Our trip to Portugal was better than planned. The first half of the excursion, dedicated to Port, had many highlights. The latter half, which focused on various aspects of Madeira, was a revelation.
Our guests included a pair of Port savvy chaps from the UK, a dynamic duo of women from Sweden, one from Finland, a wine expert from Bordeaux and a diverse assemblage of Southern Californian’s – five women and one Madeira loving gentleman.
Additionally, Mario Ferreira and your humble narrator were on hand to guide the group. We began with a steep uphill stroll on a long and winding road in the heart of Vila Nova de Gaia, which eventually landed us eager and thirsty at the doorstep of Porto Poças. The marvelous visit concentrated on learning about the family that owns and drives the business, as well as the broad spectrum of Ports produced by Poças. The cooperage part of their operation was extremely educational and the Lodge itself was crammed with historical artifacts. The Ports were new to many and a fun way to begin our exploration.
No visit to the Oporto is complete unless one evening is spent at VinoLogia. It was grand to see our friends Jean-Philippe and Gustavo again and introduce them to our group. We dined in their fabulous new restaurant a stone’s throw away and then returned to the newly renovated VinoLogia. Gustavo led us through a tasting of small grower/producer Port products that even our most experienced guests’ Port palates had never tried before.
The wow factor took over the next day whence Peter Symington led us through a comparative double horizontal tasting of the Symington’s stable of Port shippers from both the 1977 and 1997 vintages. It was enlightening to be able to try so many extraordinary Ports from these fabulous vintages and compare and contrast house styles, as well as the quality of the individual wines. Later in the day we visited a couple of different Lodges but settled in at Barros for an in-depth view and tasting of the Ports of Barros, including many older Colheitas.
We arrived in the Douro on a beautifully bright and sunny day at Quinta da Napoles. We spent a couple of hours touring the facilities and discovering the new developments that Dirk Niepoort had put into place since our visit during the last harvest. Luis Seabra, the talented winemaker of Douro wines, led us through an extraordinary array of 2006 and 2007 Niepoort whites and reds. Famished and ready for some bottled beauties, we delved into lunch, perfectly paired by a number of DOC and Port wines.
As the day was only half over, we headed to one of the gems of the Douro, Croft’s Quinta da Roêda. Our guests were in the mood for exercise and the afternoon was rather sunny and quite warm, perfect for our multi-mile meandering through the vineyards and by-ways of this serene and gorgeous property. We picked, peeled and ate some fresh oranges and tangerines along the way which restored our energy. Jorge Ramos then provided a most controversial wine … Croft’s Pink Port. The group was anxious to try this particular Port after reading all of the hype and especially our two British clients, who had only tasted the M&S version prior to the trip. We were all in the mood for something cold and refreshing after our long walk and the bottle of Pink was already on ice. There were lots of other ingredients and we performed our own master class in mixology, finally settling on Pink Port, tonic and a slice of lemon on the rocks. Those who had initially found “Pink” way too sweet for their liking; agreed that as a summer sipper this would work quite nicely. After touring the manor house, we sat down for a serious vertical tasting of Croft vintage Ports.
Lots more ensued as we walked our way into Pinhão for a memorable dinner and happened to bump into Jorge Borges (Pintas) seated at the adjacent table. We ended the evening at The Vintage House for drinks and dessert, which culminated with the youngest woman in our group getting her first experience with a Port tongs. The fruits of her labor yielded a bottle of 1994 Dow VP which was singing to us.
The following morning began with a visit to Quinta do Vale Dona Maria with the effervescent, larger than life personality of Cristiano van Zeller. He showed us around the entire operation and then we launched onto a remarkable tasting of his wines as well as some others from the DOC Douro Boys. It was great to be able to compare the Van Zeller and Vale Dona Maria wines with those of Quinta do Vale Meão and Pintas. Cristiano then guided us to Quinta de Roriz where we had a lovely lunch on the veranda of the venerable old Quinta, replete with a lineup of whites and reds, followed by a dual vertical of Ports from Roriz and Vale D. Maria.
After a brief hike, we embarked on a boat ride on the Upper Douro and our extraordinary day came to an end Well fortified, we headed back to Oporto and had a leisurely dinner before packing up for the 2nd half of our adventure; Madeira.