by Miller Cornelius

Upon sharing the exciting news of an upcoming wine and port tasting trip to Porto, people laughed or grimaced (obviously not those of you who are already converted) and uttered things such as ‘Port? That’s for Christmas,’ ‘Ugh, why? That’s too sweet for me,” or “but the Douro only makes Port.” Not exactly the reaction you expect. But sitting there in the evening glow with lights from the Dom Luis I bridge sparking off a Douro white as it splashed into our glasses, we laughed and said a toast to a future of extolling the virtues of port and Douro wines. Clink, cheers!

Four days in Porto flew by. Our aim: find, taste, and stock incredible wines. Which we accomplished. The bonus was meeting incredible people, consuming some stunning food, and ogling breath-taking vistas.

Our tour, as many do, started with breakfast when we bullied Peter into cappuccino and pastel de nata at Castro – widely regarded as the best in the city. He soon agreed that two pastel de nata was an excellent breakfast and one we’d replicate for the rest of the trip. And then we were off to Real Companhia Velha to meet Tiago, one of the family who own this fabulous company. It was a lovely tour - we nearly lost Ben in their secret cellars – and a port tasting later, we were in the back of Tiago’s car zipping through the winding streets on the way to lunch at Terreiro overlooking the river. Tiago treated us to some of RCV’s table wines – Quinta de Cidrô red and a Carvalhas white - and we immediately made puppy-dog faces to Peter begging him to get them in. We’d needn’t have bothered, he’d already added them to the list and as I type this, they’re sitting on the shelves.

Although we had tasted some incredible wines at the lodge – the range of Tawnies will always stay with me – the real treat was on the arrival of dessert. Tiago surprised us by opening two bottles of port that I doubt we’ll ever have the chance to try again, a 1943 Vintage half bottle which was never released, and strangely they only have half bottles in their cellar, and a cask sample of a 1927 Colheita. While words can’t describe these wonders, I’ll say only that the 1927 was still so youthful and vibrant it danced in the glass with light aromas of apricots, dates, and honey zipping into the air.

Silly as it now sounds, we were worried the trip had peaked to early but oh we were mistaken. Rushing from lunch (we were late – whoops) to our tour at Churchills where we met our guide, Bruno. Churchills is a favourite of our staff, Ben and Peter had tried every vintage released except the 1997 before the visit and upon this discovery, Bruno adjusted our tasting menu so we could try it. After the tour – if you’re there, you must get them to show you the view of Porto from their Tawny aging room, it might be the best view of the city – we settled in the tasting. While the 1997 was obviously a highlight, we fell hard for the Crusted Port and the 20 year old Tawny.

No rest for the wicked, we wandered down for a beer, yes, you read that right. Sometimes with all the rich wine and food you simply crave a simple Super Bock to refresh yourself. Ben even got himself a Super Bock t-shirt, though we have our doubts whether it will ever see the light of day. Dinner at Gruta where the croaker crudo and homemade ravioli were upstaged only by an apple tart with Tawny Port ice cream. Here I discovered my port nemesis - a 10 year old Dalva Tawny that was, for me, horrifically sweet. Peter & Ben didn't mind so much, but like the 1927 Colheita, this wine will remain with me forever.... this one just for the wrong reasons!

Morning dawned early for us but we rallied and with a bit of a sugar high from the aforementioned tarts, we strolled leisurely across the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia for a visit to Burmester. Located right on the water, it has some of the best views of the Dom Luis I bridge, their tour ends with a lovely cheese plate, and their older Colheitas are potentially worth exploring. We left especially excited for our next port of call.

Quevedo doesn’t have a proper lodge in Porto. They make and age their ports and wines in the Douro. But their tasting room, located on a side street away from the bustle of the river, is an ideal place to wile away an afternoon. We ended up with quite the spread, 10 ports, a heaving charcuterie board, and a flaming sausage. What could be better? Oh, that’s right, we finished it off with made-to-order, mint-infused lemonade. Once again, we were left thinking the trip couldn’t get any better and maybe we should just get comfy on the bench seat in a massive old port vat to enjoy the nightly Fado but alas, we had one last engagement. Graham’s.

To celebrate what can only be called a pilgrimage for Peter and Ben we bought Ben a hat made of cork, which he secretly loves, and climbed the hill to the lodge. Slightly out of breath, whether that was a product of laughter or a sad comment on our health, we stumbled into the very elegant reception room and joined the tour. For any port newbie, this is the pinnacle of an educational experience, and we highly recommend. But for us, the tasting was the big draw. A complete change from the cool, young vibe of Quevedo, you are in a secluded room that reminds you of Winston Churchill’s study (he actually drank Grahams' Six Grapes, one of the wines we tried), the wines were enjoyable, mostly new to us, and provided fodder for conversation with some others in the tour group.

When tasters were long gone and it began to seem like we may be overstaying our welcome, we picked ourselves up and set out to find a wine bar to relax until dinner. Bacchus Vinni served the purpose and it was there, with the sun setting and a light chill settling over us, that we toasted educating the doubters of the Douro.

The last stop on our whirl-wind tour was Taberna dos Mercadores, hidden on a side-street and seating only six tables it’s a must-do but make a reservation and knock on the door to be let in. It must’ve been fate that sat us next to the door as it gave Peter the perfect vantage point to spot the 1995 Redoma in the racks above our heads. This of course led to a mini vertical tasting and a vow that we’ll find an old Redoma whenever we’re in Portugal. The servers, with wise-cracking sarcasm seemed intrigued by the motly that ordered off-the-list wine and a random, very large, selection of food and brought us one of nearly everything on the menu and some things that weren’t. The small space was full of laughter and people shouting recommendations table to table. Swallowing the last bit of dessert and with the last sip of Kopke 10 year old we toasted a final time to Porto, it’s people, and it’s beautiful wine.