A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 545: Portugal and Spain Tour

Monday, May 11: Wrote my Quench commentary on Cotes du Rhone Villages and supplied the magazine with 30 wine reviews. In the evening my California friend Pooch came around for dinner. We drank Washington Hills Late Harvest Riesling 2013 with truffle-oiled popcorn and with the barbecued steaks, Alceño Premium 50 Barricas Syrah and Kenwood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 with the cheeses. Deborah had made a chocolate cake in anticipation of my birthday tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12: Went down to El Catrin restaurant in the Distillery District for a port tasting with David Guimaraens, who makes Fonseca and Taylor’s. 2015 is the 200th anniversary of Fonseca. After a cocktail of Fonseca Siroco Dry White Port on the rocks with orange peel we sat down to taste six vintage ports from what David called “classic vintages,” beginning with the oldest.

  • Fonseca Vintage Port 1970: quite pale in colour, showing brick red, more like a red Burgundy. Spicy, raisiny nose of black cherries and blackcurrants; lovely mouth-feel, beautifully balanced with sweet fruit and caramel notes; plushy tannins. (93)
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 1985: still holding its deep ruby colour; vanilla note on the nose; creamy on the palate, rich and sensuous with silky, sweet flavours of dark chocolate, cherry and blackcurrant; firmly structured. (95)
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 1994: dense ruby colour; spicy, minerally, inky, coffee bean nose; intense sweet and unctuous blackcurrant and chocolate flavours with a herb-tinged note and a warm alcoholic finish. (94)
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 2000: deep ruby colour; savoury, herbal nose – spicy, licorice, black cherry and sage on the nose; lighter in style but beautifully balanced; creamy, licorice flavour; elegant with ripe tannins and lively acidity. (94)
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 2011: dense purple colour; spirit, floral, blackcurrant nose with a herbal note; spicy, sweet and fruity, mouth-filling but firm with good grip on the finish. (93–95)
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 2012: dense purple colour; inky, spicy, vinous nose with pencil lead and floral and herbal grace notes; rich blackcurrant flavour, firm and tight with a lovely mouth-feel. (94)

After the tasting we sat down to lunch – guacamole and tacos, followed by a special birthday dessert.

Birthday dessert

Home to send off emails before going downtown again for my birthday dinner at The Chase. Jordan, the sommelier, treated us to a glass of champagne and recommended a bottle of Palacios Remondo Placet 2011 from Rioja to go with our oysters and grilled halibut. Then they presented us with a lovely dessert with candles. A fine birthday dinner.

Wednesday, May 13: A mad scramble to finish work before the car came to take Deborah and me to the airport for our flight to Frankfurt and then on to Oporto. We met most of the group who are travelling with us on my annual Pauwels wine tour – this year to Portugal and Spain. Steve Pauwels, who usually leads the group, had injured himself on the squash court and was on crutches with his right leg in a brace after an operation. Because he had to keep his leg straight he travelled business class while the rest of us were at the back of the bus. Watched an Australian movie, Son of A Gun, which I gave up on halfway through because of the sound quality coming through my ear-bud headphones.

Thursday, May 14: A a joke I asked the steward for a Bloody Mary. She said, “On Air Canada you should order a bloody Caesar”… I once ordered one in a bar in the States and the guy said, “You want a salad, y’all?”

Arrived early in Frankfurt and had a three-hour layover before our flight to Oporto, where several of our group are already at the Yeatman Hotel, where we will be staying for the next three nights. The hotel, high above Vila Nova de Gaia, has a spectacular view of the old town of Oporto, the Douro River and the Ponte Luis I, the iron bridge that Eiffel built. The rooms are named after port houses; ours is Real Campaniha Velha, the oldest Portuguese port house.

Our room at the Yeatman was named after their Douro’s oldest port company

We lunched in Taylor’s restaurant (a short walk down innumerable steps from the hotel), starting with a glass of Taylor’s White Port. Plates of olives, goat’s cheese marinated in oregano, garlic and olive oil, and pales of cold cuts and shrimps and scallops with bottles of Quinta do Vallado 2014 (a blend of Arinto, Codega, Gouveio, Rabitago and Vosinho).

Slept for an hour in the afternoon, mercifully, and toured the hotel’s spa and gym before meeting the group for a welcome drink in the bar – the customary port cocktail (white port on ice with tonic water). Then by bus to dinner at Cockburn’s Vinum restaurant.

Oporto from Graham’s terrace

Model of a barca velha

Anchovy appetizer

A white port cocktail on the terrace with an anchovy hors d’oeuvre before sitting down to dinner: white bean and tomato in a wrap of zucchini, spicy mixed-meat sausage with grilled red pepper, barbecued rib steak with boiled new potatoes served with Prats & Symington P+S Prazo de Roriz 2011, followed by apple tart tatin with vanilla ice cream, with Graham’s The Tawny.

