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Best of Portugal: See, Eat, Do- Ten Ideas

Posted by gen On January - 23 - 2010

Portugal is one of Europe’s genuine hidden gems, known more to Port wine lovers then to general tourists-at-large. But there is so much to see and do in this beautiful country!

Let us share some tips on ten things you must not miss on your trip to Portugal:

1. Port Wine Lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia- history, romance and stunning wines on offer just across the river in Oporto. While in Oporto don’t miss the Lello bookshop, Foz Velha restaurant and amazing Arabic room at the Stock Exchange.

Best of Portugal

2. The magnificent Douro Valley- one of Europe’s most untouched and achingly beautiful vineyard landscapes. The region is also home to world class estates such as Quinta do Crasto. Stay at the trendy and luxurious Aquapura and pamper yourself with Zen style spa treatments between the wine tasting tours.

Best of Portugal

3. Pena Palace in Sintra- a touristy town, but like Venice it is still DEFINITELY well worth the visit as just delightful. This palace is outrageous and beautiful. And the town is a true delight. Stay at the Penha Longa where stylish Catalan chef Sergi Arola is the consulting chef in charge. And go gourmet shopping at the Loja do Vinho.

Best of Portugal

4. The creepy Bones Chapel (Capela dos Ossos) in Unesco heritage town of Évora- wonderful town and strange but fascinating visit. This picturesque town is a must and if you had the time, we would stay at least 2 days to see it. Stay at the gorgeous Convento Espinheiro (a luxury Starwood property in a renovated convent).

Best of Portugal

5. A Fado performance in Lisbon- Portugal’s version of the blues. Singers Mariza and Misia have brought Fado to international audiences and Lisbon is full of intimate Fado venues (Cafe Luso, Clube do Fado, etc) where you can see charming live concerts over dinner and/or drinks. Interested in learning more about this unique musical style? Check out the Fado museum, also in Lisbon.

Best of Portugal

6.  Whale watching in the atmospheric Azores Islands- one of those “must do in a  lifetime” experiences- captivating and exhilarating.

Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus, with open mouth,  Pico Island, Azores, Portugal, Atlantic Ocean
Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus, with open mouth, Pico Island, Azores, Portugal, Atlantic Ocean

7. Alentejo wine country- personally, our favorite region in Portugal, if not Iberia. Expansive views reminiscent of the Sahara, punctuated by Arabic castles, cork forests and perfectly preserved characterful villages- oh, and some GORGEOUS wines.  The Alentejo is a very special place.

Best of Portugal

8. Pork and Clams (Porco com amêijoas)- sounds awful but it is a delicious regional dish to seek out, originating in the Alentejo. Recipe here.

chefemario.blogspot.com

chefemario.blogspot.com

9. Nazaré- authentic fishing village surprisingly unspoiled, and home to some of the simplest and freshest fish in the country. The best way to enjoy it is a simple lunch at one of the unpretentious beach shacks with ice cold vinho verde or even a chilled rosé. A nice break too, from the ubiquitous Salt Cod.

Best of Portugal

10. Batalha Monastery- Henry the Navigator is entombed in this spectacular, unfinished monastery, one of the loveliest in Europe. Nice place to stop while driving between Lisbon and Oporto, too.

Best of Portugal

People always ask us “when is the best time to come to the wine country” (in Europe where we work) and the answer we always give is: May or June for good weather and less crowds and of course September and October during the harvest time. Often however, those months might not correspond to the vacation time available to you!

Best time to visit the wine country

Not to worry, here is a list of suggestions of great regions to visit month by month, to give you inspiration when planning your wine tour in Europe:

January: Sicily

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- January, Sicily

Enjoy the ski slopes of Etna one day and the beach the next! Sicily is a great destination in winter and offers varied landscapes, stunning wines (we love Donnafugata, Planeta, Tasca d´Almerita and more) and a fascinating architectural mix from Moorish to Norman, medieval to Spanish. Visit Taormina, Etna wine country, Siracusa, Ragusa, Cerasulo di Vittoria wine country, Marsala wine country, the salt mounds near Trapani and the unique city of Palermo.

February: Alentejo

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- February, Alentejo

We´ve mentioned Alentejo before, as being a good option for a winter wine tour and say it again! While temperatures can certainly be crisp and bracingly cold, the sun is almost always shining in the Alentejo in winter, the rich red wines will warm you up and there are virtually no crowds. The landscapes are monumental, with noble cork forests, Arabic castles and vast vineyard-covered hills punctuated by white and yellow Quintas. Stay at the fabulous Convento do Espinheiro near Évora and spend a few days relaxing in this simply delightful, unspoiled wine region.

