An Authentic Port Wine Tasting Experience – Porto, Portugal

An Authentic Port Wine Tasting Experience – Porto, Portugal

For a port wine enthusiast, like my husband Mark, our recent trip to Portugal was a dream come true. We spent two weeks in Portugal, with an emphasis on Porto, the home of his favorite wine…Port. Port is a rich blend of Douro Valley grapes, fortified with Brandy, made exclusively in northern Portugal. Porto is a vibrant city which is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Porto lies on the northern banks of the Douro River, and on the southern banks is Vila Nova de Gaia, where the Port Lodges reside. It is here where all of the Port is stored in barrels and matured in cellars.

My husband was seeking a truly unique Port wine tasting experience, so instead of going to all of the cellars, we arranged in advance for a private tour of one of the smaller, exclusive lodges, Vasconcellos. Our tour guide, Jorgito, shared with us that they make only 40,000 bottles a year. The large houses that distribute worldwide might make as many as 1 million bottles a month. We learned that the Port maturing in the French Oak barrels is a blend of wines. For example, a 40 year old Port is really a minimum of 40 years old and likely contains some wine that was 60 or 70 years old.

Jorgito at Vasconcellos Port House – Portugal

We tasted a variety of Port:
White – while my husband typically finds white Port harsh, like a Scotch or Bourbon, this was incredibly smooth and sweet.
Vintage – this is produced in what is named a “Vintage” year, an official designation by a government authority when certain growing conditions are met. It is made and bottled that year and is not a blend. Once opened, a Vintage should be consumed within three days. This was probably my favorite, as I am not a wine enthusiast or a Port aficionado, but I found it to be very enjoyable (especially with dark chocolate).
10 year old Tawny – this was like drinking a high quality 20 year old Port in the U.S.
20 year old Tawny – super complex flavor profile with walnuts, raisins and other fruity flavors. It had a beginning, middle and end.
30 year old Tawny – this was the best Port my husband ever tasted…until he was offered the 40 year old.
40 year old Tawny – My husband was the only one who was passionate enough to taste this Port. (Jorgito knew he was the only one who would truly appreciate this experience as it was meant to be experienced). There were no words used to describe the taste, rather, his face beamed with the biggest grin I have ever seen! Perhaps he died and went to Port heaven for a moment. He was able to describe it later as beautifully light in color, fruity essence, with complex nut flavors and an amazing almost syrupy/caramel taste. Velvety smooth.

Port Wine Tasting

The wine tasting at Vasconcellos Port house was a once in a lifetime experience, that we hope to experience again in our lifetime. Vasconcellos Port is not sold outside of this Port house, in Gaia. We were able to purchase it and have it shipped to us. It arrived this week:
• Two bottles of Vintage Port 2012 – to be consumed for special occasions, like our 30 year wedding anniversary, or the birth of our first grandchild, maybe.
• One bottle of 10 year old Port – to be shared with Port loving friends, only.
• One bottle of 20 year old Port – to be shared with one friend who truly appreciates Port wine.
• Two bottles of 40 year old Port – referred to by Jorgito as “two bottles of Selfish” – these will only be consumed by Mark. Period.

Port Wine Selfish
“Selfish Port” – 40 year old Tawny

Other Tastes of Portugal
Portugal is a beautiful country, their people are super friendly, the weather in September was perfect, and nearly everyone spoke English with us. There were so many incredibly unique things we saw there. In addition to the Port cellars, these are most memorable:
Portuguese Pavement – The sidewalks and streets are truly a work of art made of black and white pavers. These are hand-carved from basalt and limestone blocks, then individually placed by hand by an artisan.
Portuguese Ceramic Tile – These ceramic tiles decorate literally everything in Portugal. They can be found on the sides of ordinary houses, buildings, inside train stations, the outer walls of churches and palaces, shops, etc. Sometimes they make a mosaic pattern, sometimes they build a huge mural.
Portuguese Cork Products – We learned that Portugal is the biggest cork producer in the world. Cork Oak trees must be 25 years old before cork can be harvested. It is sustainable as only the outer cork layer is stripped from the living tree every nine years. These Cork Oaks can live to be 200 years old. Cork is used to make purses, belts, shoes, wallets, etc. Think leather products, and you will find them in cork.
Portuguese Fado – Fado music is considered the “urban blues” of Portugal. It usually consists of a mournful sounding solo singer accompanied by a classical Portuguese guitar. This is a must experience. I would recommend a small, intimate family-owned Fado House like we experienced in Funcha, Madeira, called Travessa dos Torres. The singing was filled with passion and sorrow. The food was delicious.