Getting into their port

Friday, May 15: After breakfast, bussed to Graham’s for a tour of the lodge and a tasting of three tawnies – 30 Year Old, 40 Year Old and a single harvest 1982.

Graham’s old tawnies

Building across the street from The Factory House, Oporto

Then on to The Factory House for a tour and lunch hosted by Rupert Symington. Members (all British) have to contribute 12 dozen bottles of vintage port of a declared year.

Lunch menu: Cream of leek soup, with Altano 2014 (Malvasia , Rabitago, Vosinho, Muscatel); Toasted pork tenderloin on a bed of vegetables with rice, with Quinta do Ataide 2011; Crepe with orange mousseline, with Graham’s Treasurer’s Tawny (20 Year Old); and Serra and Stilton cheeses, with Graham’s 1983 Vintage Port.

Lunch at the Factory House

After lunch Stephen Pauwels and I walked around the shops and had a drink (a glass of Quinta do Noval Maria Manson 2013) at Majestic Café, the oldest in Oporto. Dinner at O Gaveto in Matoshinhos on the coast – a very unprepossessing looking restaurant but serving delicious fresh seafood and fish. Ordered Alselmo Mendes Alvarhino 2013 and Esporão Reserva 2013 with plates of shrimps and barnacles, clams, seafood rice followed by turbot, sea bass and grouper. Steve ordered a couple of bottles of Busaco Branco Reserva 2013.

Seafood at O Gaveto

Saturday, May 16: After breakfast a tour of Oporto, including the cathedral and the market. Bought ham and cheese sandwiches, custard tarts and a half bottle of Grao Vasco 2010 for a picnic on the balcony overlooking the river and Oporto’s Ribiera district.

Candies in Oporto market

Street buskers in Oporto

Next a visit to Burmester at the end of the Luis I bridge. Toured the cellar, guided by a young Portuguese named Pedro who was a doppelganger for my cousin Carl Aspler. We then walked along the quay to Calem (which is part of the Sogevinus group that includes Kopke, Veedha and Barros). A tasting of the following wines: White Port, Kopke Rudy Port, Burmester 10 Year Old Tawny, Kopke 20 Year Old Tawny, Kopke Colheta 1984 and Kopke Colheta 1975.

Kopke Colheita 1984

Dinner at the Yeatman Hotel’s Michelin one-star restaurant with João, one of the owners of Carm, a million-bottle winery in the Upper Douro near the Spanish border. But first, drinks on the terrace – Carm Rosé 2014. The menu:

Yeatman dinner menu

Sunday, May 17: Packed and ready for our drive to the Douro Valley, but first we purchased 12 bottles of wine from the Yeatman’s excellent wine store for this afternoon’s boat trip.

Mateus Palace

The gang at Mateus Palace

After a stop at the Mateus Palace to see its gardens, we drove up to the Douro and had lunch at DOC, Estrada Nacional in Amarmar.

DOC menu

Lobster dish at DOC

Opening Quinta de La Rosa 2009 with port tongs at DOC

We boarded the “Torga” for a boat trip up the Douro, during which we consumer five bottles of João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho Vino Verde 2013 with Lay’s potato chips. Dined at the hotel (duck breast risotto with a bottle of Vale de Meão Meandro 2012).

Monday, May 18: Our first visit was to Quinta do Noval with its huge spreading cedar of Lebanon. The quinta celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. Ana toured us around the Nacional vineyard above the house, where we became acquainted with Bonito the mule who is leased out to the vineyards to plow between the vine rows.

Quinta do Noval

Ana in Noval’s Nacional vineyard

Bonito the mule at work in Noval’s Nacional vineyard

Then into the quinta to see the lagares, where they foot-tread the grapes, before a tasting of the following wines: Quinta do Noval Red 2011, Noval Black (a ruby port), Noval LBV 2009, Noval Vintage 2012, Noval 10 Year Old Tawny, Noval Colheita 2000.

Lunch: Serra cheese, bola (bread stuffed with meat), smoked pork and toasted almonds, with Cedro do Noval Branca 2014 and Cedro do Noval Tinto 2011.

Azulejo tiles on the walls of the station in Pinhão

Back to the hotel for a rest. Deborah and I walked to Pinhão train station to see the azulejos depicting winemaking scenes. Then bussed to Dirk Niepoort’s modern Quinta de Nápoles for a monumental tasting of wines produced by the Douro Boys (an association of five progressive quintas in the region.)

