Well… didn’t do the tours, but visited some tasting rooms. The idea was that Fernando and I were going to take a long walk, to work off our respective lunches. It didn’t quite go to plan in that respect.
We decided to walk from the Câmera Gaia (the local town hall not far from Fernando’s place) along a road that runs across the face of the hill above the railway line and the main waterfront area, and then turn down the hill to check out the progress at the Yeatman Hotel and Spa project, and try to get a good look at it.
That much went to plan. We walked down a new road that has been created, where some rather handsome apartment buildings are nearing completion; Fernando used to work in real estate in Alicante, and looked at nearly everything under construction in Gaia and Porto as well as older places before buying his flat here. Almost every time we go for a walk, in nearly any part of the two cities, he will point out a building and tell me what it’s like inside, and the prices being asked. He pointed out the flat at the top, with the double height windows, and said it was four bedrooms and three bathrooms, to be had with it own rooftop deck and a clear view of the river for a mere €350,000. Sigh…
Saw what we could of the Yeatman project from the road between it and the Taylor’s lodge. Neither of us can quite believe it is due to open in just one month’s time, but… I wish them luck, and of course its success would be good for the local economy generally. And naturally I will have to check out the spa some time! Actually, just looking at the website, it says due to open in July – we were told June. Keep an eye on it for yourself at The Yeatman website.
We naturally then walked into Taylor’s, thinking to refresh our thirst, but it was closed, I don’t know why, I didn’t hear the conversation. We then walked round to Croft’s, which was also closed, for a wedding, and from there walked on to Offley.
Here we had luck. We didn’t do the tour, we just settled into the tasting room and for a few euros tried several different ports by the glass. The tasting room was nice, lots of big trestle tables and benches, and there was a small granite lagar on one side which was now being used as a sort of reflecting pool with water trickling in on one side. It has taken this move to a much warmer and sunnier climate to teach me to appreciate fountains, and how soothing is the sound of water.
Our server was wonderfully knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and told us quite a lot about each wine. First was Offley’s new rosé port, which is made only with red grapes, the wine is removed from the skins quite early on to create the most amazing deep cyclamen pink colour. The drink was developed for the female market, and was a bit sweeter than either of us favour, and it does not have the kind of full body you normally associate with port, but we both think it might have its uses, served very chilled on a hot summer’s day. There’s the usual port and tonic option, but when I said it reminded me of sangria without all the fruit on top, Fernando suggested maybe a slice of grapefruit – the slight bitterness and acidity of that might counter the sweetness very well, and I thought a mint leaf would finish the look of the thing… then we began imagining a sort of mint julep, but made with the port.
The second glass was their aged white port, Cachucha Porto (pronounced kuh-shoo-shuh). We were told this is only marketed in two other countries, Holland and Switzerland from memory, and in Portugal can only be bought at the lodge; it’s made in very small quantities. The making is like that for a tawny but all white grapes (Rabigato, Malvasia, Viosinho, Códega), so vinified as per usual in the Douro and then aged in pipas in Gaia, and blended from wines between 4 and 9 years old, for an average age around 7 years. This was absolutely gorgeous, if you have a chance, do try it – and I think a bottle was only around €12.50. This was like a bitter orange marmalade, if you are familiar with the Seville oranges, that flavour. Fantastic nose, this incredible sweet bitter marmalade palate, a nice long finish and the most amazing acidity throughout. Our server was suggesting this cold as an aperitif, but I think this would be fabulous to use like a sauternes, with a rich pâté – in fact, Fernando had given me some truffled black pork pate, I still have one tin left… well, that’s my lunch one day soon.
Finally, we tried a 1994 Colheita. Think of a colheita as being a vintage tawny – a tawny port (so, one that has been aged in pipas to get the flavour benefits of the contact with wood and oxygen over a period of time) but the wine is from a single vintage, rather than blended from several vintages as are most of your tawnies. Our server said 1994 was an excellent year, especially for tawnies (it was widely declared as a vintage). She described it as an ideal wine for Christmas, naming notes of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla. And she was right – very nice, complex, and spicy and nutty Christmas baking sorts of flavours. We both liked this one too.
Offley is an old firm – founded 1737 – but like so many firms has had its vicissitudes, passing out of the family hands in the early 20th century, then there were several spells of being owned or part-owned by various other beverage firms, and now it’s part of Sogrape. To me the most interesting bit of their history is the association with Joseph James Forrester (aka Barão de Forrester), who was a nephew of the founder. This is the man who first mapped the Douro (I’ve seen an early engraving of one of his maps, it’s beautiful, and you can buy reproductions), and did some of the first serious research on pests and diseases of the grapevines. He is also the one who first suggested doing away with fortification of Port wines. He was pretty well shouted down by the mid 19th century Port trading community (thank heavens), but he was prescient, none the less – unfortified Douro DOC wines made from the same grape varieties as Port are excellent, as he thought they would be. He and Dona Antónia Ferreira between them opened up and planted much of the upper half of the Douro, and they were apparently great friends after he was widowed. They were together in a barco rabelo which overturned in rapids east of Tua in 1862, and the folk tale is that she was saved by her crinolines which buoyed her up again, whereas he drowned, dragged down by the weight of the money belt he was wearing.
