walking in to someone’s kitchen. Here we really sampled some Porto delights including a black eyed pea salad, olives, the amazing Portuguese bread, and a delicious meat dish which we found out afterwards was chicken gizzards. Sara, our guide had not only given us a great intro into the food and wine of Porto, she gave us a sense of the city.

So if you are so inclined to do this tour, go with an empty stomach and open mind and you won’t be disappointed. They say you should always leave wanting more, though I had no more room for food, I definitely have more room for Portugal and there is so much more to see (looking at you Lisbon) . So it is safe to say, we’ll be back.