Portugal Flavors

What a wonderful experience we had in Portugal. I hope you have a chance to visit this place, too.

California Wine Harvest Celebration

California Wine Harvest Celebration

As if the beautiful weather, colorful trees, and pumpkin recipes weren’t enough to make us love Fall, it is also wine harvest season! Claire gets in on the wine harvest celebration every year, and she’s here to tell us all about it. Grab a glass and join us as Claire takes us on a little wine tasting!

It can be difficult to remember sometimes that nearly everything on our tables comes from a farm somewhere. Most of us buy our groceries from supermarkets, far away from their farms of origin. In a post-agrarian culture like ours which mercifully makes hamburgers possible, but which disconnects us from the rhythm of growing seasons, we can sometimes forget that autumn is also the harvest season. The symbolic cornucopia that graces our Thanksgiving greeting cards has lost its significance for most of us, but for those few who still tend the field or the flock, this is one of the busiest times of year. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry, and though we are the country’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, I am personally most fond of the vineyards.

Wine

I grew up in a family of alcohol-appreciators, especially when it came to wine.

My parents aren’t exactly snobs, but they’re not too far off.Wine I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco with my parents once when I was a kid, and they took us up the Sonoma Valley to taste at Ravenswood and Gundlach Bundschu. I was too young to drink, but I still remember the trip quite clearly. Fast forward something like 20 years, and naturally, the first time my mom came out to visit my home in California, my then-boyfriend and I took her wine tasting. At her request, we visited the Sextant Wines tasting room. An hour later, my boyfriend and I were slightly tipsy, packing up a case of wine and signing our first wine club membership. Being a wine club member affords us some privileges, like discounts on bottles and free tastings, and best of all, discounted tickets to winery events. We joined Sextant in the spring. That fall, we got married at city hall and we celebrated with our closest friends at the annual Sextant lobster boil. Since then, Pier and I have gone to the event for our anniversary dinner every year.

Every October, right in the middle of harvest, the hard working crew at Sextant changes pace for one week. They clean up their working area and turn it into a beautiful outdoor escape, lit with café lights and surrounded by working wine barrels. They invite their members to join in their harvest celebration with fresh lobster and prawns, and they open bottle after bottle of their fall releases to pour for us. We look forward to this event every year, and it never disappoints. I absolutely love lobster, but I love lobster and Chardonnay even more. And I love lobster and Cabernet Sauvignon the most!

We are indeed privileged to be so close to theWine vineyards here and to have access to the incredible wines that are coming out of this region, but the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. Only 40 years ago, the rest of the world scoffed at the idea of Californians becoming vintners, but now the Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most respected wine regions in the world. What I’m getting at here is that quality wines can come from anywhere, and anyone; even those of us who stock our wine racks at the supermarket can have access to really excellent bottles of wine at nearly any price point. There are hundreds of tasting guides out there, and though I am an enthusiastic drinker of wine, I don’t flatter myself that I can offer any fresh insights that the experts may have missed. All I need to know is that my meal is merrier with a bottle of wine on the table. So what do you look for in a bottle of wine?

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

I feel like Halloween is really sneaking up on us this year. Can you believe we’re halfway through October already?! I haven’t given a single thought to decorating, costumes, or candy (yeah right…I love candy!). I’m not going to be prepared, but Sarah W. is here with something that will at least get me into the right frame of mind: Halloween wines! Themed booze just has a way of setting the mood! Sarah, spook us into the Halloween spirit!

Greetings from the crypt. It’s getting close to Halloween, which means candy, costumes, and limited edition wines, if you are anything like me. The perfect glass of wine helps me plan my costumes, resist that candy, and hopefully tastes good, too!

