The official tour began on Monday morning and our small group of explorers were ready for some action, as we headed from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia for our first visit. Zev had to lug all of his filming equipment along, as we would not be back to the hotel until it was time for bed. We arrived at the Ferreira Port Lodge and were met by Sogrape's delightful PR Manager, Joana Pais.
Ferreira has an award-winning Port lodge, (in the same location for two+ centuries) which shows a great depth of history and one immediately gets the feel for the importance of this shipper. Hanging within the first room was the most famous picture of Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira the matron saint. In reality, this brilliant woman was actually not the founder as many think, but the 4th generation to run the family-owned Port company. Dona Antonia took over the company at the tender age of 33, shortly after her husband died. She stayed in that role throughout her lifetime, known as much for her philanthropic deeds throughout Portugal, as owning the most Port properties in the Douro.
Shortly after we entered, right in the large open area with lots of balseiros filled with Port, there was a group of about twenty 6-7 year old kids on a class tour. I took several pictures of this because it was such an unbelievable and brilliant sight. In the puritanical country where I reside, there's no possible way that a 1st grade class could ever visit a winery. In the USA, kids and any proximity to wine epitomizes the phrase forbidden fruit and a visit like this would quickly make national headlines and land the superintendent of the local school board … unemployed. Here in Gaia, it was just a very normal class trip, exploring the history of a beverage that is the key product which defines the area and discussing how grapes are turned into wine. Natural and beautiful to see. An early highlight reel.
Ferreira is owned by Sogrape Vinhos, and we met the CEO of Portugal's largest wine producing company, Mr. Salvador Guedes. Sogrape's portfolio runs deep with not only Ferreira, but Port houses Offley and Sandeman. Sogrape's holdings are spread through several regions in Portugal but predominantly they're vested in the Douro with some new and older well-known wine brands like Casa Ferreirinha, Quinta da Leda, Constantino, Robertson's and Barca Velha (and others), along with the global presence of Mateus. It had been nearly eight years since the last time I'd met Salvador and we engaged in a broad range of topics to learn more about the company's early years, connections with Dona Antonia, Sogrape's commitment to Port, changes in the Port trade, new developments in viniculture, beneficio rights and the exciting expansion of DOC table wines in the Douro and throughout Portugal. Mr. Guedes was a pensive man and quite forthcoming, offering great insights into one of Portugal's most important family-owned companies.
When it was all over, I could see Zev smiling and figured he was happy with the spontaneity and detailed information he had captured. We did not want to go into these interviews with scripted questions that would limit the conversations or discourage the participants from touching upon topics that they felt were either important to explore or vital to the essence of the film.
Next we were joined by Sogrape's chief enologist, Luis Sottomayor. He brought us into the tasting room where the Ports had been decanted a few hours in advance. We had the opportunity to try the following Ferreira Ports: 1975, 1980, 1987, 1994 and 2007 Vintage Ports and the 20 year old Duque de Bragança. The 1975 remains my favorite VP of the vintage. The 1980 showed significantly better than the bottle I had tasted at the 1980's Retrospective a few weeks earlier. Although good, the 1987 was the least impressive Port in our tasting and if you own bottles, start drinking them sooner rather than later. The 1994 was very tasty and showed exceptional balance and class; while the 2007 was drinking really well at this point and has a full three decades ahead of it. As to the Duque de Bragança what can I say? I am still waiting for the day when I taste a finer 20 year old Tawny. But having had more 20 year old Tawny Ports than I could possibly count, none have ever managed to de-throne the Duque.
Our visit was not over yet, as the real fun was just about to begin. We were given a mission, to replicate the specific profile of the 20 Year Old Duque de Bragança Tawny; and its five component wines were put before us. This is a tremendous way to learn about the art of blending and Luis enjoyed watching each of us take our best shot at it. Having done this with a 10 year old Ferreira Tawny two years ago, I knew this was going to be a lot of fun. After we were done, we were told the actual components of this Port so we were able to see how close we came to replicating the formula solely based on sense of taste and smell. If you've never tried an exercise like this, I highly recommend it.
After our departure we headed to a restaurant that I had visited in May 2010 before our tour and which had made a great impression. It had unfortunately closed for several months, including during our Harvest Tour when we had planned to dine there with a group. I really enjoyed it and we'll include it in some of our future programs as well. Mario had never been there before, but was instantly converted. The food was really solid and prepared us for what would be a long afternoon to come.
Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership toured us through The Yeatman Hotel. I have a piece written on this chapter, which will appear in the soon-to-be-released newsletter. Suffice it to say, The Yeatman Hotel is an impressive property and we literally saw just about ever nook and cranny. Adrian even took us into a half dozen suites and regular guest rooms to show us variations and the themes on different floors. But not surprisingly, I loved getting to see the wine cellar and meeting Beatriz Machado, the Yeatman's attractive, young and sharp cellarmaster. Our walk through took well over three hours and we still had a tasting to get to across the street. Fortunately, Adrian called David (Guimaraens, the winemaker for Taylor, Fonseca & Croft) and told him we were running late. We had no choice but to cut the interview short, which was a shame, but hopefully the additional footage of David helped add to the overall flavor of the film. We appreciated all the time that Adrian took in providing such a through perspective of this brilliant property. He brought us over to the Taylor Lodge where we met up with David. It was good seeing David again and he took us down into a part of Taylor's cellar that I had not seen in years. In fact, the last time I had been in that part of the cellar was back in 2003 with my wife and daughter. It brought back the memory of my daughter Taylor, speaking her very first word "dada" in that cellar, (caught on video by my wife who was filming my interview of David back then). We then went into an old, cavernous bottle storage facility that is rarely seen by visitors. It was here that David took us to school on many topics, answering lots of our questions and shooting straight without pulling any punches. This was very refreshing and I could tell our guests were thoroughly enjoying this. We decided to continue upstairs while sipping some Port. David was great and provided some excellent candid discussions on some hot topics that will greatly enrich Zev's Life On The Douro film.