March: Campania

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- March, Campania

La Bella Campania- what a wonderful region to visit in Spring! The Amalfi Coast and Capri are flourishing with wild flowers, the sun is shining and the oppressive summer crowds have not arrived. Naples is one of the most interesting cities in Italy, and home of the Vera Pizza and our favorite Archeological Museum in the world (with 99% of the collection of mosaics from Pompeii). The wine country is extensive and varied here, here is a list of tips on top cellars and places to stay, things to do, etc.

April:Jerez (Sherry)

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- April, Sherry

Andalucía (Southern Spain) is alive with local fiestas and celebrations in April and also a great time to visit Jerez, in the heart of the Sherry wine country. Many bodegas (wine cellars) are located right downtown and it is one of the few wine regions in Spain that you can visit without a car. The Sherry wines are delicious, varied and completely and utterly undervalued. Taste a slightly chilled Amontillado while sitting in a flower covered Andalusian “patio” and nibble on juicy olives and panfried almonds… oh, and don´t forget the relaxing sounds of the Spanish Flamenco guitar, olé! Seville is also a short one hour train ride away. Tips on a great place to stay in Jerez here.

May: Bordeaux

Best place to visit the wine country in May- Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the perennial wine destination in Europe and often a “first” wine tour for wine enthusiasts. It is pretty much a wine lovers dream. The city itself is handsome and sophisticated, kind of a mini Paris, with a wide array of sights, fine hotels, wine bars, wine shops, and gourmet restaurants. It´s also on the door step of some of the most famous wine appellations in the world (whose “Chateaux” are often gorgeous)- Saint Emilion (also one of the prettiest villages in the region), Pomerol, Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Sauternes, the list goes on. You can easily spend a week to 10 days visiting the wine country surrounding Bordeaux, town, and even combine a tour to Cognac (to the north) or Armagnac (to the south). If time permits, spend some time in neighboring Dordogne, one of the most breathtaking regions in Europe.

June: Douro Valley

Best place to visit the wine country in June- Douro Valley

For years this dramatically beautiful wine region was a best kept secret, known only to the Portuguese themselves, port fanatics and wine professionals. However, the luxurious Aquapura hotel opening and the New York Times article that followed (in 2007), has put the Douro Valley firmly on the radar for both casual and serious wine lovers. Expect  to find striking scenery, vintage ports, spectacular dry reds (and some dry whites), and a small but fantastic collection of hotels and restaurants, enough to easily satisfy you on a long weekend or even a week long tour if combined with the historic port lodges of Vilanova, across from Oporto. Take a private Rabelo cruise on the Douro and let the soothing landscapes glide by while sipping on chilled white port….

July: Rioja

Best place to visit the wine country in July- Rioja

Another region that was a well known secret for years, is La Rioja. And funny enough, it was also the launch of a luxury hotel (designed by Frank Gehry at the Marqués de Riscal wine estate) that garnished world attention on it. Rioja is always a delight to visit, but we quite like it in summer as temperatures are sunny and warm, the vineyards are lush and green, and you can combine a few days wine tasting here with a few days at the beach in beautiful San Sebastian (gourmet mecca, about 90 minutes north). Haro is home to some of the most historic “chateau” style wineries like Muga, Lopez de Heredia and Cune, all of which offer scheduled tours in English. If visiting Haro don´t miss lunch at Las Duelas, one of our faves. For something more exclusive, go on a private wine tour to cult estates like Roda and Remirez de Ganuza. Here are some other winery tips from a recent trip here this year.

August: Penedès

Best wine region to visit in August in Europe- Penedes

Again, we like the Penedès in the summer as you can combine a few days in the wine country (staying at Can Bonastre, but of course), with a few days at the beach (while closer to the Costa Daurada, that coastline is over exploited so we recommend the beaches of the Costa Brava such as Aiguablava and Sa Tuna). Located just under an hour from Barcelona (so a viable day trip), Penedès is the home of Spain´s sparkling “Cava”, as well as a host of red and white wines from such famed producers as Miguel Torres and Jean Leon, and high end estates like Pares Balta.  The famous Cava producers Freixenet and Codorniu open up daily for tours. There are some great restaurants in this region including Can Bonastre´s Tribia for high end, and Cal Xim for an authentic winemaker´s haunt. And for something unique, visit the ultra charming owners at Augustus Forum, making the best vinegars in Spain!

