In the past 24 hours, I have experienced a couple of "firsts" while in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. On Saturday evening, just an hour after landing in Portugal, with only time for a shower in between ... I was met by Tomas d'Allen and along with my FTLOP colleague David Spriggs, was whisked away to the Casa Villar d'Allen. Introduced by Ryan Opaz of Catavino.net, during my visit to Spain early this past summer, I learned of Villar d'Allen and their importance in the Port trade. It is a name that is little known and certainly one that deserves much more attention than they currently receive!
For Villar d'Allen and for that matter, the Allen family ... have been around and involved with Port for several centuries. The history is complex, so much so that I have asked Tomas' father, Jose Alberto Allen to write a Guest Corner piece to be published in an upcoming FTLOP newsletter, describing the long and storied family's involvement in the Port trade. But to bring some of the important facts to light, now, it should be known that the Allen Family in conjunction and through familial ties to the Port firm Rabello Valente, was one of the longstanding owners of Quinta do Noval. This little known fact will be explored more in the future when Jose Allen provides some of the missing links, but after spending an evening with members of the 8th and 9th generation of the Allen family, there is NO doubt as to the veracity of their historical claims.
The Quinta de Villar d'Allen is a centuries old 5 hectare property just beyond the brand new Pousada hotel in Porto. It is a unique and incredible place to visit, the grounds and surrounds with lush gardens, fountains, unusual ancient buildings, amazing walkways and arboretum must be seen to be believed. Anybody visiting Porto in the future who would like to explore something completely different, I highly recommend a visit to this property that is as beautiful as it is historically linked to the Port trade.
Speaking of the Port trade, what I had the opportunity to experience whilst there could fill a 20 page article, but suffice it to say that here on the Blog, I'll provide just some of the highlights. Mrs. Allen opened a photobook that had some ancient actual photos, not reproductions ... of many famous people that their ancestors were friends with and had business relations with, including extraordinary shots of Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira and J.J. Forrester to name just two. These are in mint condition from the 1800s and I was literally blown away by these and other photos in this collection. But that is just the beginning.
We had dinner at the Allen family home, which is more like a living museum replete with splendid antiques and artifacts at every turn, the scope of which dazzles the senses. An original print of Portugal's Constitution is just one of the many treasures that the family has in their possession. The charm of the family itself, should not go without note, as they treated us like honored guests and spent many hours telling us the history of their property and explaining their connections within the Port trade today and in past epochs as well. I felt like a long time friend by the end of the evening and we were treated like we had known each other for years.
We were privy to visit the Port cellar which was one of the most amazing I've ever seen ... and that includes more than a few ... and few in Vila Nova de Gaia can top the sheer depth of historical gems in this little known cellar. I don't want to spoil all of the secrets one can learn about when visiting the property but I will mention that 95% of the large collection is comprised of 19th century bottles, many with the Quinta do Noval name on the label. Impressive is an understatement. Mind bending is a more apt description, with the extraordinary growth of spores on the outside of the bottles, this is a sight that must be seen by anyone with a deep appreciation for Port, its tradition and history.
We were also privileged to try one Colheita opened for us, which may have been as old as 1870 which was ruby in color and simply put, an unforgettable experience. The 1827 Colheita and a few other Ports and Douro wines that the Allen family shared with us, was a priceless experience and so very generous of Jose Alberto and Tomas Allen and their wives.
It is very late and I must get some sleep, however, I can't wait to share more of this story in an upcoming newsletter and you can read more about Villar d'Allen and the family's story on Facebook!
To the entire Allen family (and to Ryan & Gabrielle Opaz for making the intro) I want to personally thank you for one of the most incredibly experiences I have had in ages! Muito obrigado.