As mentioned, Offley are another maker in the Sogrape portfolio, so you will have to wade through their website again, but it’s worth it: Offley on the Sogrape website.
From Offley, we went straight downhill (as you do), and eventually found our way to Ferreira. Fernando and I had an argument, he didn’t like the wines he had had when he took the tour, and didn’t think much of the brand. I said the wines were perfectly good, just a very different style, much softer and gentler than most other ports and admittedly not a style in keeping with his preferences, and furthermore it was not fair to judge the house solely on their entry level wines. I won the argument to the extent that we went to the tasting room and ordered glasses of two of their premium wines – a 10 year old white and a 2000 LBV.
Their 10 year old branco was another fabulous treat (and it’s 10 year old like a tawny is 10 year old – average age of blended vintages). The colour was a deep warm orange at the core, fading to mid-pale honey on the rim, Fernando said it was like armagnac, I have to take his word, I don’t know. This one opened on the palate with the same kind of Seville orange flavour as the Offley, but then came in with a very fatty nut flavour, we finally opted for Brazil nuts for the tasting note, and something else orange but not quite – my thought was Neroli, which is the orange blossom scent. Actually, just now I pulled out my little vial of Neal’s Yard Neroli essential oil, and it isn’t quite the same as I remember in the port, but the essential oil is of course very concentrated and pure. Checking their guide to aromatherapy, turns out Neroli is derived specifically from the blossom of Seville orange – so maybe I wasn’t far off. Finally we both thought almonds came up on the backdraft of the finish. Another one with great acidity, too.
On to the Ferreira LBV 2000. Late bottled vintage is the one that is aged in the big balseiros (so very little contact with wood or micro-oxygenation) for typically 4 to 6 years before being bottled, and is ready to drink once bottled – aging in bottle may or may not do it any further good. So this would be grapes from the 2000 harvest (a good year climactically and widely declared), and according to the website (I neglected to ask or look at label) it was bottled “in its fourth year.” My very scrawly notes (we closed the place down at around 18:30) say EARTHY – Fernando and I agreed on that – the nose was very warm earthy, also a scent of pure sugar – something I can’t recall encountering before, come to think of it, which is odd really, for sweet wines, but I was reminded of some hard ribbon candies my mother used to buy at Christmas. I don’t think we ever ate them, but they were very brightly coloured and pretty in a cut glass bowl on a table, and smelled very very sweet-sugary. The palate was really ripe black fruits for me, Fernando hit on blueberry, and then started babbling Spanish instead of Portuguese or English, but by the miracle of on-line dictionaries I realise now he was raving about blackberries. This one had a good but gentle acidity.
I double checked with our server, who confirmed this was aged in wood – remember on my tour I learned Ferreira’s vintage wines are aged solely in stainless steel.
From Ferreira we walked away from the waterfront into the labyrinth of cobbled streets beyond and wandered v-e-r-y slowly uphill and back to our respective homes, with several stops along the way. Fernando being so friendly and me being so curious we poked our noses into what looked like an abandoned port lodge, with a door standing ajar. The most amazing sight – I wish I had had a camera, but mine has died – we saw an immense mask suspended from the ceiling, facing us, and another at right angles behind it on a stand. The hanging mask was like some kind of ancient Maya thing you might see in National Geographic, but huge, apparently made of iron, with waving horizontal stripes of metal and open air to define the cheeks and forehead, and full eyes and lips sculpted in metal. Just a gorgeous thing. It was being made for a festival, and will be suspended over the roadway, in a village north of here, I think they said around the 25th or 26th of May. Every town and village has its patron saint’s day festival, Porto’s is the festival of São João on 23rd June.
From there, one of the men we met took us into another nearby lodge where they were building what looked like a tank with two heads on the back, absolutely hysterical looking, and he began making the heads swivel and smile. I think that was due to be used in some theatrical production of Shakespeare in Lisbon in June and up here in Porto in September. Must look for that!
Then further up the hill (well, not much), there was a little neighbourhood restaurant setting up a grill out on the sidewalk, and we wandered in, Fernando announcing he had to have something to eat to get him up the hill. I was hugely amused when I heard him order caracois.
This is a word I learned through a Facebook exchange. Someone, I think one of the Portuguese wine sites, asked if the ladies thought Portuguese men handsome. Several of us replied yes, and the site replied, Melhor do que os caracois? Better than the … whip out the dictionary…. Snails? Huh? I wrote again, in Portuguese, to say I was English and my Portuguese wasn’t yet perfect, but I thought there was a joke here I was missing, please explain. Caracois? Escargots? They replied to advise me caracois, snails, was a Portuguese nickname for the Spanish, and sent me a link to a video of Amalia, one of the great Fado singers, performing a little ditty about the caracois.
I haven’t yet found a full set of lyrics nor can I find anything in English, but as far as I can make out, the second and third verses are something like, One day I was in Spain, and there I ate with the Spaniards, a roast cooked on a spit in a sauce of snails. The first verse is something about looking out the window, but I cannot catch the second line at all, one word I think is neighbours, but not sure.
Funny how you learn a language.
As I have repeatedly whinged, my camera died recently, so reaching into the archives for a shot of the Dom Luis I bridge, and the barcos rabelos, taken from the Gaia waterfront last summer – all the caves to the right or behind me from this point.