The journey so far:
We are staying in a suburb of Porto, which is great, since we have free parking and our hotel is right next to the Porto Metro, so in about 10 minutes we were in the heart of the city for a Eu1 fare.
The main bridge that crosses the Douro river was built in 1886 by Gustav Eiffel’s assistant. It is on two levels – the top level is for the Metro tram and has walkways. The bottom level (which is connected to the quays) is for cars and pedestrians.
There happened to be a major Jet ski race going on, so all afternoon we saw the races from both sides of the river, as well as from the bridge above.
Porto is a nice town to walk and in most parts is very pretty. There are beautiful azuelos (tilework) on many buildings, and those in the train station are especially noteworthy.
Many quarters have interesting shops, some with beautiful Beaux Art facades. In places the city is run down with a number of disused buildings as well as lots of graffiti, but overall this is a pretty and interesting city to visit.
Yesterday was the Quintas where the grapes are grown and the production of port wine is started. Today was the Port lodges where the wine is aged, bottled and shipped. Villa Nova de Gaia is home to most of these lodges and this on the far side of the river from Porto, where a rival port was established in the early 13th century after a squabble between the king and the bishop of Porto over shipping levies.
Some lodges charge for tastings and tours, and some are free. Generally the free tastings are of a white port and a ruby port, the least expensive types, with the option to purchase tastes of other, more expensive kinds. We ended up visiting three different lodges – Taylor’s (Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman), Croft (now also owned by the Taylor group), and Weise and Krohn. The latter was originally owned by Norwegians, but has bee owned by Portuguese since 1930 and is the last large shipper owned by the locals. Taylors is very old –they began in 1692 and are the oldest to own their own Quintas (as opposed to just being shippers).
The lodges are where the port is aged and bottled. Building on what we learned at the quintas, we found out more about the wine making process and how to select and drink port.
Almost all port with a specific year on the bottle is a vintage, which means that it should have spent a long time (20 years at a minimum) aging in its bottle, It improves over time as long as you store it correctly. But once you open the bottle it must be drunk within 2 days at most and so is really best suited for special occasions (or very heavy drinkers with deep pockets!)
LBV port will also improve with age in the bottle and can be consumed a little slower – within about 2 months max.
Tawny ports are aged in barrels for a long time, then put in bottles. Tawnys are a blend of ports, with the average age of the wine used on its label, so a 10 year old Tawny may have 10, 3, and 13 year old wines mixed together (as an example). 10, 20, 30, and 40 year old Tawnys are available from most of the producers. The bottle should be opened for drinking within a year or two of being bottled, but can keep for up to six months once opened. The year of bottling should be shown on the back label. So if you buy a good Tawny, check that the bottling date on the back label is within about 1 year of when you are purchasing, or else you are getting old stock.
A coheita is essentially a tawny port (i.e. it has been aged in barrels) from a single year, and it bottled just before it is sold. Whereas most tawny ports are sold as 10, 20 , 30 year old, etc., colheitas are sold by the year of making, the same as a vintage port. But unlike a vintage, they do not need to be consumed in 1-2 days. They keep for up to a few months.
Vintages are made with the best grapes from a single year (and even then, it will only happened about 2 or 3 times per decade) and are not blended, so the taste and character of the wine is mostly up to nature. Tawnys are more a reflection of the winemaker’s art as they have more control by blending different wines.
Regular ruby port (sometimes sold as reserve) is a consistent blend and should taste the same year to year.
After getting a good education at Taylors, we were encouraged to try a 40 year old tawny, which was amazing!
Wiese and Krohn are known for their Coheitas and they were very nice in letting us taste a 1987 (the year we were married) colheita in addition to some of their white and tawny ports. 1987 was obviously a very good year for us, and doesn’t seem to have been too bad for port either – the wine we sampled had won two gold medals in prestigious wine competitions.
Northern Portugal reminds me of Ireland 25 years ago. Here in Porto, Portugal’s 2nd city, there are lots of restaurants, but we only saw two ethnic ones – a Chinese and an Indian. By the way, to call someone a “Tripe eater” in Portuguese means they are a native of Porto.
The roads, with the exception of superhighways near Porto are much more basic and much poorer maintained than the Spansh roads. The IP4, one of the main routes from Spain is a 2 lane highway, i.e. one lane each way, with an occasional passing lane. In fact, at one point the road crosses a bridge that is only one car wide. Since this route is used by heavy goods vehicles going to and from Spain, it is easy to find yourself stuck behind a slow moving truck. At the same time, there is lots of road development going on.
Porto is a fun city to explore. It is relatively compact, although it exists on a number of vertical levels, so you get a good workout moving as much vertically as horizontally. But at least they have a funicular railway and cable car system if you would rather spend money than effort to move up and down!