On the other side of the Rio Douro from Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia. These two cities have faced each other for centuries across the steeply banked slopes down to the river. Over the years these have been built up and spectacular bridges have been added across the chasm.
On one side is Porto: picturesque UNESCO world heritage site and on the other, lots of port wine lodges. It’s quite bizarre to see all the British port names emblazoned on buildings on the other side of the river. Names from our colonial past, still here making and shipping port all over the world. It was quite a surprise to see these quintessentially British brands in such a place.
We arranged a port tasting at Taylor’s lodge (we were told it was the best) which was right at the top of the hill. Apparently the higher up the hill you were in the past spoke volumes of your stature and of course Taylor’s is still up there with the best. The Taylor’s lodge is a little bit of England’s past clinging on to the notion that the Empire still exists. Cool, dark tasting rooms make way for English country gardens, spectacular views from the terraces and peaceful old warehouses full of slowly maturing port.
We tasting four kinds of port: chip dry white, ten year old tawny, LBV (late bottled vintage) ruby and vintage port. All this at 10am in the morning! I am actually a fan of port but mostly drink it at Christmas time, so drinking it in the summer felt a bit odd, but when in Porto…
We learnt the differences between the ports, when they should be drunk and with what kind of food they should accompany. It’s a complicated business this port drinking. Our guide was deeply knowledgeable as you’d expect and visibly proud of the product and tradition and we were lucky enough to have a private tour which made all the difference. The port wine making process hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and I loved the giant vats of port, nestled in the darkness, quietly waiting for their time to decant their contents. The smell in the giant warehouses was gently boozy: cool, damp air mixed with old oak combining to create a woozy atmosphere.
After the tour, we staggered out into the late morning sunshine, blinking in the light, feeling more than a little fresh, heading off in search of an early lunch to counter the port.