September: Tuscany

Best place to visit the wine country in September- Tuscany

Mama mia, Tuscany is a place you should visit at least once in your life! The splendid art cities of Siena, Lucca and Florence; the medieval villages of San Gimignano and Volterra; adorable hamlets like Monterriggioni,  San Miniato and Radda in Chianti are treats on the eye. And the fine wines of Chianti, Montalcino (Brunello), Maremma (Super Tuscans), Montepulciano (Vino Nobile) and countless smaller appellations, are what will attract you wine lovers. Tuscany is beautiful any month of the year, but September is a wonderful time to visit as the vineyards are beautiful and there is excitement in the air in the wine villages with the starting of the harvest.  Chianti is the region most established for wine tourism and many estates open up for general tours. For something more luxurious and private, take a chauffeured tour of the region on a grand tour or enjoy day trips from Tuscany´s main cities.

October: Piedmont

Best wine region to visit in October in Europe- Piedmont

October is the start of the white truffle season in Piedmont (and the truffle festival in Alba) and the ideal month to visit this gourmet wine region. The landscapes of the Langhe in October are probably some of the most picturesque and beautiful we have ever seen.The restaurants, some of the best in Italy (and this is saying a LOT!), all feature special truffle menus in autumn and a foodie tour here is an epicure´s wish come true. Piedmont is also home to the Slow Food movement (founded in the amusingly named town of “Bra”). Wine lovers flock here as the mythical Barolo is produced here, as well as Barbaresco and Gavi. There are a few luxury hotels and upmarket inns, and between wine tasting (we love Roagna, Massolino and Braida for its Barbera) , cheese tasting, truffle hunting and/tasting, and fine dining, you can easily spend a week of gourmet bliss in Piedmont.

November: Burgundy

Best wine region to visit in November in Europe- Burgundy

Bourgogne, Burgundy, is another region equally delicious! And November is a wonderful time to visit as the autumn colors on the vineyards are marvelous and the chill in the air is perfect to enjoy the region´s sublime red wines from Cote de  Nuits, Gevrey -Chambertain, Volnay, Pommard and of course Vosne-Romanée. Burgundy´s white wines are also world famous and you can taste them in their birthplace here in Meursault, Chablis, Puligny -Montrachet, etc. Your base could be in beautiful Beaune or in Dijon (yes, the home of Dijon mustard) or in any of the countless little wine villages in between. Noyers, Buxyand Vézelay are particularly delightful. Some highlights of Burgundy include the Abbey of Cluny; the spectacular Romanesque church of Vézelay; the Abbey of Fontenay; the network of canals (you can enjoy wine tours on Barges) and the pristine scenery; the pretty Chateau Meursault and Chateau of Bussy-Rabutin; the Clos de Vougeot; and of course the hundreds of wineries. And if time permits, you could also do a combo Burgundy and Champagne tour!

December: Alsace

Best wine region to visit in December in Europe- Alsace

Alsace is the quintessential winter destination with its charming Christmas markets and fairy tale villages. It feels German at the same time as it feels French and in fact has belonged to both countries. One of the main dishes here is Sauerkraut! The region´s neat vineyards, villages and farms are nestled in between the Vosges mountains to the west and the Rhine river to the east. While a microscopic amount of red wine is made here, Alsace is famous for its voluptuous and spicy white wines, perfect winter whites in fact. Stay in the darling village of Riquewihr and enjoy wine tasting at the numerous cellars located along the 38 vineyard trails on the designated “Route de Vin“. Top wines to look out for incude Marcel Deiss, Zind- Humbrecht, Trimbach, and Weinbach.

Do you have any suggestions for our readers of  wine regions and when?

Any time of the year is a good time to visit the wine country when it comes to drinking nice wines! But winter can be the most challenging season to visit as vineyards are dormant and bare (not lush and verdant, as in other times of the year), and many of Europe´s wine regions are covered in overcast and bleak skies. There are a few regions however that are just fabulous to visit in winter, and here are some nice ideas for wine lovers looking for that unforgettable winter wine tasting escape:

Winter wine tastings

Alentejo, Portugal

The Alentejo is without a doubt one of our favorite wine regions in Europe. This unspoiled and breathtaking region features soft, rolling hills studded with cork trees and Moorish castles and is spotted with colonial style wine “quintas”. The scenery in Alentejo is reminiscent of the romantic savannas of “Out of Africa” and in winter, you can expect bright blue skies and invigorating cold weather. For a winter wine tasting break we suggest you use the Unesco heritage town of Évora as a base, visit a few wineries and enjoy some long leisurely wine lunches in cozy restaurants with open fireplaces.

