Have spent a few days wandering both Oporto and Gaia.  I think I mentioned that the last photo of the lodges in Gaia was taken from the top level of the Dom Luis I bridge – you can get a feeling for how high up it is.  Well, there is also a lower deck to the bridge at waterfront level, where the cars pass over (trams above, pedestrians on both).  Climbing up and down that hill on both sides is good exercise, let me tell you!  Next to the bridge there is an old stone stairway on the Oporto side, which turns into a steep street for the final stretch upwards, on the Gaia side you can walk down through the neighbourhood in a series of stairways and switchback cobbled streets.  As I was walking down that today, I got a nice photo of the roofs as I was coming down – right up there with walls I think for textural interest.

On Sunday a very dear friend met me in Oporto and took me for a wonderful lunch at Barão de Fladgate, the restaurant at Taylor’s lodge, near the top of the hill.  The Portuguese take their lunch as seriously as the French, maybe more so – figure three hours in Portugal rather than two in France.  We arrived about 13:00 or so, and didn’t leave till after 16:00.  The restaurant closes at 15:00 but they didn’t say a word, just let us finish our repast and our conversation, and when we finally did leave we found security kindly waiting to let us out at the gates!

We had a white port, Taylor’s Chip Dry, for aperitif, which was good – the taste was something between sherry and port – had the bone dryness and yeasty toasty notes of a dry fino, but also the intense-sweet-dried-fruit flavours that you think of when you think of port.  Fascinating.  With our main course (we both had fish) we had the white Falcoaria, the top wine from Casal Branco (the estate I visited in May), which is made from 100% Fernão Pires grapes, and cut through the richness of the fish nicely.  For dessert we had strawberries in one bowl and melted chocolate in another… heaven.  The ruby port served at the end of the meal was lovely with the chocolate, but the white port actually complemented it surprisingly well too, I liked the combination.  Ruby port was also delicious with bare fingertips dipped in chocolate, by the way, when I ran out of strawberries and white port.

Today I stopped at the Taylor’s lodge and was ushered in to join a tour that was in progress, but missed most of it, which was a shame.  Of course at the lodges all you really see are the massive storage vats (any where from 20,000 – 100,00 litres) used for the ruby ports in one room and the 550 litre barrels (pipes) for the wines to be blended into tawnies in another.  Interesting factoid:  about 8 million litres of port in their lodges at any given time.  All oak, made in Portugal of french, portuguese or spanish oak.

Taylor’s website is a good one, lots of detailed information about the production processes and the vinyards, full vintage lists, food matching notes for all their wines, and some stunning photographs of the vinyards.

Sandeman doorwayWandered back down the hill and along the waterfront, stopped to look at Sandeman’s, which is on the main street along the river front… if you thought you had trouble with flooding, check the records on their door post:  assuming for a moment that man is 6 foot (1.8 metres) tall, that would make the overall door, including the grilled section above, close to 18 feet (5.5 metres) overall.  Reading from the top, the dates for the Chieras (Floods) are

23/12/1909;  03/01/1962;  28/12/1860;  alongside the middle lintel is 02/02/1825, below that it says Chieras/Floods again, and the date 21/02/1966;  next is 20/01/1853;  23/12/1989;  01/03/1978; the next level was reached on two dates, 09/01/1996 and 07/02/1979;  and at the bottom 06/01/2001.  (You can click on the photo to see a larger image, then use your browser arrow back button to return to this page.)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Return to Gaia this morning and visited another port lodge, this one Cálem, right on the waterfront.  Had a full proper tour there, which was interesting – they have a nice little museum which explains how the port is made, with good photos of the harvest and the incredible terraced landscape of the vinyards, and maps of the Douro and its tributaries – and at the foot of the mural was a load of schist – the stone-slabby soil which characterises the vinyards.  Then through to the lodges, the immense vats of ruby port, then the smaller pipes where the various wines are held for blending into the 10, 20, 30 and 40 year tawnies.  Interesting that the large vats are used for 50 or 60 years, the smaller pipes potentially as long (if the wine is being held for a 40 year tawny), and after Calem’s is through with them, they are sold to a whisky distiller to use for their whiskies.  Then a tasting of a white port and a reserva tawny, both pleasant enough going down but a little more of an alcoholic burn to the finish than I would have liked.  Both young wines for prompt drinking, of course, they don’t waste the vintage or older things on the tourists, and I don’t blame them.

One last pretty touristy picture:  sitting on the Gaia waterfront, looking at the barcos rabelos – the boats traditionally used to bring the barrels of wine down river from the vinyards to the lodges in March after the harvest.  Now I gather steel tanker trucks are more the order of the day, but there is still a festival in June to mark the occasion when the boats are all out on the river.  They have a square rigged sail, with a spar across the top of the sail and the lower corners managed by lines either side, as the sail billows out over the barrels of wine carried on the forward half of the boat.  The waterfront opposite is Ribeira, the oldest bit of Oporto, and you can see the upper reach of the Dom Luis I bridge making landfall there at the top right.