September 5, 2016
Porto charmed me from the moment I landed in the modern airport and took the very smooth, modern metro to the city centre. It’s a matter-of-fact city that receives tourists with an urbane, friendly attitude, without being cloying, and goes calmly about its daily business.
This is a place that seems comfortable with itself. Grocers’ shops are Aladdin’s caves crammed with long, spicy sausages, sacks of dried beans, whole sheep’s cheeses and shelves lined with bottles of Port and wine. Old-fashioned underwear shops, fine bed linen emporia, elegant granite buildings and blue-and-white tiled churches line the roads along which trundle little old trams and ultra-modern, gas-powered buses.
One could almost be seduced into thinking about living here – if it weren’t for the rain, of course. It rains a lot here – in fact, with 1,200mm of rainfall each year, Porto gets more rainfall than Manchester.
But no matter, there are plenty of great places to retreat to from the rain and enjoy a bite to eat, washed down by a glass of local wine or Port, of course.
I started my visit as I meant to go on: in style. The Majestic Café is one of the iconic landmarks of Porto and it featured high on my list of things to do. I was clearly not alone in my ambition, as I had to queue to get in and the place was packed. But the service was slick and efficient, despite the number of customers.
Ornate mirrors framed in dark wood and gold-painted cherubs with garlands of plaster flowers cover the walls and high ceilings. I sat on a dark leather bench mid-café, leaning on the small, marble-covered tables and gave myself over to people-watching: here a couple of tourists sipping coffee, there a group of well-dressed middle aged local ladies having afternoon tea.
I got my visit off to a good start with a glass of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008, a traditional method sparkling wine made with Arinto, Bical and Chardonnay grapes from the Bairrada DOC in Portugal. It was a beautiful, deep golden colour and had lots of fresh citrus fruit, toast and yeast aromas. It was very refreshing and fruity in the mouth with zesty acidity and delicate bubbles. It went very well with the traditional egg custard pastry known as pasteis de nata.
Two days later, at the very delicious, high-end The DOC, Rui Paula’s restaurant in the Douro Valley, I sampled another excellent sparkling wine, this one from the Távora Varosa area, which borders the Douro region. Terras do Demo was made from 100% Malvasia fina and was a medium lemon-green colour. The nose revealed aromas of citrus fruit and green apples, as well as the characteristic yeast and sponge cake notes from the in-bottle fermentation. Very pleasant, fruity, dry sparkling wine with moderate alcohol (12.5%) and the notes of fruit and sponge cake coming through again in the mouth.
The delicious three-course lunch at The DOC ended with one of the best Port wines I tasted on my trip. Rozes 10 year old Tawny was medium garnet in colour. The nose was pronounced with notes of red fruit, together with hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, toffee and chocolate. In the mouth, the sweetness was well-balanced by the high acidity and the tannins were ripe and well-integrated. This full-bodied Port was packed with flavour, including notes of chocolate, marzipan and red fruit (raspberries and cherries).
My sister and I liked the restaurant Douro Sentido so much we went back twice, dining on tapas, such as marinated octopus, creamy sheep’s cheese, spicy sausages and fresh bread, washed down, of course, by still wines.
Herdade das Albernoas, a simple, non-aromatic white from Alentejo made from 80% Antāo Vaz and 20% Arinto grapes. This wine was pale lemon in colour with high acidity and medium body. Subtle in the mouth with notes of citrus (lemon zest) and green apple, this is an easy-drinking wine.
Casa Ferreirinha Esteva 2014, a red wine from the Douro region made with traditional Douro grapes: 35% Tinta Roriz, 30% Tinta Barroca, 20% Touriga Franca and 15% Touriga Nacional. Medium ruby in colour, this wine had a medium nose with notes of violets, red fruit (raspberries) and black fruit (plums, blackcurrant). In the mouth, it was dry with moderate acidity, tannins and alcohol. Medium-bodied with lots of fruit flavours and a floral touch, this is another easy-to-drink, food-friendly wine
During my short visit to Porto, I enjoyed the traditional local fare, including lots of bacalhau (salt cod). I heard it said that there are 365 different recipes for bacalhau in Porto. I can’t vouch for that, but the two or three different dishes I tried were excellent. My overall impression was of simple, wholesome and delicious cuisine without excessive use of cowsmilk – a real plus for people like myself who are intolerant to this ubiquitous ingredient. All in all, charming Porto is a city I would definitely come back to. Next time, I’ll come with oversized clothes, a suitcase large enough for a good stock of wines and, of course, an umbrella. Nothing like being prepared!
To see my other posts about my visit to Porto:
The Douro – the birthplace of Port wine covering how and where Port is made.
Vila Nova de Gaia where Port is aged, including a tasting of 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman’s Tawny.
Douro still wines from Quinta de Tourais