Famished, we took about forty steps and entered the Lodge's restaurant: Baron Fladgate, which has some amazing views overlooking the Douro directly across from Porto. We had a long and leisurely meal with some wines from their list. Sated but still in the mood for some after dinner relaxation, we zipped across to the Pestana hotel for a few old Tawny Ports to cap off the evening and a fantastic first day!
Breakfast was simple and perfect, enough to sate our appetite as we had a big lunch coming up later. But first we went to the Sandeman Lodge in Gaia and visited the museum with Ligia Marques holding court and she also toured us through every nook and cranny of the entire lodge. There is a divide in a back wall in the lodge where a narrow alley way had formed centuries ago and a stream still runs through it today. It proves to me once more that its time to upgrade my camera. I love Sandeman's well appointed gift shop and can never walk through without buying something. Like I need an umbrella in a place like Seattle? Still, it is better than carrying a cup of Starbuck's though. But an umbrella, really!?!?!
Our tasting that fine morning replicated some of the same vintages as the day before at Ferreira, except the 1994 was replaced by the 1997, as it was important for our group to understand what Sandeman's Vau Vintage was all about and have the chance to taste it. The 1975 was good, but was overshadowed by comparison to the Ferreira version of 1975. The 1980 Sandeman was delicious, complex and showing significant secondary characteristics in the prime of life. The 1997 Vau was spot on and was my favorite of the first few Ports. Then we had the 2007 Vintage Port and the difference between the very solid Ferreira '07 and the amazing Sandeman was a stark contrast in styles. Having just won FTLOP's Best of Vintage Port (2010) this bottle certainly showed it was deserving. An awesome young Port!
Sandeman's Tawny Ports don't get enough praise. Before us were the 20 and 30 Year Olds. I have always been a fan of the 20 … and it often sells quite affordably in the US, but the 30 was showing brilliantly, with extraordinary depth, slightly sweeter and a bit more unctuous in style. It delivered a fantastic finish possessing snappy acidity and a warming nuttiness. It was the perfect Port to quench our thirst … just in time to head out for our lunch appointment.
Arranging a cooking class with Rui Paula and his sous chef was a first for us and doing so at Porto's DOP restaurant was great fun. Rui spoke about the ingredients and we learned how each dish was prepared and I believe Zev captured some of these impressive culinary techniques and their influence on the ingredients. We had a five course lunch, each of which was paired with a unique Portuguese wine. Although several were really special, the 2005 Vertice Metode Classico (sparkling wine) was the most memorable, truly one of Portugal's top wines. Seek it out if it is available. But in fairness, the 2008 Herdade Perigão Vinho Branco Reserva received my highest score of all wines served that afternoon. It was an aromatically tantalizing, delicious and vibrant Alentejo white that I must find here in the USA if possible. Wow! The Quinta do Portal 10 year old Tawny was no wallflower either and was a perfect accompaniment to a simply sublime pineapple pudding. Rui and staff spoiled us this afternoon and we were ready to stretch the legs. Before departing, Rui joined us out in front of the restaurant for some lively banter and all of us enjoyed the entire experience and will always remember this particular lunch and visit to DOP.
Afterwards, we headed over to the IVDP (Port & Douro Wine Institute) to learn the finer nuances of how their tasting panel performs their duty and witness "live" exactly how it is done. In fact, we had sought permission to film the tasting panel in action. So Zev set up his equipment and was able to film the process taking place, while the rest of us watched through a new and large observation window. I doubt this has ever been filmed before and I am sure this will be one of many great features in the documentary. Thanks to Bento Amaral for making this all happen and for his ability to convey and simplify the complexities of organoleptic analysis and the entire process of approval of Port (or not … including "appeal" procedures). We walked around the gift shop and even had the opportunity to greet Louisa Fry and the IVDP's President, Luciano Vilhena Pereira.
It had been a full day, but we still had some fun planned for the next half dozen hours. Back to the Sandeman lodge, where we were greeted by the inimitable George Sandeman. Zev got the camera rolling up in the director's dining room and I was raring to get into some lively banter with George for the film as I knew this would make for some outstanding footage. Mr. Sandeman, however, exceeded our expectations, an impressive feat -- while we sipped some beautiful Tawny Port. It was nearing sun down and we popped back to our hotel for a brief respite and then headed out for a nearby dinner.
Now it was time for our group to experience Bufete Fase; our 1st time taking a group solely for a one course dinner, to see what the Francesinha fuss is all about. I've never seen it so busy and even with a reservation, we still had to stand outside for nearly 20 minutes to be able to get a table. To say this place is catching on quickly is an understatement and although packed from start to finish, they handled the crowd quite well, considering how small the place is. Our guests who had been very curious about this eatery and Francesinha in general … loved the dinner and the entire experience. Even Mario, who had not had a Francesinha in many years and is not really a big fan, admitted this was a great one. If you visit, you should know that they make a "spicy" version … as in a hot sauce, which is not for the meek. Some of us ordered it while others did not. We walked back to the hotel to try to shed some calories and as it was still relatively early, a chance to get a full night's sleep. Next: Part 3 … soon.