Wineries to visit: Esporão, Monte Seis Reis, Herdade da Malhadinha are all favorites and can provide (paying) tours and tastings if you contact them beforehand to set up the appointments.

Alentejo winery consortium:Vinhos do Alentejo feature all kinds of wine region info on their website for self-drive trips (in Portuguese).

Where to stay: Our favorite hotel is definitely the romantic and luxurious Convento do Espinheiro, just outside Évora.

More Info on the Alentejo wine region

Luxury chauffeured wine weekends in Alentejo

Alentejo wine region in winterAlentejo wine region in winterAlentejo wine region in winter

Sherry Country, Spain

Jerez de la Frontera, the main wine town in the “Sherry lands” is a truly delightful little provincial capital. The benefit here is that the wineries are right in the historic center so you don´t need to drive and you can taste as many wines as you like! Most are in walking distance of each other through the pleasant center. Sherry wines are varied (finos, amontillados, palo cortados, and more) and quite strong, perfect on a sunny and cold winter´s day. The ideal winter wine weekend in Jerez would include winery tours, an excursion to beautiful Seville (one hour by train), and a lunch at La Mesa Redonda.

Wineries to visit: Sandeman (our favorite for private VIP tours), Pedro Domecq, Bodegas Tradición, Emilio Lustau, González Byass (Tio Pepe)

Sherry winery consortium: Consejo Regulador Denominacion De Origen Jerez Xerez Sherry

Where to stay: Our favorite hotel in Jerez is the Palacio de Garvey (which made it to our top ten wine hotels in Spain hotlist). The Villa Jerez is another refined little hotel, out of the center in a more residential neighborhood.

More Info on the Sherry wine region

Info on luxurious wine weekends in Seville and Jerez

Winter wine tastings

Valtellina, Italy

The ultimate winter wine escape, Valtellina offers sunny blue skies, fluffy snowy mountains in winter and phenomenal red wines made with the Chiavennasca grape (cousin of Barolo´s Nebbiolo grape). The region is alpine, near the Swiss border and the perfect winter wine weekend could include winery visits and tastings, an excursion to pretty St Moritz (on the Swiss side) and an excursion by horse-drawn sled through the snow. The cuisine is FABULOUS, real mountain food and it perfectly accompanies the rich, velvety “Sforzato” wines.

Wineries to visit: None of the wineries have regular scheduled tours, so you will need to contact them individually to request a (paying) visit and tasting. We particularly love Nino Negri, Triacca, Rainoldi and Conti Sertoli Salis.

Valtellina winery consortium: Consorzio Vini Valtellini have information on the region, wineries and travel tips.

Where to stay: There are some wonderful spa hotels, perfect in winter. We love the Bagni di Bormio, a real destination hotel with wonderful soothing spa treatments and natural springs.

More Info on the Valtellina wine region

We organize luxurious chauffeured wine tasting weekends in Valtellina, more info here.

Valtellina wine region for winter escapes Valtellina wine region for winter escapes

Los Vinos de Oporto

Posted by gen On November - 20 - 2008

OPORTO. TAN CERCA, TAN LEJOS, Alberto Coronado

Hay un dicho entre los viticultores del Duero que dice: “Todos los vinos serían oportos… si pudieran”. Y es que para ser un buen oporto se necesitan una serie de requisitos de calidad y de ubicación que no todos pueden cumplir. Y no será por falta de imitadores.

Douro Valley

Oporto significa “río de oro”, a pesar haber sido durante siglos una de las regiones de más pobres y aisladas de Europa. Es una tierra de perfiles accidentados, con valles con colinas empinadas y bancales donde ni las mulas pueden hacer las labores del campo. El suelo es tan pobre que tan sólo pueden subsistir olivos, matorrales y la vid. Y si a todos estos factores, le unimos las condiciones climatológicas de temperaturas extremas tanto en invierno como en verano, nos es difícil suponer como alguien pudo poner sus ojos en estos viñedos malditos. Solo hay que descorchar una botella de oporto para encontrar la explicación.

