It’s funny. While the Portuguese have been out exploring the world, discovering pristine new lands and uncharted seas, the rest of the world (including the wine world) has largely not discovered the country of Portugal.
Indeed, when I asked many of my well traveled friends and business school peers for travel tips, many of them had not been to Portugal. And if they had, they’d visited the more touristy southern coastline, which has a European resort-like, Spring Break feel. I decided I wanted something more raw and authentic for my visit in as much as a tourist can have that experience. And, of course, I wanted to center the trip around wine as much as my liver and travel companion would allow.
I learned that Portuguese wines are endlessly discoverable – there are hundreds of indigenous grapes, “field blends,” that are still being understood, appreciated, and perfected for wine. Of course, the best known wines from the country, aside from Ports, are made of Touriga Nacional.
My over-generalized observations about Douro wines are below:
•The nose on the red wines is often very “thick” with overwhelmingly ripe, bluish fruits, almost like a Zin
•They are extremely food-friendly.
•They are great values, which is mysterious to me given the manual labor required to harvest the vines on insanely steep terraces, in extreme heat, and at high altitudes.
•The vintages from 2005, 2007, and 2009 are recognized as excellent in the Douro.
•The designation of Reserva on a white wine generally means it’s seen oak.
I was so happy because by the end of our trip, I could put my nose in a glass of Douro red wine and say, “This smells like Portugal.” I love when wine makes that magical transformation from a medley of aromas and precise characteristics into a less discernible, but massively more potent reminder of place.
Our agenda for the Douro was planned by the amazingly generous and very pretty Sandra Tavares da Silva, whom I met in New York before my trip. Sandra and her husband, Jorge Serodio Borges, make wine together at Wine & Soul, which includes the Pintas line; Jorge is also winemaker at Passadouro. Their winery was our first stop in the Douro Valley.
We turned into an incredibly steep, dusty schist path and followed the car in front of us to make a pit stop that cut into the mountain near a grove of trees. This is when we first met Jorge as he quietly popped huge handfuls of cherries in his mouth on the roadside. He encouraged us to pick some of the delicious fruit – and the whole experience was lovely. The vines, the elevation, the mountains, the formidable Douro river, the informal introduction, and the bright red fruit from a cherry tree.
We then precariously steered our car to the winery to sample Sandra and Jorge’s wines:
•Passadouro Branco 2010
•Wine & Soul Guru White 2010
•Passa Red 2009
•Passadouro Red 2009
•Passadouro Reserva 2009
•Pintas Character 2009
•Pintas Douro Red 2009
We then tried three ports, the final one being my absolute favorite and most memorable one of the entire trip: a mysterious elixir stored in a crinkled up plastic water bottle. I learned from several tastings that the really new stuff or the really good stuff was hiding in these bottles. In this case, it was the latter. An 1855 Port called “5G.” This was all figs, coffee ice cream, hazelnuts, and forever-lingering, mouth-coating deliciousness. Heaven.