Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Porto: Portugal's UNESCO Port Wine Gem

Spectacularly situated on the steep banks of the Douro River in northern Portugal, Porto is the town that gave the country, and port wine, its very name. A colourful tumbledown dream of winding medieval cobblestone streets, soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately beaux-arts, Porto is one of Europe's oldest cities, with a rich history that dates back to pre-Roman, Celtic times. But the true affirmation of Porto as economic power in Portugal came during the age of the great geographical discoveries, from the 15th to the 17th century. Henry the Navigator was one of the leading historical personalities credited for the initiation of Portugal’s becoming a great sea trade force in Europe. Porto became one of the largest shipyards of the country, not to mention the fact the early 18th century saw the establishment of the Duoro wine region, a moment which played an important role in the development of the Port wine trade. 

A barge with barrels of port

The wine used to be transported on rabelos  — traditional flat bottom boats — down the river to Porto where it was kept in large warehouses by the riverfront in Vila Nova di Gaia, the city opposite Porto on the south side of the river. From there the wine was shipped out to buyers in other European countries and, increasingly, the rest of the world. Plenty of architectural jewels were also built in the course of the 18th century, including the Cathedral with its Romanesque choir, neoclassical Stock Exchange and the typical Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara. The picturesque old town, centred in Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River, and today is a breathtakingly beautiful  UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The 12th-century Porto Cathedral is one of the city's oldest monuments built in the Romanesque style

A statue of Vimara Peres, a Portuguese count who secured a swath of Portugal from the Moors. stands outside the cathedral

The Baroque Loggia of the lateral facade of the cathedral 

A detail of the loggia's exterior

An ornate medieval 'pelourinho', 
a column made of wood or stone that symbolized authority and justice

View over the Douro to the old town of Oporto

The old port houses

Exterior of the Sé

The interior of the Romanesque cathedral

The Gothic Cloisters of the cathedral were added during the reign of King John I

The old Port barges that transported the fortified wine from the Douro

The old Calem Port House

The original carved stone shield of the Port House of Calem

The modern interior of Calem Distillery

Displays inside the Calem Distillery tell the history of making of Port

Barrels of Tawny Port at Calem Distillery

The enormous barrels are use for storing ruby ports

Our guide, who led us through the distillery, explains the 2 ports to be sampled in our tasting

We sampled a White Port and a Special Reserve Tawny

The white port is generally enjoyed as an aperitif before a meal, and tawny and ruby ports after a meal

After visiting Calem, we caught a taxi and ventured up into the hills to have lunch at Taylor's Fladgate's signature Restaurant

The entrance to Restaurante Barao de Fladgate

The view over Porto from the restaurant's outdoor terrace

The menu at Barao de Fladgate featured refined Portuguese cuisine

Every dish on the menu sounded delicious 

A selection of amuse-bouche: ceviche and marinated mixed mushrooms

Herb and olive oil marinated ricotta

Tender and fruity olives

Our server presents the Castello d'Alba Vinhas Velhas, a delicious white wine from the Douro

Deep straw in colour, the Douro white was exceptional

Portuguese inspired Fish Tacos

Fish Soup

Ceviche with salad, salsa and dried fruit and nuts

Close up of the ceviche

Linguine Nero with Local Fish

Cataplana Fish Stew

Mushroom Risotto with Shredded Duck

After lunch, we strolled next door to the Taylor Fladgate Port Tasting Room

The tasting room overlooked a gorgeous garden

The garden was exploding with fragrant roses

The menu with port by the glass ranged from a few euros to 100 euros a glass

We decided to share a glass of the 1964 Port, a 40-year old and more recent 2011

We all agreed that the 40-year old was our favourite

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