El oporto es un vino encabezado o fortificado, es decir: se le añade alcohol vínico para interrumpir el proceso de fermentación, aumentando de este modo tanto el contenido de alcohol, como la concentración de azúcares. Este encabezado de los vinos se realiza en otoño y en la primavera siguiente se traslada a las bodegas situadas en Vila Nova de Gaia. En esta zona el clima es más templado y atlántico propiciando la larga y lenta crianza que el oporto requiere.

El vino de oporto, tal y como hoy lo conocemos, tiene su origen en las malas relaciones que enfrentaron a Francia e Inglaterra durante más de 500 años. En 1678 y después de décadas de desencuentros, el gobierno inglés decretó el embargo del comercio con Francia. Este hecho supuso una necesaria y urgente búsqueda para sustituir al vino galo. Y lo encontaron en una visita a un monasterio en Lamego. El abad dio a probar a dos ingleses que visitaban la zona, un vino tinto de Pinhao al que había añadido aguardiente durante la última fermentación. Tuvieron que pasar cincuenta años para que este método se generalizara en la elaboración de vinos de oporto.

Douro Valley

Como el comercio de los vinos en el siglo XVIII se realizaba en barco, el hecho de que los vinos estuvieran fortificados con alcohol lograba que durante su transporte, éstos no sufrieran los embates del viaje, confiriéndoles una fortaleza que hacía que llegaran a su destino en óptimas condiciones.

El personaje decisivo en la comercialización del oporto, fue el Marqués de Pombal, que fundó la Compañía General de Agricultura del Alto Douro, organismo encargado de fijar los precios, acotar las zonas de producción y clasificar los vinos por su tipología, poniendo las bases de la primera denominación de origen del mundo.

Fueron muchas las familias británicas que se instalaron en la región para elaborar y abastecer los mercados ingleses de vino de oporto. Apellidos míticos como Sandeman, Forrester, Symington, Taylor, Graham o Delaforce son parte del patrimonio indisoluble de esta región. Sin olvidarnos de las familias portuguesas ligadas al oporto durante generaciones como Ramos Pinto, Fonseca Guimaraens, Ferreira o Silva.

España no pasa de ser el décimo país consumidor de vino de Oporto del mundo. Lo tenemos al lado y sin embargo lo desconocemos. No se pierdan el auténtico placer que supone un buen oporto a media tarde, relajado, bien servido y con algo, como no, de buena música. Puro onanismo.

Cata de vinos de Oporto

LA TIPOLOGÍA DEL OPORTO

En Oporto de producen básicamente seis tipos de vinos tintos dulces y también blancos secos.

RUBY. Son los más jóvenes y frescos. Son mezcla de varias añadas y envejecidos en madera de dos a tres años. Tienen recuerdos a guindas, frambuesas y mermelada.

Una vez embotellados están listos para su consumo y no ganan con su permanencia en botella.

TAWNY. Los Tawnys vienes del inglés “tostado”. Son vinos que han permanecido más tiempo en madera, por lo que adquieren un matiz marrón rojizo. Aunque son mezcla de diferentes cosechas suelen llevar en la etiqueta la categoría de la edad. Así encontramos tawnys de 10, 20, 30 o más de 40 años. Son menos afrutados que los ruby y con el tiempo adquieren notas de frutos secos, piel de cítricos y fruta pasa. Son más longevos que los ruby, pero se suelen consumir rápidamente.

Tawny Port

COLHEITA. Proceden de una sola cosecha (que se especifica) y envejecen en madera un mínimo de 7 años antes de ser embotellado. Se puede decir que es un tipo de tawny añejo de gran calidad. En la etiqueta se suele especificar que ha sido envejecido en madera para no confundir con los vintage. Son de color teja, con aromas a fruta desecada y frutos secos. Con sabor dulce a mazapán, caramelo y orejones.

LBV. Son las siglas de Late Bottled Vintage (vintage de embotellado tardío). También procede de una sola cosecha y envejece en barrica de cuatro a seis años. Normalmente se filtran y estabilizan antes de su embotellado por lo que no deberían tener posos ni mejorar en botella. Son excelentes vinos a caballo entre los colheita y los vintage.

