On reflection, he possibly doesn’t, however, his rugged, Portuguese charm, blended with his hospitality and endearing, relaxed nature, must continually make him a target for exaggeration – both before and after the Port-sampling!
Easy uphill walk
You can organise port-tastings in numerous locations along the Douro River, however I was staying at Six Senses Douro Valley, and as they offered an escorted tour that involved a refreshing walk of just 20 minutes each way, why look further?
Quinta do Mourão
The neighbouring property is Quinta do Mourão, one of the farms of Mário Joaquim da Rocha Braga, Herdeiros. The Port is distributed under the label of St Leonardo and the wines under Rio Bom; our cellar (one of about four) was called Port Knox.
Small and intimate
We did this trip in March and were a group of just three, however they can be as large as 10 or more. We were personally escorted up the hill to the unassuming stone building under a red roof, and met by the friendly owner, Miguel Braga.
Having done wine tastings in Provence, we thought the format and etiquette may be similar? My French comparison was a 90-minute lesson in all aspects of wine production, followed by a 20-minute tutorial on sniffing, sipping and aerating the wine in your mouth before finally swallowing. Miguel’s guidance was certainly more to the point; from what I remember he said ‘drink it’.
A Port scale
Beginning at a lowly 10-years old, we slurped our way through a succession of mainly Tawny Ports, the first few of which were young enough to still be maturing in the casks. These oak giants had a delicate tap on one side that dispensed our taster tipple.
Improving with age
The ports typically combine about three varieties of grape, all of which are native to the Douro region, which is essential if they are to become Port Wine. Brandy is added to stop the fermentation of the grapes, and it is at this point that it starts to become the distinct, intensely flavoured drink that packs such as delicious punch. A typical alcohol content will be 20%. A Douro wine without fortification will be between 13% and 15% depending on the altitude that the grape has been grown, the higher the hill, the more it is likely to be.
The tasting takes place inside the ground level, windowless cellar, with minimal light and chillingly cool. The impact of the dim interior as you enter, takes a little getting used to, but this is nothing compared to the sobering flare of daylight that assaults you as you leave! Is this why they call the tour ‘Assault to Port Knox’?
No matter how responsible or refined you intend to remain, even one or two sips of that number of Ports takes its toll. There is no spittoon here, so drinking the liquor is the only option. I don’t doubt, that part of the day’s sport is witnessing guards drop, speech slur and giggles intensify; my recommendation is not to take this too seriously but to enjoy the magical flavours in the spirit in which they are offered, then chuckle your way downhill afterwards.
I must confess to only retrieving a bottle of LBV from the cupboard, post-meal, as an alternative to brandy. I will, from now on, give it more opportunity. A white grape port (white port!), may be drunk as an aperitif either alone or with fresh mint and tonic - accompanied by olives and salty snacks it makes the perfect dinner preamble. You could then take the superb acidity of, say a 20-year old Tawny Port into the starter course of your meal, it’s particularly comfortable with a pâté or mellow soup. As a digestif, it comes into its own, being fully in love with desserts and cheeses. What I’m looking forward to most, however, is using a glug or two to create an alternative to the Pimms jug – think tonic water, freshly sliced cucumber, lime chunks, bunches of mint leaves, and a few strawberries with stalks. Roll-on summer!
Booking this port-tasting through Six Senses Douro Valley will cost you 70 euros per person. It is available all-year-round.