I didn't have enough time to go to the Douro Valley, where the grapes for port are grown and vinified (for that matter, I didn't have enough time to visit most of the other fine winegrowing regions in the country,) but I squeezed in a day trip up to Porto and Villa Nova di Gaia where the port lodges are located. (Gaia is actually a separate town across the river from Porto where the lodges are, however most people simply use "Porto" to describe the area of both towns.)
|View of Porto from the porch at Taylor's.|
I met with Robert Bower, who gave me a tour of what is the area's oldest port lodge (Taylor's moved to that facility in 1692, so yeah, I guess that's kind of old...) and he mentioned that their location on top of the hill was prime as to avoid flooding, although back in the day it was treacherous to bring barrels of port all the way down the steep incline to the river for transportation. As I had already teetered down some angled cobblestones to get there, I had to imagine so.
Robert is a member of the 8th generation of his family to be involved in the port industry. Although born in Porto, he was mostly raised and educated in England, and joined Taylor's in 2011. Taylor's is one of the last two British-run port houses (Symington is the other,) and yet they look to modern techniques and sustainability even as they embrace tradition.
We began our tasting with the rubies (ruby port is a younger, fresher style, as opposed to tawny port, which shows evidence of aging and oxidation.)
The NV Taylor's First Estate Reserve is the youngest and most approachable. It showed intense fresh fruit and was luscious and most "wine-like," as the higher alcohol was tempered by the brightness of the fruit. Notes say, "wow." ~$17
The 2008 Taylor's LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) was a style that actually evolved from restaurant demand; people wanted the flavors and personality of a vintage port, but didn't want to pay high prices and have to deal with decanting, etc. This was complex, with great fruit in the mouth, bright acidity, and a lovely note of cocoa powder. ~$20
The quality of the spirit used in the fortification process is much higher for the 2004 Taylor's vintage port, so the marriage of wine and spirit happens quickly and without a "dumb" period in the bottle. This could now age 120-140 years. It was complex and elegant, with a lovely nose of pine, and eucalyptus on the palate. Notes say, "really fantastic!" ~$30
On to the tawnies! These are labeled by the average barrel age of the grapes used: 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40 years. The Taylor's 10 Year had notes of caramel, cinnamon, and apple pie, with great acidity. ~$22
I absolutely loved the Taylor's 20 Year, which had a sherry/madeira feel, with forward, bright acid, and notes of toffee and gingerbread. It was incredibly smooth; notes say, "goes down easy! V. v. nice." ~$40
The Taylor's 30 Year exhibited its age visually, with a darker hue, and on the nose, with a nuttiness coming in. This was subtle, with floral notes and candied orange peel, and a still-bright acidity. ~$90
Finally, the Taylor's 40 Year was a very dark brown, with heady aromatics. It showed toffee, rose petals, and lemon peel, and was richer in the mouth (longer time in barrel = more evaporation = concentrated flavors in remaining port) with an incredible complexity and still "awesomely bright" acidity. ~$175
The whole experience at Taylor's was magnificent, except for one thing: I had hoped to sample a bit of the 2011 Vintage port, as the wine world is going berserk over the 2011 vintage. Unfortunately for me, Robert informed me they are already out of stock of the 2011! Oh, well.
Her outfit was not my first clue that this company definitely knows how to market and brand. (Quite literally—apparently Sandeman himself invented the practice of branding wine barrels.) The little attached museum, all parts of the tour, and the tasting room were modernized and shiny. The whole experience felt very antiseptic and by rote to me, although I will say that the other people in my group were very pleased with the tour. At the end, we were poured two wines: the NV Sandeman's Apitiv (which is more of a sherry) had a medium copper-gold color, and a slightly astringent nose of mountain florals. It was slightly sweet yet steely and a bit salty. Pleasant, though not a ton of character. ~$16. And the NV Sandeman's Founder's Reserve Ruby, which had a nice expression on the nose and lots of acidity, but was generally forgettable. ~$18
I loved meandering the little streets of Gaia and wandering down to the river to look at the replicas of the barcos rabelos, the boats that transported wine from the Douro valley to the port houses. My plan was to cross the bridge to Porto, find the legendary Lello & Irmão bookstore, and have a glass of wine before catching my train back to Lisbon.
But I passed a little storefront outpost of Quinta do Noval so had to try a few more ports first! They had little sample bottles to purchase, so I started with the NV Quinta do Noval Fine White, a white port. It was a very viscous pale gold, and had a gorgeous floral aroma, with florals, melon rind, a pleasant soapiness, and light acidity. €2,50. Then I splurged on the Quinta do Noval 40-Year Tawny, which was a brownish bricky red with caramel, something a bit "horsey," a madeira feel, and nice acidity. €9,50 [US bottle ~$125]
|Intricate staircase in Lello & Irmao|
|Church and fountain in Porto.|