My Journey through Portugal for the Porto International Wine Tourism & Conference

January 28, 2011
The Robert Treat Hotel served a lovely breakfast which we enjoyed with our new Portuguese friend. Prior to leaving for the airport, Paul and I walked around the Park in Newark through the slushy snow. I was thrilled that my Clark walking boots were also waterproof. Snow puddles were ankle deep and not one drop touched my feet!

When we got to the airport, we went directly to our gate out of fear of another plane delay. Bagel sandwiches, hummus, and bottled tea provided a lovely “terminal picnic” where we watched the tragic physical manifestation of pain, frustration and anger in Egypt on T.V. monitors. Helplessly we prayed to the only power that can really do anything about it.

Our flight left on time – yay! With plenty of seats available we played musical chairs until we found exactly the right spot and caught up on movies: Babette’s Feast, Legend of the Guardian, Social Network, and Life as We Know It, which really hit home since we are experiencing the same “new moments” with Sophia Marie.

Our tour of Portuguese wines actually started on the plane where we enjoyed Quinta Dos Grilos – a fruitful red wine with rich textures and long finish, and Versatil- almond character white wine which was quite crisp and good with fish.

January 29, 2011
Once our Portuguese friend helped us get through customs and into a taxi, we said farewell. He was on his way to Brazil and we were on our way to the Palacio do Freixo. The valleys had been covered with fog as we landed. It had a mysterious look about it. The hills peeked out of the mist. The taxi driver drove deeper and deeper into the fog until we could not see the car in front of us. Suddenly, out of the mist stood this huge elegant Baroque Mansion. This was Palacio do Freixo, a Pousada De Portugal. Completely restored, each room is an artist master piece with fresco’s on all walls and ceilings. The mirror room is my favorite. It was designed by an Italian Architect – the same architect to design the palace that is pictured on the Mateus Label.

The hotel overlooks the Douro River and is one of the last palaces to be restored into a Pousadas. Next to the Palace had been built a ceramic factory. This they purchased and incorporated into the living quarters, spa, and indoor pool. If you get to Porto, this is definitely a place to see and stay.

With 18 other bloggers from all over, we boarded the bus and headed to Vinho Verde. With Grace as our National Guide and Anthony Swift, founder of Wine Pleasures, we drove north to Ponte de Lima. First stop was Paco de Calheiros. Count Francesco Calheiros received us at the Manor gate. Each of us were assigned overnight accommodations. Some stayed in converted stables. We stayed in a room converted from what had been once a cellar where thy sold grain, wine, and oil. Our room looked out over the valley. 

Of most interest to us are the people and the grape. When we travel we want to know about the people who make the wine and what they are doing to maximize the potential of the grape. The Calheiros family has been making wine since 1200 and today lead the charge for wine tourism in the Vinho Verde region which is north of Porto.

Grape vines were historically trellised on granite post arbors that bordered each piece of land. This left the center portion of the land free for garden cultivation. Today all the new plantings are done in the cordon fashion using wooden posts for the trellis.  Single Cordon, double cordon, 4 cane kniffen, and guiyot systems were all present. Each producer is exploring their own technique. 

After a tour of the manor, a wonderful tasting of wines and a traditional meal of soup with cabbage, codfish, and chocolate mousse, we all retired for an amazingly restful night’s sleep.

January 30th , 2011
As we were boarding the bus, Count Calheiros graciously said good bye and then enthusiastically invited us to see his new colt. It was only 2 days old. He declared 2011 as a very productive year since he was also about to become a grandfather. Faith is a very big part of life here in Portugal. Crosses are on all the building, alters in the homes, and statues of Christ and other patron saints are everywhere. The Count expressed his thanksgiving for all the blessings he and his family have received. 

From here we went to Quinta do Ameal for lunch and tasting. This vineyard is founded on the principle of organic farming and new wine styles. Winemakers are all the same regardless of the country or grape they grow. Each of them are pioneers who know best what the grape needs and the style of the wine. It adds to the intrigue of the region to see differing points of view. In the Vinho Verde, the traditional philosophy is to have all the wines be fresh, young, and effervescent. The new philosophy emerging is to try oak aging on the white wines and to create dessert wines and even brandy. We tasted them all. All of them have a place here.

Cheers,
Merrill

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