Passport: Exploring Portugal’s Wine Country
Even some of the most passionate wine drinkers have little confidence in approaching Port wines, the longstanding misconception being that it’s a distinguished old-man wine or strictly an after-dinner accompaniment. Port, often considered a “dessert wine,” is typically a sweet red wine, offered in dry, semi-dry and white varieties – but possesses a great potential as a cocktail mixer as well.
With many bartenders beginning to break the dessert barrier and work ports into their cocktail repertoires, the potential for these fortified wines (true port comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal) has begun to take flight. Misconceptions of the wine’s limitations are cast aside as cocktails like the Broken Spur and the Tawny Manhattan provide a formidable sampling of Port’s versatile potential in cocktail mixing.
Developed in Portugal, the birthplace of Port is a matter of significant national pride. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, offering its name to not only the famed wine of the region, but also to the nation itself. The gorgeous coastal city sits alongside the Douro River – the lifeblood of the region’s endless vineyards – and combines old-world architecture with beautiful modern structures to create a fascinating blend of today’s world and that which we learn about in history books.
A major port city in the region, Porto is rich with global influence, though not saturated to the point of stripping its individuality. Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the cathedrals and tile-faced buildings (to prevent erosion from the merciless ocean winds), a key component to the local personality is the presence of Sandeman, a long established Port house which dates back 1790.
On a recent press trip to Portugal’s beautiful coast, we visited Porto’s famed Wine Institute and explored Sandeman Cellars with none other than George Sandeman, Chairman of the House of Sandeman and eldest of the seventh generation of the esteemed family, who have played a crucial role in developing Porto’s Port Wine and Sherry businesses since 1790.
After exploring the historical cellars and learning of the history, tradition and innovation of the Sandeman brand, we traveled by boat down the gorgeous Douro River to the Quinta do Seixo, where the vineyards and winemaking facilities of the iconic Sandeman Port house are located.
Walking among the vineyards and witnessing the winemaking process in action was a thrill, but nowhere near the joy of getting barefoot and climbing into the wide granite grape-filled vats (called lagares) to stomp some grapes ourselves. Only about two percent of Port is still crushed through the old stomping method, but it’s a vital component of the industry’s history that is still practiced, if only occasionally for visitors looking to experience the squishy, chilly tradition.
It’s difficult to overstate the tranquility and richness of existence in Portugal’s vineyard region, as a night spent in a local villa overlooking the Duoro down the rolling slopes of vineyards can only be described as magnificent. A morning stroll through the gardens overlooking the countryside is a powerful reminder of a simpler life, a deeper relationship with the land and the food and drink it provides. The people are equally as lovely, warm, welcoming and eager to share the rich cultural history of the region.
If you’re ever within range, Sandeman Cellars, located on the riverfront in the center of town, is a must-visit location for any wine lover. Boasting a lovely museum of their over 200 years of history, visitors can enjoy Sandeman’s modern barrel rooms, a Port tasting, a large gift shop and the opportunity to sit outside to eat and drink Port overlooking the Douro river. Learn more about Port and its rich heritage at Sandeman’s official site.
Furthermore, if you’ve never given Port a chance, we’ve provided you with a few cocktail examples to get started (on page 2). The younger ports tend to sell relatively cheap, so you won’t break the bank experimenting with them at home.