Wall art at Niepoort’s Quinta de Nápoles

Niepoort’s winemaker Carlos

Niepoort: The winemaker Carlos took us into the cellar for a tank and barrel tasting of Redoma Branca 2014 from stainless steel and oak, Bioma 2013, Batuta 2013. Then upstairs in the tasting room: Dialogo 2013 and 2014, Dialogo Tinto 2013, Vertente 2012, Batuta 2012, Charme 2013.

Quinta do Vale Meao: Meandro Branca 2013, Meandro Tinto 2012, Quinta do Vale Meao 2012.

Quinta do Vale Meão 2012

We moved onto the balcony to sit down and resumed the tasting.

Quinta do Crasto: Crasto Superior Branca 2013, Crasto Tinto 2013, Crasto Superior 2013, Crasto Vinho Velhas Reserva 2012, Crasto Touriga Nacional 2012.

Quinta do Vallado: Muscatel Prima 2014, Vallado Tinto 2012, Vallado Touriga Nacional 2012, Vallado Tinto Reserva 2012.

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Rufo 2012, Quinta do Vale Maria 2012.

Cristiano van Zeller

View from Niepoort’s terrace

In the dining room more wines were brought out for the dinner (roast goat, rice, potatoes and salad; crème caramel, cheeses): Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Rufo Branca 2013, Neipoort Coche 2013, Vallado Reserva Branca 2014, Crasto Branca 2013, Vallado Soasa 2012, Vale Dona Maria 2011, Crasto Touriga Nacional 2004.

Tuesday, May 19: On the road by 9 am, en route for Ribera del Duero. Just after the Spanish border we took a pit stop at a small garage with a shop that sold everything, including a range of airguns.

On sale at a pit stop near Trabazos, Spain

At Zamora we stopped at Fariña, a family-owned winery where we tasted Bodegas de Fariña Colegiata Malvasa 2014, Colegiata Tinta de Toro Rosé 2014, Fariña Vino & Arte Primero 2014 (a carbonic macerartion wine; each year the winery holds a competition to choose the best painting for the label), Colegiata Tinta de Toro 2014 and Gran Colegiata Barrica 2014. Nicola, the export manager, told us that Columbus took Toro wines on board his ships for his voyages of discovery.

Then we sat down to lunch: ham, olives, cheese and chorizo, followed by pork rib stew with potatoes. The wines: Fariña Crianza French Oak 2009, Fariña Reserva 2008 and Fariña Gran Colegiata Campus Old Vines 2008 (the latter two wines tasted like Côte Rôtie). A dessert of locally made cookies with Fariña Val de Reyes Muscatell & Abillo 2012 and Val de Reyes Late Harvest Tempranillo made in a solera.

Drove on to Sardón del Duero to check into Le Domaine of the Abadia Retuerta, followed by a tour of the 180-hectare vineyard and the expensively appointed winery for a tasting of Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial 2011 and Abadia Retuerta Pago Valdebellon Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.

Abadia Retuerta Pago Valdebellón Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Dined in Le Domaine’s Vinoteca on a variety of small, shared dishes – foie gras, chicken salad, ham croquettes and glasses of Menade Sauvignon Blanc 2014 and Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial 2010.

Le Domaine at Abadia Retuerta

Wednesday, May 20: Breakfast in the dining room. Everyone gets a copy of the International edition of the Herald Tribune with your name printed on the cover. Bussed to Vega Sicilia, a short distance away, for a tour of the winery with its Technical Director Javier. First a walk around the Japanese garden. Javier told us that the winery had planted 35,000 cork trees (which will produce cork in 40 years) in an area that used to grow corn, as well as oak trees (which will eventually produce oak for their cooperage). “The barrel is the best client Vega Sicilia has,” said Javier, referring to the evaporation that occurs over the wine’s time in the barrel.

We toured the ultra-modern facility and then sat down in the dining room of the “chateau” hung with paintings by Spanish artists the winery uses on the labels of their magnums and larger format bottles each year. With a lunch of Iberico ham, croquettes and Spanish omelette we tasted Vega Sicilia Pintia 2010 (Toro), Vega Sicilia Macan 2011 (Rioja), Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2010 and Vega Sicilia Unico 2007 (the latter out of a glass specially designed by Riedel for the Unico).

