This past May I spent two weeks in Portugal, specifically Porto and Lisbon and the areas we could reach easily from there. I concentrated my drinking on the local wine, port and cocktails, and that’s what I’m sharing today in this article. I did quite a bit of social media while there, so some of what I cover in this article can be seen in public photos on both Facebook and Instagram. So onward, here’s your taste from this remarkable place:
White, Rose and Tawny Ports: We started our journey in Porto with port wines when we were offered a white or ruby port during our check in at our hotel. White was new for us, so I jumped at the chance. Expecting something sweet like Sauternes, instead it was a dry white port. Not bone dry, but dry enough for me to notice. Later, when we tasted port at a winery (or two!) we would have both dry and sweet. The sweet white ports grew to yellow and brown with age, and those were very grand, and did remind me of Sauternes. The red ruby port – yes it’s like a red ruby in color – were very fresh, and it made me think that a person that enjoyed lighter red wines like Pinot Noir or Grenache may lean toward the rubies. The tawnies were my favorite, as most reminded me of a whisky, if whisky were sweet, and because they were aged the longest. We had some aged up to 20 years, and some rare vintage year ports as well. I didn’t become a fan of any one Port producer; I may need to do more “research” before I do. (There are Rose ports, though none of the port wineries we visited made them. We understood from one of our tour guides that it is a new thing, a fashion so to speak, for young drinkers and tourists. We did look for them, to try the novelty, but had no luck.)
Douro Valley: We had one day to tour the Douro Valley. The Douro river lies beautifully at the base of steep vineyards, and our tour van climbed very high to visit one and have lunch at another. The Douro Valley is famous for their port wine but the wineries also make non-fortified wines with Portuguese white and red varietals. As I’m not much of a sweet wine drinker, and I enjoy trying new wines, I enjoyed the Portuguese wines the most. At our dinners out we only ordered Portuguese wine.
Port Tonic: This may be difficult to replicate at home but here goes. In the heat of the summer it would be a treat to have. It’s made with a dry white port wine (it can be made with any port but white was the most popular), tonic water, ice, a spank of mint and a lemon twist. It is very refreshing. If I can find dry white port wine I will be making this again.
Gin and Tonic: Gin and tonic cocktails are certainly not a new thing. But some countries in the UK and Europe serve them up completely different than we do. They match the botanicals in the gin to the garnish. So think of a Hendricks Gin, that has cucumber as one of its flavors, served with slices of cucumber and maybe some juniper berries. (Gin has to have juniper as a rule.) Now, picture the wealth of gins with their wealth of botanicals, and the garnish choices are unlimited. Then, besides that, these G and Ts are served in large wine goblets – bigger than a Pinot Noir glass – and with an abundance of ice. Lastly, if you have a really good bar, they have a selection of Fever Tree tonics to add in. These are also uniquely flavored.
Wines: From whites, aka Brancos, like the inexpensive white wine Vinho Verde, and red table/local wine, aka Tintos, there is a LOT to try in Portugal. I’ve written about them after taking this Masterclass. I was familiar with some of the red varietals and I strongly suggest that you try the red blends that start with Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo or Alicante Bouschet, try wines from the Douro Valley as well as wines from Alentejo DOC, and try pairing Portuguese wine with food too.
Aperol Spritz: Though not a phenomenon in Portugal alone, know that if you visit Europe during the summer you will spy this orange-colored beverage on ice in wine glasses. It’s a mix of Aperol (orange bitter liquor), sparkling wine and tonic. If you are not an orange or a bitters fan, skip it, but if you are open to trying what the locals are drinking, now’s your chance.
Note on travel: Portugal is a popular destination in Europe these days. Their dictatorship was crushed in 1974 and it would appear that most travellers came after that, and only continue to grow. Based on the crowds we had in May I recommend avoiding the summer months when tourism, and the heat, only escalates. We had a fabulous tour guide in Lisbon; check out Diogo from Tours With Me Portugal for his contact. And if you only have a day like we did to tour the Douro Valley find this experience on AirBnb. Also, when in Lisbon check out Bairro Alto, we found exactly what Google promised, “After the sun goes down, an eclectic crowd gathers in the neighborhood’s quirky and trendy bars, while traditional restaurants let out the evocative sound of fado…”
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in the first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Proof Awards, Cellarmasters, LA Wine Competition, Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.