There’s a saying in the Port wine trade: “All wine would be port, if it could!”
Port is a luscious, fortified elixir, steeped in history and tradition. The vineyards and quintas “estates” can be found in the Douro River Valley of Northern Portugal – a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site. But, before we talk about Port wine, let’s talk about a few events and festivities that surround this special time in Porto.
On the eve of São João Day (St. John’s Day), starting the night of June 23rd, residents along with festival goers take to the streets cheering, sipping and noshing. Traditions include launching hot air lanterns into the sky, bonking plastic hammers on the heads of passers-by, grilling sardines on the BBQ, and offering a potted basil plant decorated with fabled poems. All eyes go to the sky as the spectacular fireworks light up the Douro River bringing the celebration to a crescendo. The party extends well into the next morning of June 24th, the actual day dedicated to São João, the patron saint of Porto. So, plan to dance in the streets and tuck into a bifana (pork sandwich) to celebrate this holiday.
The next day, the party continues with the Rabelo Boat Regatta – a boat race organized by La Confraria do Vinho do Porto (“The Brotherhood of Port Wine” of which I was inducted years ago). These traditional cargo boats used to transport wine barrels down the Douro River but are now only dusted off for this exciting race in the harbour. With a sail that resembles a bedsheet, one hopes the wind is blowing.
An evening of pageantry follows as La Confraria do Vinho do Porto hosts their annual Enthronement Ceremony, where Individuals are recognized for their contribution to the education and promotion of Port wine around the world. In fact, Willow Park Wines & Spirits’ Vice President of Product Management, Debbie Grove, was inducted in 2012. Click here to view this beautiful video of Debbie receiving her certificate.
Vila Nova de Gaia
It’s time to cross the river and visit Vila Nova de Gaia. Here is where the original port lodges, the home to wine slumber ~ barrels and bottles aged to perfection. There are many lodges to see and ports to taste, but make sure you explore Taylor Fladgate’s Visitor Centre as they have one of the most historical lodges in Gaia.
Let’s cross the street and head down the hill to visit the “World of Wine”. Yes, it’s a WOW. Located in what is locally known as Porto’s “Cultural District”. There are five museums and a host of cafes, bars, and restaurants to enjoy while taking in the art, music, and exhibits. This beautiful space offers spectacular views of Porto and the Douro River.
Round out the week by taking a local train into the magnificent Douro River Valley. Spend a few days discovering the dramatic vineyards and steep terraced slopes that jut out at each bend. It’s one of the most breathtaking wine regions in the world. Then, jump off the train in Pinhão and tour a quinta to sip and nosh (again)!
If I had to choose, (which isn’t easy!) two of my go-to ports from the Taylor Fladgate collection are:
Taylor Fladgate 10-Year-Old Tawny: A wood aged port with aromas of raisin, dried fruits and toffee with a chocolaty note on the finish. Serve it chilled and pair it with a charcuterie board or better yet an almond tart.
Taylor Fladgate “Historical” Reserve Tawny: A specially blended and bottled port to honour the unique bottles used in the mid-1700s. With aromas of plum, fig and marzipan, some butterscotch on the finish you’ll want to sip with a delicious Crème Brulée or a hard cheese like aged Gouda and Parmigiano Reggiano.
By Cynthia Opsal, The Fladgate Partnership Brand Ambassador