Saturday, January 15

Oh Porto!

Can you identify a city whose name, location and most famous exported product is all the same word? Hint:

Located along the Douro river estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centers, and registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Its settlement dates back several centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Its Latin name, Portus Cale, has been referred to as the origin for the name "Portugal". When speaking in Portuguese, the city name uses a definite article: "o" Porto (the port). Consequently, its English name evolved from a misinterpretation of the oral pronunciation and is often referred to as "Oporto".

Paul & I have spent some time exploring this wonderful, very real city. It has walls of tiled murals, great art and architecture (Art Nouveau!), fine restaurants and tiny tascas (small neighborhood eatery), cafes on almost every corner, great coffee and pastelarias for your sweet tooth. (Here's the shameless plug: we're bringing a group here this Fall! Join us! Click on Art & Culture Tours icon in the left column of this blog.)

Traditional flat-bottom boats: barcos rabelos
We took the funicular from the upper city down to the river, and walked across the bridge that looks like the Eiffel Tower on its side. Good reason. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1843. It crosses the Douro River and bring you to the poetic sounding locale of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Now we get to the good part: Port wine. This is where it all happens. As Champagne is to France, thus Port to Portugal! And Vila Nova de Gaia is where it all happens. Produced up river, in the Douro Valley, the wine makes its way here (they used to use barcos rabelos, sadly they now truck it in). All the famous port companies (ie: Taylor, Sandeman, Calem, Ferreira) have their own lodges: caves built into the hillside where they age their products in barrels. There are a multitude of lodge tours you can take that include tastings and explanations on how port wine is made and stored.

We went to Ferreira, and tried 3 different ports: Ruby (aged 3 years in large vats - sweet and young), Tawny (dry but slightly sweet, aged 4 years in small casks), and a Don Antonio Reserve (!), aged 6-8 years in small barrels. Usually, a Tawny is the nicest for me. But I must say - that Reserve was delicious and worth every euro!

One warning: Port wine possesses a higher alcohol content than most other wines.

Ah Porto!