CRUSTED. Son vinos que prácticamente han desaparecido. Muy pocas bodegas los elaboran a pesar de ser unos vinos excelentes. Crushed significa “costra” y es un oporto típicamente del gusto inglés. Se obtiene mezclando una selección de vintage de diferentes cosechas y embotellándolos en su juventud. Mientras envejece en botella un mínimo de dos años, produce sedimentos o costra, por lo que debe ser decantado antes de su servicio.

VINTAGE. Es sin lugar a dudas el rey de los oportos, la máxima calidad. Sólo se elabora en añadas declaradas excepcionales por el Instituto do Vinho do Porto. Se seleccionan las mejores viñas de las mejores parcelas y las algunas bodegas todavía hacen el prensado de la uva con los pies. Es uno de los vinos más longevos que se conocen, no alcanza su pleno desarrollo hasta pasados al menos 20 años. Se crían sólo dos años en barrica y su bouquet característico lo alcanza mediante años y años de crianza en botella. Los llamados Vintage de Quinta es la quintaesencia del Oporto, al ser vinos elaborados exclusivamente de una parcela con unas condiciones idóneas para elaborar los oportos más selectos.

En su juventud son muy concentrados y frutales, algo cerrados en nariz, con matices de mermelada de grosella y una boca algo áspera y muy potente. Es con el paso del tiempo que comienzan a abrirse y desarrollan su bouquet especiado, a cassis, o bayas maduras.

Warre´s Vintage Port

CATA DE OPORTOS

RAMOS PINTO. QUINTA DE ERVAMOIRA TAWNY. 10 AÑOS

Es todo un clásico. Un Tawny que aun conserva los matices de su juventud. Notas de frutos secos y especiados. Buena acidez, equilibrada con el alcohol. Fresco y sabroso.

DOW’S CRUSTED 1998

Una locura de vino. Sin filtrar y embotellado con tres años en barrica y tres en botella. La fecha es el año de embotellado ya que es una mezcla de varias añadas. De color rojo muy profundo. Aromas concentrados (cereza, grosella, especias) y un larguísimo final.

Excelente acabado, tendrán que pasar bastantes años para ver todo su poderío.

BURMESTER LBV 1998

Un Oporto perfecto para los amantes de los vinos con estructura y madurez. De color rojo profundo. Con aromas a frutos maduros y notas de chocolate. Es afrutado, persistente y con un final muy largo.

DOW’S QUINTA DO BOMFIM 1986. Vintage Port

Elaborado con las variedades autóctonas Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz y Tinta Cao. Es una de las quintas más famosas de Portugal. La calidad de sus vintages es fabulosa. Este tiene ese aroma tan típico de esta firma a violetas y especies. Todavía en evolución, de taninos firmes con una fruta enorme y con un final complejo que mejorará en botella durante bastantes años.

QUINTA DO CASTELINHO. Vintage Port 2000

Los oportos de esta casa familiar aun se pisan con los pies y sólo se abastecen de uva de la propiedad. Es un vino de gran vigor aromático, con mucha fruta y especies en nariz. En boca en poderoso y con un dulzor muy equilibrado. Evolucionará muy bien en botella.

Best of Oporto for Wine Lovers

Posted by gen On November - 6 - 2008

Taylor´s Wine Lodge Oporto Oporto Lugar do Vinho wine-bar

Oporto is a romantically fading city, similar in its crumbling down & atmospheric decadence to Havana. For Port wine lovers, this is MECCA! Despite the town being frayed at the edges and not gentrified, we simply love Oporto (called “Porto in Portuguese),for the people, the food, the wine…

And here are some of our favorite spots for food and wine lovers-

BEST WINE LODGES

Taylor´s- Gorgeous lodge complete with house and outdoor terrace overlooking the Douro river. Taylor´s are the original port aristocrats with a fascinating history dating back to the 17th century. The tour is excellent and you learn not only about port but also the barrel coopering and vine-growing. Read a full profile of this port lodge here.

Taylor´s Port Wine Lodge in OportoTaylor´s Port Wine Lodge in OportoTaylor´s Port Wine Lodge in Oporto

More info on Taylor´s

Ramos Pinto- Again, a beautiful lodge and a huge selection of wines to purchase and taste here. Ramos pinto has an excellent small wine museum as well. Read the complete profile of Ramos Pinto port lodge here.

