Your despondent correspondent writes to you from Porto in Portugal. We get on well, the English and the Portugese, despite our footballing differences: our relations in trade are older than the agreement of any other two countries in the world. This deal was originally centred around wine, so that the English could buy wine from Iberia cheaper than from France.
English logos dominate the left bank of the Douro river that divides Porto from its neighbour Gaia. Signs reading Cockburn’s, Sandeman and Forrester light up at night and look quite charming from the terraces o the banks opposite. In a curious side note, it seems that all Port wine is harvested 100km up the river, and ages in cellars in Gaia, so Porto seems to have no right to put its name to the fortified wine. Correct me if I have equivocated.
Along with the visits to individual cellars, there are two other spots to visit should you ever visit this slightly grubby but elegant city in Northern Portugal. The Museu Do Vinho Do Porto offers a historical overview of the industry, with historical knickknacks, seafaring fare and a wee shop. It’s small and there’s nothing to sample, but at least it’s free at the weekend.
The second port joint that you could visit is the Solar Do Vinho Do Porto. This is quite well signposted but could easily be missed, tucked away in the South-East of the city centre, as it is. Originally a 19th Century merchant house, it was bought by the council in 1955, and converted into the Solar (Space in English) in 1974, it is a magnificent old manor house with a modern lounge and a garden that has an elevated view of the Douro. The name of the river, I believe, comes from Do Uro, or Of Gold, which it has because of the burning yellow reflection of the sunset, something you will be able to witness if you pick the right time to visit.
The menu of wines is startling. There are eight pages of ports to choose from, in the styles of Tawny, Rosé, Ruby and Reserve, as well as two pages o DOC Douro non-fortified wines. You can also cop glasses and books from there if you like. With a little time on my hands, I went through three beverages, making a few notes along the way.
As it was a balmy afternoon and I had been marching around Porto’s hilly hills all day, I was thirsty and in no mood for the tannic syrup that could be feared in such a circumstance. I saw a port cocktail at the top of the menu, the Portonic: dry white port, tonic, ice and a slice of lemon, which was refreshing and not nearly as tart as its gin-bearing cousin.
Feeling slightly stronger, I then went for a light and young ruby from the Ferreira cellar. It was ruby in colour, strangely enough, with a purple rim. It had an intense fruitful olor, clean and peppered taste, small sips were plenty to savour the flavour long after the sip was sipped.
Finally, I felt up to a Reserve, Sandeman’s Finest to be precise. This glass was a touch thicker, with a deep red colour and browning rim, a smell less fruity and subtler, complex perhaps. It seemed more spiced and was just as long and satisfying as the last.
I expect I’ll be back to this fine establishment before my holiday is over; after all, I’ve still got seven and three quarters pages of options to get through.