It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go to Porto without tasting the port. It would be like going to York without a trip to Betty’s, or indeed to Champagne without a glass of the bubbly stuff. So having crossed the Duoro river over the mighty Dom Luís Bridge, you will find yourself ideally located to wet your taste buds with the sweet and delectable nectar which has maybe made Porto the favourite haunt of the Olympian gods. For in the Vila Nova de Gaia, the quaint riverside zone bang opposite Porto’s Ribeira, you will find the air filled with the subtle perfume of oak barrels soaked with wine, as you wander past the headquarters of practically every of the most important Port manufacturers in the world.
Walking away from the bustling quayside, where boats carrying barrels of port from the vineyards up the Duoro valley can still be seen (probably more for show, but still…), you will find yourself in narrow little streets filled with port showrooms and cellars. Look up, and the large illuminated lettering of each port house exhibits the most famous names in port: Graham’s, Ramos Pinto, Fonseca, Porto Cruz… they’re all there for the tasting. But being mildly patriotic, we decided to head to one of the most famous British-founded brands, and one which today still wears the seal of approval of the British royals: Taylor’s.
Walking into Taylor’s was bit like visiting a colonial embassy. It felt very British, very sophisticated, but with all the hallmarks of a much hotter climate: plush gardens, a vine dappled courtyard with a tricking fountain, all traversed by peacocks walking haughtily around their dominion. Inside we were given a very handy self-toured audio guide which led us through a vast vault filled on all sides with barrel upon barrel of the famous fortified wine, and the heady scent of fermenting grapes. Past the barrels, a state of the art exhibition taught us more about port than we can ever have wished to know: I can now tell you the difference between a tawny and a late bottled vintage; why tawny’s are honey coloured and standard port red, and the traditions which accompany the human-trod grape harvesting process.
All more interesting than it sounds, although the real treat came at the tasting, enjoyed in the heavenly surroundings of a perfectly tamed box-hedged garden alive with the scent of roses and accompanied by the solemn call of those same majestic peacocks. Served with chocolate truffles picked to perfectly balance the rich syrupy nectar served to use by a manicured waiter, we could quite easily have closed our eyes and followed those gods back to Olympus. Naturally we could not leave without buying a bottle of our favourite: the 20 year old tawny. And whenever it is opened the heady scent will remind me of that moment in Porto’s winey paradise – a treat not to be missed.
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