Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Good Nose

David Eley's map of the Douro
One thing about being an academic or a writer is that you get opportunities to travel at other peoples’ expense or at least to split the cost with the taxman.  Following a technical conference in Lisbon last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to accompany South African wine writer and drinker Neil Pendock on a visit to the Douro wine country inland from Porto.

David Eley testing the vintage
Our guide was artist, writer and gourmet extraordinaire David Eley.  It was an extraordinary visit.  David whipped down to Porto to pick us up and then drove us around the Douro for the day at breakneck speed.  He’s an amazing person and enormous fun whether he’s wittily denigrating other wine writers or complaining about Portugal’s economic problems, current prices and produce quality.  “All you can find in the shops these days is second rate stuff,” he complains.  “After two days it’s grown so much fur it needs a hair style!”

Another good nose by David Eley
He’s the perfect guide – knows everyone and everywhere.  It’s not surprising that he does because he has recently completed the first modern comprehensive map of the Douro wine area - unveiled at the Yeatsman Hotel, a flagship of the Taylor port house.  And if you have an interest in the food, wine or art of the region you should explore his website It’s the next best thing to having him as your guide.

The Douro itself is an eye and palate opener – certainly for me. The Romans started growing grapes there in the third and fourth centuries – way before Bordeaux let alone the new world.  South Africa is proud of its seventeenth century tradition!  And the varietals are fascinating as well.  Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Rabigato and dozens more. Trying to pigeon-hole them against the templates of the wines one is used to is hopeless and self-defeating.  Eventually you just let go and enjoy the new world that opens up.  Of course most wine lovers have had a glass of port or two in their time – nothing surprising there – but it’s the ordinary (i.e. unfortified) wines from some of the same grape varietals that are so interesting.  Much of it is really good and not expensive at all.

The terraces in fall

As to the Douro country itself, it’s simply breath-taking.  The wine estates – Quintas – cascade down the steep slopes plunging to the Douro river.  To keep them up there, the vines are usually terraced with meticulous stonework both modern and going back to ancient times. The river waits at the bottom, patient, biding its time.
The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001.  Who would argue?

Michael – Thursday.


  1. Michael,

    I want your life. At least your wine list. What photos!

  2. Same here. Save a bottle for me Michael!

  3. Hi Dan, Jeff,
    Tell you what, we could share a bottle or two at Bouchercon. What do you say?