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Most European cities I go to, I find are great for a single trip but couldn’t imagine revisiting. Porto bucks that trend.
Holidays for me are about discovery through the local cuisine and wine. The thymey scent of the Luberon air can be found in both the herbal scents of the Rhone reds, and flavouring of the local Provencal beef daubes. Food and drink do more than bring together a place in harmony: they are the place.
Porto has a deep-seated history as the home of port wine: a fortified wine that adds brandy to stop the fermentation process and give the wines a high degree of sweetness and ageing potential.
Growing up, port had that bad reputation: cheap, sweet, sickly, dusty in the back of the alcohol cabinet. Now as a wine lover, it’s something I love, but in moderation and at the right time.
In Porto, the local winemakers, and riverside bar owners seem driven to try and change that. Port-based cocktails and mixers are available on most bar menus. Last year in London white port and tonic had made its way to the classier of drinks establishments.
This year, there’s one addition that needs brining over: two shots of tawny port, bitters, orange slice, topped up with soda. I saw it branded the ‘Bliss’, which I think might need a rename: bars of London take note for summer.
This week’s issue is a Porto Taste special.
At The Wine Box, you can ask for a variety of tasting flights, where we found them to be very accommodating.
The Douro Quinta Do Estanho 2012 had a nose of perfumed, floral redcurrant and nods of charred wood. Bairrada’s single-variety Baga, also from 2012, had incredible structure, deep black berry with a long finish and felt a good fit for Bordeaux fans. Further south in the Algarve, Alzamor had a chocolatey dark nose with chewy tannins and sweet fruit on the palate.
Yet it was some of the whites where we found some real opulence. My personal favourite was Pêra Manca Branco 2015 from Alentejo, here you had the mineral structure and elegance of well-made Burgundian wines but with tropical fruits and flowers on the nose, you’d you’d expect from the south of Portugal. Alentejo quickly became my favourite region for elegant whites.
At Prova, we again asked for some interesting Portuguese whites with different characteristics. The Vadio we were brought from the Bairrada region had lime, peach and flowers in droves, with a stony acidity that woke you up after a day in the sun. Arguilla - again from Alentejo - brought a luscious bronze colour to a wine that was saline, floral, with a natural sweetness from melon and other tropical fruits.
For port, we headed to the Sandeman. Their “100 years of Port” tasting is lost in translation to say the least. Do not turn up expecting port that is 100 years old. Instead, expect a tasting of 40-, a 30-, a 20-, and a 10-year old tawnies. Still it’s a great chance to see what each decade does to port in the barrel.
The 10 was smooth and rounded but the fruit not well defined. By 20, there was vanilla and caramel with oxidative notes starting to come through. The 30 had cloves and other soft spices that felt reminiscent of the Med. But by 40, the stewed fruits were the prominent flavour, with the alcohol feeling noticeably stronger by this point. The 30 was my standout favourite, with the 10 a perfect port for the cocktail mentioned above.