For those of you who follow me on Instagram (nickels_and_noodles) you’ll know that I have been in beautiful Portugal. I spent 10 amazing days getting lost in ancient streets, exploring every nook and cranny that I could find. I saw castles, Roman ruins, old libraries and palaces. Because I am a total history geek this put me in my happy place, but what made the trip even better was the phenomenal food and wine. Being the wine lover that I am, I was super excited to do some tasting at the source. Portugal produces some amazing wines, some of which are great bargains at the LCBO, but drinking wine in the vineyard is always better.
Portugal is famous for one main thing, Port wine. My love affair wine Port started over ten years ago when I was in culinary school. One of our mandatory classes was on wines and spirits (my life was tough back then). Before you get thinking that this was a drunken class held on Friday afternoons to get the weekend started early, let me stop you. Sadly this class was held at 8 A.M. on Thursdays; which incidentally was the morning after student night at the local pub.
I need to interject a story here. I have enjoyed wine in one way or another since I was young. I still remember the first sip of wine that I liked. It was Christmas dinner and I stole a sip of Daddy’s “apple juice” aka white wine. I liked his “juice” better than I liked my own, and said as much (to the surprise of the adults around me). I later learned that Daddy’s “apple juice” was actually a Riesling called Blue Nun.
Ever since that stolen moment with Blue Nun wine has been in my blood. This meant that wine class at 8 A.M. wasn’t really a chore for me. I was lucky enough to get exposed to an array of interesting flavors and fill my head with information on my favorite beverage (coffee is number two). It was in this early morning class that I had my first sip of Port. It was a ruby and really I wasn’t overly impressed, but then I moved on to the tawny. The flavors of dried fruit, brown sugar and caramel filled my mouth; it was divine! I went out that weekend and bought my first bottle, and I have been drinking it ever since.
It was this love that fueled my need to travel an hour and a half outside of the city or Porto (in the rain) to the Douro valley. Port wine, much like champagne, is controlled by a series of geographical index laws that help protect the name and the quality of the product. The grapes of Port wine must be grown in the region of the Douro; therefore I had to go to the Douro if I wanted to drink Port at its source. The region is located in a mountainous part of northern Portugal. Vines have grown in this area for over two thousand years! It is also the first wine area to be given legal demarcation (boundary laws).
For those of you how haven’t been exposed to Port wine you are missing out! Port is a fortified wine that is made in a specific way. Grapes are grown in the Douro and are hand harvested. They are crushed and allowed to ferment, just like with normal wine. Then the wine maker stops fermentation before it is completed by adding a grape brandy. This results in a strong, (usually) sweet wine with about 20% alcohol. This base wine is aged in different ways which results in different end products.
White Port is made with white grapes and is aged for about 2 to 3 years in large vats. White port comes in both sweet and dry styles.
Rose Port is the new kid on the block. This is a pink fortified wine which was created to appeal to a new younger demographic.
Red Ports are fruit forward. They are deep red due to being aged in large oak vats (less oxidation). You can find ruby, late bottled vintage and reserve Ports in this category,
Now my favorite, tawny Port. Tawnies are aged in small oak barrels, which give them their brownish color. They taste like caramel, butterscotch and dried fruit.
No matter what the style of Port, after the wine is made it is sent to the city of Gaia. I know what you are thinking, why not Porto? Well Gaia is located across the river from the city of Porto. It is where the major Port producers have their cellars. It is in these cellars that the magic of aging takes place. The base wines are held in a variety of vats and barrels until all hardness is gone and a smooth product is produced. My wine pilgrimage lead me to a variety of cellars for tastings ending at Sandeman for a tour. It was quite a day!
Between the Douro and Gaia my Port dreams came true. This post hasn’t even touched on the other amazing wines that Portugal produces. I had some robust reds, fresh whites and fruity sangrias when I wasn’t sightseeing. Have a look at your local liquor store for Vino Verde (green wine). This is a style of fresh, young wine that also comes out of Portugal. It is prefect for sipping on hot days, or whenever you are craving something light and fresh. Red wine is also widely produced in Portugal. For some reason the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to how good it is. You can get some amazing deals at the LCBO on Portuguese reds. Look for DOC on the label when you are shopping; this is their version of the VQA standard that we use in Canada.