April 1, 2017


The place, the people, the wines - the past informs the present


Let me tell you: Oporto is a must-visit in your future travel plans. First, the city is ancient dating from approximately 8th century BC, with buildings that sometimes look as though they date all the way back. Arriving on a Sunday afternoon, the bellowing church bells signal the nature of the beautiful people of Oporto and their many places of worship. The winding, hilly cobblestone alleys are excellent for a Nat Sherman torpedo and a tourist center glossy map.

          Off to the river we descend. The architecture is stunning; restaurants retrofitted into ancient structures seem anachronistic. Toward the water, slowly twisting and switching back and forth, going on faith more than cartography, you catch glimpses of the river and the Vila Nova de Gaia. The horizon, studded with names of the families that built the beverage, illuminates as night falls, along with the temperature. The bridge that Eiffel built evokes a sisterhood with Paris.
           The cool evening breeze carries the picking and strumming of guitar, vibrant in color and texture. The balladeers paint musical notes that rise quickly then slowly then quickly again in the moist riverfront esplanade, drawing more people to the river, sipping nectar as sweet as the music. The energy is palpable; it moves you. You want to join in, partake, share this moment, and in Oporto they welcome you in.
            A delicious meal of locally caught bacalao and a bottle of Touriga Nacional. The salt cod is a dense delight, often weighted with a cream-based or rich sauce where the balance can be inspired.


To Work!
The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP) has beautiful digs in the center of downtown. Our tasting room was a small glassed-in box. Think “don’t feed the animals” as people visiting the historic site ambled here and there, looking but not touching the tasters.
         Our morning and afternoon sessions were quick-paced and collaborative. The wines were only still reds and whites from the Douro; day two Port was added. The goal: make a selection to show a group of American importers for a fair to be held in May. Day one’s wines were somewhat wanting. Interesting, some reasonable quality and affordable, but still.…
         Day two: shut the front door! We were joined by Duoro and Port expert Bento Amaral, the Director of Technical Services & Certification for the IVDP. The air in the room changed. Mr Amaral wheeled in a level of elevated awareness to our task. He seemed relieved that the impressions of the wines of day two were superior.

          The white wine varieties range from Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Gouveio and Rabigato. Good examples can be powerfully aromatic with both elegance and zest. Several of the examples we tasted were extremely fruit-driven with very focused floral notes and bright, medium to longer finish. A real discovery!
         The reds were primarily Touriga Nacional, considered to be one of the noblest grapes in the country. but which typically represents a small percentage in most fortified blends. We learned that producers are redirecting the muscular variety from the muted fortified world to the powerfully elegant, dense non-fortified examples of what the Duoro region is capable of producing. This is an areas where there is beauty in all aspects of Portuguese life. From the people to the cities and their wines, Oporto and the Duoro are more than the imagination can dream.


© American Sommelier, Inc 2017

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