Tasting lineup at Vega Sicilia

While some of the group went on to visit the town of Peñafiel and its wine museum, Deborah and I took a nap, having slept poorly last night. At dinner the assistant winemaker from Pingus, Yulia Zhdanova, brought her wines for us to taste. Before we sat down we had a glass of Raventos i Blanc sparkling wine. Before the meal I tasted barrel samples of Flor de Pingus 2013 and Pingus 2013, followed by the same wines from the 2014 vintage. The Pingus 2014 is one of the best wines I’ve tasted in some time: deeply coloured purple that stains the glass, with a floral, cedar, blackcurrant and plum nose threaded with minerality. More concentrated than the 2013, muscular and full in the mouth. Elegant, cherry, chocolate and blackcurrant flavours tinged with a herbal note; beautifully poised with velvety tannins. In five years’ time this will be a glorious wine. (97)

Pingus’s assistant winemaker Yulia Zhdanova

The menu:

Home-made duck foie gras mi-cuit with “Reineta” apple compote and nuts, with Pingus PSI 2011

Monkfish with an emulsion from the its bones and tender garlic, with Flor de Pingus 2011

Baby lamb shoulder blade with potato wedges and cumin juice, with Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial 2010

Nut sponge cake with vanilla ice cream and coffee dream.

Pingus dinner wines

Thursday, May 21: Packed up this morning to hit the road at 9:30 am for the drive to Madrid. Checked into the Ritz Hotel and had a light lunch in the terrace garden – gazpacho and a crabmeat hamburger and a bottle of Azul y Garanza Rosa 2014 from Navarra. Then a quick visit to the Prado, a two-minute walk away. I think I know now where Chagall got the inspiration for his flying figures – from El Greco.

Prado poster

Royal palace in Madrid

In the afternoon we had a conducted a tapas tour with our exuberant guide Kelly, a Jewish girl from Minnesota. Our first stop for ham, Manchego cheese and potato salad and sweet vermouth on tap, El Anciano Rey de los Vinos (est. 1909), Calle de Bailén. Next stop, Taberna La Concha, Calle Cava Baja 7, a basement room with a frenetic owner who dashed up and down the stairs with the dishes: Homemade salmorejo sprinkled with egg and jamón; tosta of smoked cured beef from León; tosta of prawns in a shallot mayonnaise; roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with melted tetilla cheese, washed down with Pazo San Mauro Albarinho 2014. Final stop: Casa del Abuelo, Calle Nuñez de Arce 5: The famous garlic shrimp; grilled Iberian pork; grilled blood sausage from Burgos; flash-roasted Padrón peppers; grilled green asparagus; grilled garlic mushrooms with La Viña del Abuelo Verdejo 2014 (Rueda).

Tapas bar, Madrid

Madrid’s favourite sandwich

Friday, May 22: This morning a tour of the markets. Our group led by Luke, an Englishman. First stop, Chocolat for a thick hot chocolate with crispy fried donut-like fingers called porras, which are like churros but puffier.

Chocolate and porra

Next stop, Casa Gonzales for wine and four Spanish cheeses; then into the market for meet the olive man and sample six different olives: manzanilla, Campo Real, “grandma style,” Malaga, arbequina and black olive. Next stop, the ham man for serrano, acorn-fed Iberico, and aged Cecina. Finally Omaira, a tiny restaurant in the market that served us slow-cooked beef cheeks and a glass of Buro Peñaloso Ribera del Duero Crianza 2010.

Olives in Madrid market

In the afternoon while the ladies shopped I went looking for more Zurbaran paintings but the gallery to which I had been directed turned out to be a hole in the ground. Then another disappointment: Kelly had told me the best sherry bar in Madrid was Venencia on Calle Echegaray. When four of us went in search of it we found it shuttered. So we popped into a local bar for beers and a glass of Manzanilla.

Mireia Torres

At 8:45 pm we walked over to the Alabaster restaurant on Calle Montalban for dinner with Miriea Torres, who had taken the fast train from Barcelona, with Torres wines, to host the dinner. The staff had prepared a magnificent menu:

Lobster cocktail with Torres Fransola 2013 (Sauvignon Blanc)

Fried baby scallops with Jean Leon Vinyard Gigi Chardonnay 2013

Langoustines from Galicia with Torres Milmanda 2012 (Chardonnay)

Poached egg with carbonara cream with Torres Perpetual 2012

Hake from Burela with lime pil-pil, with Torres Mas Borras 2011 (Pinot Noir)

Beef sirloin from Galicia with roast potatoes, with Torres Mas La Plana 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon)

Torria brioche with Secret del Priorat 2011 (Late harvest Cariñena and Garnacha Tinta)

Torres Perpetual 2012

A magnificent meal with great wines!

Saturday, May 23: Up at 7:30 am to finish packing and have breakfast before the bus took us to Madrid airport for the trip home.

My website editor, James Harbeck, was also on the trip, and he took quite a few photos. See his albums on Flickr for more pictures of this tour:


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