If, like me, your idea of vacation involves good food and booze, I recommend you spend a couple of days in Porto, Portugal, the beautiful port city famous for port wine (duh).
Technically, we were actually staying in Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro River, where – happily – the major port tasting rooms happen to be. We pulled up to The Yeatman, a grand hotel that fairly screams (in a quiet, elegant way) British Colonial Privilege. With its stunning views over the old town and river, it’s described on Trip Advisor as “majestic”, “gorgeous”, “amazing” and “spectacular” with “excellent service”, and it did not disappoint. Having spent 3+ hours in the car driving from Lisbon, we were anxious to get out and explore (code for “drink”).
We strolled down the steep streets to the water’s edge (be warned, it’s a LONG hike back up, especially if you’ve indulged in some wine tasting) to get the party started. Here’s a highly simplified introduction to port, for those of us (a.k.a., me) who didn’t know much about it:
Port is a sweet, fortified wine that’s created when fermentation is interrupted by the addition of brandy, which maintains the residual sugar of the grapes. It’s produced exclusively in the Douro Valley and is regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Portuguese winemakers blend a variety of grapes, each adding its own character and flavor, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.
The primary families are white, tawny and ruby.
- White, made from white grapes, ages for at least three years in wood casks
- Tawny is made from red grapes that age in wood casks, gradually attaining its characteristic golden brown color. Tawny is always a blend of wines that have aged for different amounts of time, averaging the age (e.g., 10, 20, 30 years) shown on the label. Taste for notes of caramel and nut
- Ruby maintains the fruit, color and strength of young wines. Expect berry and chocolate flavors
- Vintage is produced from a single year’s harvest and bottled two years later. Not every year is considered good enough to be “vintage”. It improves as it ages in the bottle and a good bottle can be enjoyed decades later
- Reserve is similar to Vintage though it’s bottled later and is generally best to drink soon after release
- LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) is bottled 4-6 years after the harvest. It can be left to age (though only for a few years) but is ready to drink when released
All should be served at a cool room temperature, about 60°F. Port’s inherent sweetness lends itself to pairings with many types of cheese; desserts with fruit, chocolate or caramel; nuts; even barbecue or other sweet/smoky foods. Check out more suggestions and info at Wine Folly’s excellent website.
We only stopped at three tasting rooms since there’s a limit to how much sweet wine either of us could drink in an afternoon, and trudged back up the hill to relax at The Yeatman’s indoor infinity pool with views of the river, plus a curious peacock out on the lawn who couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t peck his way into the spa.
We concluded Day One with dinner at the Yeatman’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which began with several chef’s “surprises” (below, four of the 13 courses)
I’m sorry to report that after eating such a rich meal, both my husband and I — “surprise!”– were hugging the toilet bowl a few hours later. But even though that was about $350 literally down the drain, I’d still rate it a memorable experience. Especially if your stomach is stronger than mine.
A few random travel tips for your next adventure:
- Pack a sleep aid (acetaminophen PM or prescription) if you have trouble adjusting to a new bed, room temperature, etc.
- Always have snacks and chewable antacids on hand. Traveling with me is like traveling with a toddler; I get REALLY cranky when I’m hungry.
- Have an extra book on hand in case of delays.
- Pack a corkscrew for that “emergency” bottle of wine to keep in your hotel room.
- Carry a magnifying glass so you can read the teeny-tiny street names on maps.
- One of my favorite products is Pure Illumination, a light-up lip gloss/ lip moisturizer with a mirror that also doubles as a night light.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t get paid by any of the companies or products I mention; they’re just things I want to share with you. Bon voyage!