Aladin's Real Caves of Wonder
Salty Cod in Portugal Series Episode 2
Port comes from the city of Porto. C'est vrai! Perhaps I may have tasted port prior to my affairs in Porto, but I could not remember. What I could remember was hanging the print of the iconic Sandeman on the wall of my mother's vintage themed French country kitchen , but I had thought the vinho to be naught but a table wine made of grapes grown in Portugal, but oh no. No, once you actually taste a port, the idea of it's being just a wine, or even in the wine family itself is washed clear from memory, leaving you with sticky smiling lips, wide glossy eyes, and perhaps a little extra rouge touched onto those raised cheeks. Port is not a wine, it is a wine concoction. Allez viens!
If it is raining, or just particularly unpleasant out, you should pass the day in the caves--so I was instructed. Caves of what? Port caves. Oh, where are those? Look behind you, they are all of those buildings that make up the entire southern bank of the river--damn. I thought those were billboards. I'll pretend I didn't say that. Oporto is the city of bridges, therefore there are many that cross the Douro river, a river that seems equal in breadth to that of the Seine, but when the river is crossed, Porto is left behind and the city of port wine is entered: Bem Vindo de Vila Nova de Gaia, the birthplace of each and every real bottle of vinho do porto.
How am I supposed to choose? I muse as I tramp across the ponte Dom Luis I (Porto, as I am now repeating, is known as the city of bridges, those being the Ponte Maria Pia, Ponte Dom Luis I, Ponte de Arrbida, Pont de Sao Joo, Ponte de Freixo, and Ponte Infante Dom Henrique) My umbrella has seen better days as the Douro's gust attempts to render carnage of its frail skelette. Ahk! I am completely soaked! I thought Portugal was supposed to be, perhaps, sunny!? (wait until the next post where instead of the rain, I bitch about the sun and the heat) Heres the thought: la plus proche, i.e. the first one I pass. Therefore, number one: Calem. The tour is 2euros, which includes tasting. Tasting? I'm in.
I arrived for the English guided tour, but soon discovered myself to be the only anglophone present among Italians, Germans, Chinese, and, well, we'll just say a "Northern" country. The tour comprised perhaps a demi-hour, an explication of what makes a port a port, the history of the big-name company, differences in port varieties and grape cultivation, and then finally a tasting of both a white and a red--one a velhote and one a tawny. What is a velhote and a tawny you ask? Perfect, I'm glad you asked (or didn't), but you know I will tell you. After touring three other big name caves, once more in English at Offley, a French Session at Croft, and a sneaky Portuguese catch at Taylors, I felt not only quite tipsy (I jest, this was spread over 2 days) but as if i had just graduated from the University of port wine making. To spread the knowledge I so greedily gobbled, I will share with you what I took from these tours, tastes, conversations, and the chouette book I purchased at the fnac (my dear fnac, oh how I will miss you) on all that is vinho do porto.
To be a true vinho do porto, bottle mark and legality included, the wine must not only be derived from grapes grown in the Douro Valley, but must also be processed and bottled in the river region, a decree that was first established in 1756. Port wine begins like any other wine, however, it's fermentation is stunted after only a few days at which time Brandy is added. The addition of brandy is what makes a port a port--the brandy stops the fermentation process, allowing the grapes to retain their natural sweetness and color, while at the same time skyrocketing the alcohol content percentage. For this reason port is a bitingly sweet wine, and is always had as aperatif or digestif, never accompanying dinner. For dinner the Douro produces many others for the table, reds, whites, and the exclusive vinho verde.
Brandy Wine is Port (yeah yeah I thought the same thing too!) but there is much poking that can be done to make one port a stranger to another. There are three main categories: branco, ruby, and tawny; from which a plethora of minor categories are procured. Among these categories are special categories (yes I am spinning a web) there is the Vintage, which is a wine produced from a single crop that was deemed 'exceptionally superior' by the Instituto de Vinho do Porto, and must be bottled within three years of its harvest. The LBV (late bottled vintage) derives from the same 'exceptionally superior' crop year, however is bottled after 3 years from the harvest (usually 4-6) and is less full bodied that the Vintage. The Colheita is a dated Port, such as 1994, is a wine that also derives from the 'exceptionally superior' crop, but is aged in wood for no less than 7 years before bottling, and as an aged wine through the oxidation process its bouquet (aroma, nuance) becomes less sweet, more spicy, woody, savoring strongly of dried fruits. These are the ports to buy to age, for with time they become more complex, smoother, and the color begins to lighten towards gold. A port with an indication of years, such as 10 years, is a wine made from mixing two variant batches of wine--one being over 10 years, and the other under, and whose average produces the noted number of years, be it 10, 20, 30. A Reserve is the same process as of combining two variant years to produce a median age, but with an 'exceptionally superior' crop.
Now, I did buy one of those. Can you guess which one? Let's play a game, who knows Mallory the best.
The wines are all stored in the caves along the river bank, though there remains, for posterity (and perhaps for the tourists) many rabelos--o barco do Douro. The boats that at one time perhaps did transport port barrels up and down the river and have now become iconic of port wine and the city of Porto itself. There are many many many variant wine port wine marks that make home on the Douro bank of Vila Nova de Gaia, aside the big name marks (who tend to be of English names did you gather? This is due to the meddling 18th century Englishmen who, in a sense, owned the Douro valley and made the wine famous through its high volume exportation to Brazil, United States, and Russia) there are many small marks, family owned, and available--and recommended--at most wine bars and cafes in Porto.
Il faut que vous goutez le port a Porto. Take the time to visit a wine bar for a few hours, especially with strangers recently acquired as friends. Lone-star travelers like myself, I find, are more than willing to try the house suggested branco, ruby, tawny trio while snacking, of course on dried fruit and chocolate. (Georgetown and Donut I speak of you.) Port is devilishly delightful to sip, but it is more so in company. And if you do buy a bottle of expensive port to be aged, don't wait a lifetime for the moment to open it, whether it's within the next year or the next 5, for a port from Oporto, you'll know when the time is right. But don't think you can wiggle your way into my bottle, it may already have plans.
Até à pròxima & A bientôt