Ramos Pinto Port Wine Lodge in OportoRamos Pinto Port Wine Lodge in OportoRamos Pinto Port Wine Lodge in Oporto

More info on Ramos Pinto

Graham´s- Of all the lodges we have visited, Graham´s do the best tour. Their staff speak 7 languages and the visit is very informative and tailored to your existing port wine knowledge. You can book the “simple” tour with tasting of three ports like white port, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and 10 year old Tawny OR you can book a VIP tasting of higher end wines in their range. They have a good shop with many wine books for sale, and a wine bar. For port lovers, you could stay the whole morning here!

Graham´s Port Wine Lodge in OportoGraham´s Port Wine Lodge in OportoGraham´s Port Wine Lodge in Oporto

More info on Graham´s

Other good ones: Sandeman (who have both a port lodge in Oporto as well as a sherry bodega in Jerez de la Frontera), and Rozés, both are open to the public if you contact them first and make an appointment. Sandeman tends to get big groups while Rozés is more exclusive. Cálem (owned by Spanish investors) has a fantastic new visitors center on the riverfront in Vilanova de Gaia, and Croft have a beautiful cellar with excellent visitor´s center for tours and tastings.

More info on Port

Portuguese Winery Profiles

Portuguese Grape Varieties

VIP Port Wine Tours

Port Wine Lodge Tours Port Wine Lodge Tours

BEST RESTAURANTS

Cafeina- Fun, trendy, young and chic.  Good for late dining, wine tasting (they do “wine flights” and atmosphere. Info here.

Shis- Elegant venue and hot chef (Antonio Vieira, formerly of Cafeina). Nice location on the Esplanade. Info here.

Presuntaria Transmontana 1 & 2- Our favorte place to go for the Portuguese version of tapas, called “Petiscos”. Rustic, cozy, highly recommended. they have 2 venues, one in Porto and the other in Gaia. Info here.

Dom Tonho- Perennial favorite, love this place. You´ll find tourists but many locals, and the owner is a hoot. Right int he Ribeira, very picturesque setting. Info here.

Bull & Bear-  Refined and classy, great tasting menu and wines by the glass. Info here.

Foz Velha- Pretty dining room, elegant and expensive, as in Bull & Bear they have highly recommended tasting menus and many wines available by the glass. Great! Info here.

BEST HOTELS

Oporto River Scene

5* Porto Palacio Hotel & Spa- Recently renovated, this Leading Hotel of the World is an extremely comfortable place to stay and a major benefit here is Helio Loureiro´s restaurant. Stylish, great service and top class manager here, highly recommended. More info.

5* Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa- While Porto palacio is classic and elegant, the Sheraton is contemporary, for a younger design crowd. Great restaurant as well and of course that fabulous spa. More info here.

3* Hotel Boa Vista- If you are on a budget, then this is a good option with great seafront location by the Castelo. Rooms are only okayish, but the sea views and price are worth it. More info.

Coming next year- we look forward to the opening of the new luxury Yeatman Hotel Wine Spa in the current Croft wine lodge in Vilanova de Gaia. Due to open in December 2009, look out for it!

BEST WINE BARS

Solar do Vinho do Porto- Beautiful, old fashioned wine bar specialized in ports (in fact, they only have ports, but maaaaaaaaaaaaany ports!) run by the Port Wine Institute and housed in a mansion. Come here for a quiet glass or three of port. Info here.

Degusto Wine Bar- Total contrast to the Solar, this is a trendy and ultra modern wine bar, very “scene-y” and cool. Contact details here.

Bogani Café- Love it love it love it. Great views over the river, comfy and luxurious chairs on the terrace, this is a café serving wine rather than a bonafied wine bar, but you could not get better views. Fab! Info here.

Cafe Majestic- actually not a wine bar as such (although you can order wine here), but Porto´s most striking and truly “majestic” cafe, dating back to the 1800´s and absolutely GORGEOUS. A “must”. More info.

BEST SIGHTS

Livraria Lello- Yes, we are recommending a book shop, but not just any bookshop. This bookshop is the most beautiful we have ever seen in Southern Europe with a magnificent staircase, exquisite stained glass and many books in English on Portuguese wine and gastronomy on offer. This is a “must” while in Porto. You can also have a coffee and cakes in their cute cafe. Good profile and history of the shop here.

Palacio da Bolsa- The former stock exchange, this amazing mansion is TOTALLY  worth the visit. Don´t miss the Arabian room, wow! Wine lovers take note- the annual Essencia do Vinho wine fair is held here every February and is one of Portugal´s best organized wine events. Info here.

