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Port and Fladgate Hospitality
Port is enjoying something of a revival with the addition
of both white and pink varieties to its classic styles. It’s a wine
with a unique history that has almost as much to do with politics as
With the exception of Port, Portuguese wine has been until recently
relatively overlooked, unless we consider Mateus Rosé, and even
that has been sought after more for its attractive bottle than for its
contents. But there is Port and that has, it seems, been with us
Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British,
dating back, in the case of Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. Wine has been
made in Portugal for, it is believed, at least two thousand years. By
the 10th century BC the Phoenicians had arrived and introduced new
grape varieties and winemaking techniques to the land that was later to
The resulting wines were first shipped to England as far back as the
12th century and in 1386, the Portuguese and the English signed the
Treaty of Windsor which promoted close diplomatic ties between the two
countries and opened the door for further trade.
There are many theories regarding the origin of Port – one of the most
popular is the story of a visit in 1678 of English wine merchants to a
monastery on the banks of the Douro River. They were looking for wines
to ship back to England and they happened upon an abbot in Lamego who
was producing a wine that was totally new to the merchants. The abbot
of Lamego was fortifying his wine during fermentation instead of after,
which was the practice for other wines. The abbot’s method killed
off the active yeast leaving the wine with high levels of residual
sugar. This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be
to the 17th century English taste.
In 1693 the English were again at war with the French so King William
III of England imposed crippling taxes on all French wines. This
inevitably encouraged even more English wine merchants to find other
sources, and a few found the Douro Valley. With the increase in
Port’s popularity came the usual problems of falling standards from
adulteration, with some producers adding sugar and elderberry juice to
the wine to increase the alcoholic content; grapes grown in other
regions of Portugal or Spain were transported to Porto to be disguised
as produce from the Douro. Once this practice became public knowledge,
sales of Port wine in England plummeted and imports dropped from more
than 11,500,000 litres in 1728 to 5,490,000 litres in 1756.
The 1703 Methuen Treaty had reduced taxes on Portuguese wines and the
lucrative trade in Port prompted the Portuguese in 1756 to establish
one of the world's first protected ‘designations of origin’ when
Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal,
marked vineyard boundaries with carved stones and introduced
regulations for the production of authentic Port from the Douro. It is
considered as the oldest defined and protected wine region in the
world. Chianti in Italy and Tokaj in Hungary have older demarcations
but no associated regulation, so Port is the oldest. Now, under EU
Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only Port from Portugal may
be labelled as Port or Porto. Many of the oldest vineyards are now
classified as World Heritage Sites and are planted on narrow terraces
supported by hand-built dry-stone walls.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific Douro
region. There are robots that are used by some growers to tread the
grapes but many producers prefer the traditional method of treading the
grapes by foot in a tank called lagares. Gangs of workers march with a
characteristic movement from one side of the wine tank to the other.
The juice starts its fermentation, and the wine produced is then
fortified by the addition of a grape brandy (although this is not a
traditional brandy but a spirit distilled for the wine industry). It is
added in order to stop the fermentation, to allow sugar to remain in
the wine, and to increase the alcohol content.
Until well into the 20th century the wine produced in the Douro was
carried down the river from the vineyards in special
boats known as barcos rabelos. You can still see these moored along the
river in Porto, and rides are offered. The boats have a shallow draft
to enable them to more easily navigate what was a treacherous
watercourse until the dams were built to manage the river flow. So
risky was the business of transporting the casks down river that they
were never filled to capacity but had an air gap which allowed them to
remain buoyant should there be a mishap en route.
Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses and perhaps
the best known. The family business was established in 1692 and
is dedicated just to the production of Port in all its guises. The
owner of The Ram Inn in London’s Smithfield, Job Bearsley, had arrived
in Portugal to make his fortune not from Port wine but from the wine of
the Minho region in the north-west of the country. Job’s eldest son
Peter also made his home in Portugal, and investigated the wine from
the upper Douro Valley. He is considered the first member of the
English wine trade to conduct business personally in the Douro Valley
rather than buying the wines through agents. He, with partners, founded
what was to become the Taylor Fladgate empire.
Taylor’s is celebrated for its Vintage Ports, which are blended from
the firm’s own quintas (estates) of Vargellas, Terra Feita and Junco.
Taylor’s also produce wood-aged Ports and they hold one of the largest
stocks of rare cask-aged wines, from which its tawny Ports are blended.
You will have your imagination fired by even a short break in Porto,
but enhance your journey with the unique experience of a tour of the
cellars; complete it with a Port tasting and finish with the
spectacular opening of a bottle of Vintage Port with hot tongs. Don’t
forget your camera!
Três Séculos is the events arm of The Fladgate Partnership
which includes some of the best Port Wine producers such as Taylor’s, Fonseca Guimaraens, Skeffington, Croft
and Delaforce. The company is all about hospitality. It takes evident
pride in its wines which themselves conjure thoughts of convivial
gatherings, good food and stylish accommodation. Barão de
Fladgate is their destination restaurant in the historic town of Vila
Nova de Gaia, at Taylor's Port Lodges. This is on the opposite bank of
the Douro River from Porto and therefore has the best views of that
The versatile restaurant is stunning. Its stone walls offer classic
comfort on cold winter evenings. The views across to Porto are
particularly impressive at night, with noteworthy buildings being lit
to present the most romantic of panoramas. A meal at Barão de
Fladgate is an event that encapsulates the very essence of Porto and
the quality that The Fladgate Partnership represents.
Between 1st April and 30th September Barão de Fladgate opens up
its veranda for lunch and dinner so visitors can enjoy the warmth of
balmy days while they savour some of the best dishes of the region. Be
warned that lunch might well be a long and leisurely affair, as you’ll
not be eager to move from your vantage point. The activity on both the
river and the bank will divert your attention away from the sumptuous
food for a while, but you’ll return to your plate and that
expertly-paired glass of port, and take advantage of all that
Barão de Fladgate has to offer.
The menu is seasonal so you could consider several short breaks without
the threat of having the same meal twice. Slow-roasted small kid,
turnip tops, oven-baked rice with bacon, and slow roasted veal cooked
for five hours are two of the cold-weather dishes to entice the
visitor. Squash and almond cake, pêra rocha (pear) in Fonseca Bin
27 Port wine with cloves could be your dessert, but try and save space
for the cheese board – you’ll likely have the chance to taste some
delightful local produce.
Barão de Fladgate and Três Séculos
Rua do Choupelo 250, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal 4400-088
Phone: 223 742 800
Fax: 223 705 407
12:30 to 15:00 and 19:30 to 22:30 Monday to Saturday,
12:30 to 16:00 Sunday