Ah, beautiful Portugal! Striking architecture in iconic Lisbon. History and character in Porto …and then there is the Douro Valley, which is stunning and will entice any visitor.
This area is known for its natural beauty and also for its wines and, in particular, Port. No, it isn’t made in Porto although it’s that city that gives its name to this fortified beverage. Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British, dating back, in the case of the celebrated Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. The Portuguese have been making wine for, they say, at least two thousand years.
There are many theories regarding the modern discovery 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 elevated levels of residual sugar. This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be to the 17th-century English taste.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific region of Portugal called The Douro. Gangs of workers march with a characteristic rhythmic movement from one side of the wine tank to the other with, sometimes, a group of musicians to speed the crushing process. The juice starts its fermentation, and the wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a grape spirit distilled for the wine industry. This ‘brandy’ 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 available. The boats have a shallow draft to enable them to more easily navigate what was a treacherous watercourse until 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. (Although that air-gap perhaps allowed the wine to move from side to side, thus contributing to the instability of the cargo.)
Taylor’s is famed for its Vintage Ports, which they blend from the firm’s own quintas (estates) of Vargellas, Terra Feita and Junco. Taylor’s also produce wood-aged Ports. They hold one of the largest stocks of rare cask-aged wines, from which its tawny Ports are blended. Don’t miss white Port which is becoming popular on European bar circuits. Tours and tastings are available.
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
Staying in the Douro Valley… and you will want to!
Six Senses Douro Valley is a quality hospitality stunner. Perched on a hill looking down over vines, this superb hotel and spa would yet be perfect for a tea-totaller. Six Senses is a thoughtfully renovated 19th-century manor house with vistas across the river below. It offers accommodation in rooms, suites and villas, and food, by the look of the breakfast spread, doesn’t let the side down. There is even a wine library for the viticulture enthusiast, and swimming pools for those who are here for relaxation and pampering.
Quinta da Pacheca, The Wine House Hotel, is justifiably celebrated for its natural charm and superb location. It has received several international awards and is polished and beautifully appointed with both modern amenities and classic furnishings. It has a focus on both gastronomic and wine tourism, and it presents the best of both delicious genres.
Monverde Hotel is an offshoot from the Quinta da Lixa’s vineyards. This is a striking hotel with a keen ethos of high-end hospitality. The rooms offer every modern amenity and fairly ooze comfort and sophistication. The restaurant is as good as any in the region and, naturally, the wine pairings are memorable. Monverde Hotel has a wine-lover’s ideal location, set amongst those vines. The traveller won’t be disappointed when making this their base for a stay in the Douro.
The Douro valley offers everything a wine lover would want from a holiday or even a short break. The hotels situated in wineries are luxurious and of the highest standard. They range from polished contemporary to classic Portuguese. They attract the well-heeled with discerning tastes, so food and wine pairings are a gastronomic delight.
From 25 March 2018 -TAP Air Portugal has 20 weekly departures from London City and London Gatwick to Porto. Prices start at £41 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
For further information visit flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018