Thursday, December 14, 2017

A weekend in Porto

Michael - Thursday

On route to a conference in Lisbon, I squeezed in three days with long-time friend and wine fundi Neil Pendock in Porto.  We’d been there before some six years ago, and remembered it for the wonderful scenery along the Douro, the wonderful food, and, of course, the excellent wine and superb port.  Indeed, this I where all true port originates and can be tasted in its natural habitat, so to speak.

We arrived early on Saturday morning after a trip from South Africa on TAAG (Air Angola), which is a story in its own right. After a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel (which told us to come back in eight hours when the rooms were ready), we took a walk around the sleepy town as the mist started to lift.

With its key setting near the mouth of the Douro River, Porto has been settled since around 300 BC. The Romans occupied it, and then the Moors took over in 711 and held it for 150 years. In 1387, John I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster starting the alliance with England that has lasted ever since. Their son—Prince Henry the Navigator—set off the age of exploration when his fleet sailed from Portugal to explore the coast of Africa. Not that it’s all been smooth sailing since then, what with Napoleon, revolutions, and a few world wars.

North bank Porto from the river

From the bridge
Seagulls have no respect for the heroes of the past
Wonderful porcelain tile mosaics at the main station

Did I mention the fresh fish?
I really should have mentioned the fish
The Douro is the world’s oldest declared and controlled wine appellation. This time we focused on the port, and we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Graham’s—one of the premier port houses—with the very knowledgeable and delightful Isabel Monteiro as our host.

Although England’s love affair with port started around 1700, W & J Graham’s was founded in 1820 when the two Graham brothers, who had been trading in textiles at Porto, decided that making port would be more lucrative and, presumably, a lot more fun. 

John and William Graham
Graham’s was bought by the Symington family in 1970. It remains a family owned and operated business and now includes several other respected port houses. Graham’s, however, remains their flagship.

The Symington family
Isabel took us down to the cellar to see the vats and barrels where the port matures quietly over the years.

VV Old Tawny means from the 19th century
Port comes in a variety of styles. The tawny ports are the ones that age for decades in old wood, generating their smoothness and complexity in a way similar to, for example, bourbon. Once bottled, they remain essentially unchanged, waiting to be opened and enjoyed. The ruby ports are more similar to wine, continuing to age in the bottle. Each producer declares only a few vintage years, blending the others. Graham’s is among the most particular, careful to preserve their vert high reputation for quality. Their recent vintage years are 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011.

The view from Graham's
We finished with a stunning tasting of their high-end wines, each more remarkable than the previous one, and finishing with the 1972 single harvest tawny.

Six Grapes, 2000 vintage 10, 20, 30 year old Tawny, Single Harvest
Isabel Monteiro discussing the great wines
A never to be forgotten afternoon!

1 comment:

  1. Michael, you're leading me toward abandoning my teetotaler ways--decaffeinated no less.