Halloween has been a lot of fun my whole life. Growing up, my family lived six houses down from the town square, so there were a lot of houses packed closely together, which made for excellent trick-or-treating. My mom used to go through 20+ bags of candy, turn her light out, wait for my brother and me to get home, and then make us go through our buckets for candy we didn’t want so she could keep handing treats out to kids at our doorstep. The first year in my house, I bought 15 bags of candy and hoped it would be enough – I thought Halloween was always the way it was growing up. I barely got through seven bags, and ended up bringing the rest in for my coworkers the following Monday. Lesson learned! Having some grown-up treats helps pass the time during the lulls. That’s where the wine comes in!

I rounded up three Halloween-themed wines and put them to the test.

Some were more trick than treat, but I’d say these three are a fairly well-rounded bunch, with something for every red wine drinker. I’ve found that Halloween wines tend to most often be available as a red, since that’s, you know, blood and guts and Haloween-ish. If you’re hosting the neighborhood parents, whip up a cheese board so you have something to snack on while you’re waiting for the kids to return with your candy (that’s how that works, right?).

Apothic Dark

Apothic has been coming out with limited editionsHalloween Wine regularly now – this is a great thing. Apothic is great at blending wines – the original Apothic Red is the go-to wine for my closest friends and me when we get together for a wine night. It’s guaranteed at least half of us will bring the same bottle. Apothic Dark has a heavy, rich taste that is somehow more muted than the original. There’s a smoky undertone at the finish that is almost bitter. There’s a sweetness that is hard to pinpoint, but some kind of dark fruit flavor is involved. I was strongly reminded of a merlot when drinking this, which isn’t my favorite varietal. But it’s certainly smooth and drinkable, with any dryness coming at the end, almost after you swallow. This one won’t give you heartburn. You want to drink Dark with the middle and back of your palate – bringing this forward in your mouth makes it taste more acrid.

Rating: 3 spooky ghosts

Halloween Candy Pairing: 3 Musketeers Strawberry or Raspberry M&Ms – a fruit/chocolate combo balances this out

Rest in Peace

Halloween WineThis wine is a new one to me, and I was possibly most excited for it since red blends are my favorite. This is the most sour of the three, and although the tasting notes on the bottle mention boysenberry and raspberry jam, I didn’t find this very fruity or jammy. Maybe for a moment as this first hits your palate – there’s definitely a brightness to it that sharpens to a spice as you drink. Leather, cedar, tobacco, pepper, and black tea are also mentioned, and these are the flavors I can definitely taste. The taste of pepper and black tea is more noticeable to me in this wine; it lingers on the back of your palate. The consistency is thin, while the flavor is robust, somehow. I understand the notes on leather and cedar, even if they’re hard to explain. There are definite earthy notes, which is surprising for such an acidic wine. This one grows on you the more you drink it.

Rating: 2-1/2 black cats

Halloween Candy Pairing: Dark chocolate – a midnight Milky Way would mellow this one out

Vampire

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a red blend, Halloween Winea fact that I noticed when I got home. Vampire has a juiciness to it that is a) extremely appropriate given its name and b) very hard to describe in terms of drinking wine. Maybe it’s best to characterize the juiciness by the absence of smoke, bitterness, or sourness. Tasting notes on the bottle suggest blackberry, dark cherry, and oak. I am not hit over the head with the fruit level, but it’s tangibly there, while the oak doesn’t dry this up to an undrinkable level. This is a wine for storytelling and deep conversations. It’s mellow enough to drink a lot of without noticing how much you’re drinking, with dryness coming right as the wine hits the middle of your mouth. This is another one to taste with the middle and back of your palate. This also finishes with some slight bitterness, but not enough to be off-putting if you’re a regular red wine drinker.

Rating: 5 werewolves

Halloween Candy Pairing: Red Vines licorice

 

Is your house busy with trick-or-treaters on Halloween? What’s your favorite limited edition anything? Should they make more Halloween-themed white wines? I could only find one, and it didn’t look good to me, so I passed.