Color Magazine by Trond Arne Undheim
Portugal is emerging as one of the trendiest travel destinations right now. The Portuguese have polished their jewels: trails, B&Bs, hotels, restaurants, discos, spas and wines. Visit before the floodgates open. Start with Lisbon, then go to the plains of the Alentejo towards the south and finish in Porto, exploring the more northern valleys of the Dão and Douro Rivers. If there's time, a swim along the Algarve coast is not bad either, but mass tourism abounds down there already. Instead, avoid the masses and retreat into the countryside and blend with the locals in two, astonishingly fresh, European cities, Lisbon and Porto.
Interestingly, in this time of economic crisis, the wine industry is the most important sector of Portuguese agriculture. Portugal's natural resources have always been fantastic. However, to the benefit of tourists and residents alike, the quality of tourist establishments have improved immensely over the last decade. As is the trend internationally, the approach to wine tourism has evolved, too, mainly because of a new generation of vintners who eyes the international public. Browsing the The Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter, one finds there are plenty of places to stay and plenty of good wine, and not only Port wine. "Life is good, but wine is better," said the author Fernando Pessoa (1988-1935). Why not connect the two?
Lisbon, Europe's westernmost and sunniest capital for sure, is aptly called "the city of explorers." As the travel site GoLisbon says: "You'll love Lisbon if you loved: the romantic decay of Venice, the emerging hipness of Barcelona in the 90s, the exoticism of Naples or Istanbul, the nightlife of Madrid, or the laid-backness of Rome." Not to forget, Lisbon has established a reputation as one of Europe's main clubbing cities. I spent a few sublime, early morning hours at the Fizz Beach Bar disco in Cascais, outside Lisbon at the mouth of the Tagus river, while the Atlantic waves (perfect for surfing) almost crash in on the dance floor. But the most undeniable attraction of Lisbon is its fish restaurants. The fish served is unparalleled in its freshness and presentation: you pick your fish while it is still alive, with Vinho Verde as a delicious wine choice. Coming out of one of them, the Montemar, I remember thinking I will never eat fish again anywhere else. Even locals continue to be amazed. Lisbon's mighty mix of the old-fashioned and the hip; of the historic and the modern, is also a clue to its wines. Here, tradition and innovation meet in emerging brands, vintners and wine establishments that are about to go global.
Upon mentioning the city of Porto, most people will immediately think of Port wine. But beyond wine, Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built along the hillsides overlooking the mouth of the Douro river. It is an outstanding urban landscape with a 2,000-year history. Visit the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, the neoclassical Stock Exchange, and the Portuguese style Church of Santa Clara. The Yeatsman is a high end wine hotel that opened in 2010, aiming to have the world's best and biggest wine cellar for Portuguese wine. The place is owned by the Fladgate Partnership, a family based management group whose principal business, the production and marketing of premium Port wines, Fonseca, Taylor's and Croft, was established over three centuries ago in 1692. Says Claire Aukett, marketing manager: "With a Caudalie spa, a kids club with entertainment and babysitting service, and 20 percent discount for the second room, it is also family friendly accommodation". Porto is also the place of many wine festivals, such as Essência do Vinho, where I recently tasted myself through the old stock exchange full of tastily embedded wine stands in the ornate Arab Room, an oval chamber that attempted to copy Granada's Alhambra Palace.
In the outskirts of Porto, UNESCO has again awarded the Douro valley landscape for being representative of the full range of activities associated with winemaking - terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels and roads. The Douro Boys, five great Douro estates who joined forces five years ago in a massive PR campaign: Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Vallado and Niepoort Vinhos (Nápoles), are the most visible result of that tradition at the moment.
The Portuguese wine scene is about to become famous for one particular indigenous grape, Touriga Nacional. The reason is that the tourism authorities believe it is good branding, despite the fact that there is a wide variety of local grapes here, and also international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruity, easy drinking wine style of Vinho Verde from the Minho region is the choice for a fresh, uncomplicated fish dish.
From Lisbon to Porto, to the resort towns, Estoril and Cascais on the Atlantic coast or the Algarve coast, or the two archipelagos off the coast - the Azores Islands and Madeira, from fish to monuments to discos, Portugal is branding itself as a lifestyle choice for vacationer and wine-lovers alike. To turn Pessoa's phrase around, "wine is good, but life is better", or rather, the two are intertwined.
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (2008, $20, 88/100)
This wine is produced from old vines, from vineyards aged more than 30 years. It is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela grape varieties. This is a grand wine, complex and highly aromatic. It ages in French and American oak barrels for 16 months and remains another six months in the cellar. It has a deep red color, a floral aroma with a hint of ripe, black fruit, toast and spices. The ending is very long, with hints of fruit and cedar.
Quinta do Noval Port wine (2008, $75, 91/100)
Port is a magnificent rich and long-lived dessert wine made from vines planted in along the steep terraces of the Douro River Valley of Portugal. Port is a great way to end a meal. This port has fantastic vanilla, almond, hazelnut and caramel aromas. The texture is velvety, overall, Quinta do Noval is super smooth stuff with uncanny elegance.
Quinta do Vallado Reserva field blend (2008, $50, 91/100)
The blend is from old vineyards with more than 20 grape varieties all mixed. The nose is floral with cherry and citrus zest. The flavour is very concentrated, with balsamic oak notes, fig and black plum aromas and tobacco. All in all, the wine is full bodied, firm with great structure and good acidity, yet with mature and silky tannins. There are some mineral notes and a very elegant finish. This kind of wine asserts with confidence that Portuguese red wine means business.
The Portuguese Wine Scene
Consider wine tourism as an improvement of ordinary tourism. However, there is no need to go crazy on the wine aspect of it. Wine is simply the entry point to interesting sensory experiences in nature, in the city, and in meeting people. Visiting wine country is a sure way to get a personalized trip where you have the chance to make friendships with passionate people along the way.