Serralves Art Museum- This contemporary art museum is also Oporto´s most famous Art Deco building and it is worth visiting not only for the wonderful museum but for its manicured gardens. Highly recommended and another “must”. Info here.

Casa da Música- Porto´s best venue for concerts. They run regular concerts ranging from jazz to classical, and if you are  a music lover as well as wine lover, then check out their schedule of concerts.

Art Museum in OportoBook Shop in Oporto

Alentejo Castles and Wine Alentejo Esporao Wine Estate

Portugal´s romantic wine region of Alentejo is a huge area stretching north to south, characterized by its soft rolling hills, wild beaches, cork forests and olive groves. Punctuating the landscape are an array of Arabic castles and medieval towns in surprisingly amazing condition. Alentejo is a beautiful region seemingly trapped in time and due to the history of the last hundred years (when most people abandoned the countryside for the cities), it is not marred by the nasty architecture or the 1960´s and 70´s that you find in other regions. It really does look like it must have centuries ago, and it supremely atmospheric. The most northern main town is Portalegre and in the south, Beja. The cultural epicenter of Alentejo is Évora, a Unesco heritage protected town with a whitewashed historic center, numerous stunning churches and treasures, and an Ancient Roman Temple, dedicated to the goddess Diana.  Driving around the region you will pass gentle hills and miles and miles of cork forests, as well as dry arid landscapes that look look like a scene in the movie “Out of Africa”.

Alentejo wine country Esporao estate Alentejo wine country Evora town

Alentejo is also the region making Portugal´s most exciting dry wines, real knockouts.  Expect “monster reds” and rich, heavy whites.  Portuguese grapes used in Alentejo include (WHITE) Arinto and Antao Vaz, and (RED) Alicante Bouschet, Aragones and Alfrocheiro. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, international varietals, are also widely used. Leading estates include the superb Cortes de Cima, the one-and-only Esporão (who apart from excellent wines make amazing olive oil and cheese), Quinta do Carmo (owned by Bordeaux´s Rothschilds),  Joao Portugal Ramos, Herdade das Servas, beautiful Monte da Ravasqueira,  the lovely estate of Monte Seis Reis, and the fabulous Tapada dos Colheiros.  Alentejo has always had quite a massive amount of international investment and foreign flying winemakers and recent projects and additions include Sonho Lusitano´s Richard Mayson (ex- wine writer for Decanter magazine); Australian Alison Gomes at Azamor;  and Quinta do Zambujeiro (owned by Emil Stricker, a Swissman based in Singapore, how´s that for international??)

WHAT TO DO- Visit wine estates and do some touring and tasting (some are open to the general public if you book the visit beforehand) or contact us if you would like a private luxury chauffeured tour; stay a few nights in Évora and visit the outrageous and creepy Capela dos Ossos (Bones Chapel), taste some vinho in the enoteca right next door to the Pousada, and soak up the historic atmosphere; Don´t miss beautiful Marvão (one of our favorite places in Portugal!) with its castle and breathtaking views over the valley (there is a colony of eagles here); the whitewashed hamlet of Estremoz, with its many wineries; the ancient Jewish town of Castelo do Vide; the medieval castle in Évoramonte; the olive oil museum and castle in Moura; learn how to cook traditional Alentejo cuisine at the Refugio da Vila.

Alentejo Roman Temple of Diana  in Evora Estremoz detail in Alentejo

To visualize the region, here is a video (in Portuguese) that features top winery Esporão (an interview with the winemaker), and some great photography of this wine estate, the wine country and Alentejo

WHERE TO STAY- Without a doubt, the best place to stay is the gorgeous, luxurious 5* Convento do Espinheiro in Évora with a terrific restaurant, spa and sprawling country grounds; for unbelievable romance, lucury and escaping from it all (really, as this hotel is in the middle of nowhere!), the Pousada Flor de Rosa in Crato is exquisite;

WHERE TO EAT- “Must Eats” include the Restaurante Adega do Isaías in Estremoz, rustic, wonderful and “the” place for pork; the wonderful refined restaurant at the Esporão wine estate, Divinus restaurant at the Convento do Espinheiro hotel in Évora; for non nonsense trad cooking, Restaurante Sever in Marvao. Typical local dishes include Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork with clams and cilantro) and “Migas” (breadcrumbs fried with chourizo. Check out info on Alentejo gastronomy here.

Castle in Alentejo Portugal Cork Tree in Alentejo