Sunday, June 11, 2017

Portugal, the Final Narrative

Franchesca, our faithful virtual navigation talking head, accepted our request to guide us to our apartment rental in Porto, a 4 hour drive to the north.  Although she didn't have much to do on the highway, she kept reminding me of the speed limit when I would inch upward on the speedo.  It was when we actually arrived in the metropolis that she began her urgent commands.  True to form all three passengers chimed in with differing opinions on what she was directing.  Turn left in 300 meters, "not this turn, it's not 300 meters yet".  "Yes, it's this turn because I don't see any other turns".

With several "redirecting" utterances from Francisca, we arrived in front of our digs for a week in a truly beautiful spot directly overlooking the Douro River.

Our landlady was very accommodating and gave us information about where to eat and shop. She even provided a nice cinnamon cake and a decanter of port wine for our enjoyment.

 Just a couple blocks off the main riverfront tourist area was a fantastic local restaurant where, on the several times we visited, never saw a tourist.

The main city was just across this bridge just 100 meters from our front door.

The view from the apartment gave us a  relaxing panorama of the Douro River and the main city across the way.

The streets on our side of the river are steep and wind aimlessly up.  The main streets of Porto proper are also steep, but lucky for me there is a funicular that gets one up pretty high to start a walking tour so its not so strenuous.
And now a word about port wine:

It was the English who started importing wine from Portugal because of feuding with France in the early 1600's.   In the beginning the regular wine from this area, the best in the country, couldn't stand
the long travel time by boat to England, so they discovered that by fortifying the wine with added alcohol, the wine could easily be transported.

So the fortified wine became to be known as Port named for the region. "Moonshine" or other high alcohol medium of 77 % alcohol, which is typically called "Brandy" is used to bring the port up to 20% alcohol which stops fermentation. Stopping the fermentation leaves the residual sugars in the grapes intact which makes it so sweet.Interesting, the fortification alcohol for port comes from South Africa.

We took and all day boat trip 100 kilometers up the Douro to see the growing area.  Our relaxing trip included breakfast and lunch on the boat which transited two enormously high locks. The return trip to Porto was by train which gave new views of the countryside since it didn't follow the river.

There are 14 grape varieties used for white port and 15 varieties are used for red port. Red is divided between Ruby and Tawny.  Ruby is young, typically only a couple years old. Vintage Tawney can be up to 20 to 50 or more years aged in the bottle. 

Each vintner employs their own cask makers which make typical barrels to thousand gallon holding tanks 20 feet tall.  Portuguese oak forests have been decimated, therefore American and French oak is imported for cask making. Casks last 100 years or more and can be used after port making for French cognac, then for Scottish whisky, then for Cuban rum, although apparently shipping of casks is prohibited under international law.

Cork is used for capping, so far no screw caps.

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