Our third morning* in Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Douro Valley wine region began with the now mandatory drive through magnificent countryside, our bus skirting the edge of the misty valley before climbing up to Favaios, on a plateau which at 600 metres is the Douro’s highest point.
DAY 3 Douro Valley: Quinta da Avessada, Quinta do Tedo, DOC & Quinta da Pacheca
Quinta da Avessada & Avessada Enoteca
Favaios is home to Quinta da Avessada, a winemaking cooperative began by 15 families that now boasts some 1,500 member-families, who produce biodynamic wines from muscatel grapes. Extreme climatic conditions (it’s scorching hot for nine months, including three months the locals describe as hell, and freezing cold the rest of the time) and a terroir of soft soil and schist or slate (which has high concentrations of iron that absorb the heat), mean ideal conditions for growing muscatel.
Still, these we learnt – like all wines apparently – taste better when drank on certain days according to a biodynamic calendar. It turned out that the day of our visit was not a great day for drinking wine, but, being on a wine trip, we hardly had a choice in the matter.
A visit to the Quinta’s ‘interactive’ wine museum was in order first. A video with live commentary was followed by a rather surreal demonstration of grapes being stomped in traditional stone lagares by spooky-looking farmer mannequins. (Wine blogger Marcy Gordon has a video of the ‘performance’ which is worth watching.)
Despite it not being a good day for drinking in the Douro Valley, we all enjoyed the tasting in the icy stone Avessada Enoteca, adjoining the museum, of two Moscatel de Douros, the Adega de Favaios, which tasted of honey and jam, and the Moscatel de Doura Reserva, which spent six years in old oak, and boasted more complex, dried fruit flavours. We warmed up quickly after our tasting.
Quinta do Tedo
After a brief stop at Pinhão’s historic train station to photograph its famous blue and white tiles, we visited French winemaker Vincent Bouchard’s Quinta do Tedo, located at the confluence of the Douro and Tedo rivers and overlooking hills of terraced vineyards.
Portuguese winemaker Jorge Alves introduced us to the Quinta’s organic ports and wines in the atmospheric 19th century stone cellars where we tried several ports straight from the wooden barrels before heading upstairs to the winery for a look at their traditional lagares and baskets before a tasting of four delicious wines and ports. The Quinta also produces olive oil.
DOC by Rui Paula
A long late lunch in the sleek contemporary dining space at the stunningly located, riverside DOC by Rui Paula, considered one of Portugal’s finest gastronomic restaurants, was next on our schedule and it didn’t disappoint. Unlike our meal at DOP, Raul Paula’s Porto restaurant.
Octopus carpaccio in pomegranate sauce; blood sausage with olive toast, apple sautéed in olive oil, and flowers (cornflowers and marigolds); Sea Bass with wild rice and vegetables and a red wine reduction; and Bisaro pork neck (cooked for 12 hours and roasted) with chesnut sauce and black eyed peas, were all divine. And the dessert of honey and cottage cheese ice cream, pumpkin and almond jam, goat cheese samosa, and flower petals was delicious too. The wines were matched well, but the food was the real attraction here.
It was a short drive to the elegant Quinta da Pacheca hotel and winery, where we were spoilt with a sumptuous suite that we had all too short a time to relax in before dinner was served. Dinner? It was back to traditional fare: a warm fava, spicy sausage, and blood sausage salad; onion and potato soup with sausage; Bacalhau with baked potatoes; and meringue with clotted cream, egg cream and raspberry coulis. We slept very well that night.
DAY 4 Douro Valley: Quinta da Pacheca, Aquapura Hotel and Quinta da Brasiera
Quinta da Pacheca
We started the final day of our wine trip with a stroll around the grounds and buildings of the historic Quinta da Pacheca with third-generation owner Jose Vanzeller Serpa Pimentel, and – as you do – an early morning tasting. Like most of the other wineries we visited, at Quinta da Pacheca the workers also crush the grapes the traditional way during harvest – barefoot in the century-old lagares, with plenty of singing, dancing and drinking. Every stage of production is taken care of at the quinta – they don’t buy in any grapes, they’re all grown on the property, and the bottling and labelling is also done there.
In a small shop-cum-cellar door, we tried a 2008 Vale de Abracio Malvasia Fina, a fresh crisp white that seemed perfectly appropriate for a fresh crisp morning; a 2007 Touriga Nacional which had nice tannins but was served a bit too cold for a red, something that was probably impossible to avoid considering the chilly weather; and a 2002 Quinta da Pacheca Vintage that had been bottled by Jose’s father Eduardo.
Lunch came all too soon, but was still appreciated. After a tour of the spacious, elegant interior of the striking, sprawling Aquapura hotel, set in a grand 19th century manor house, we were seated for our final lunch in the Douro in the Almapura, a stunning restaurant space that wouldn’t have been out of place in Barcelona.
The dishes were modern versions of the classic regional dishes we’d been eating for a few days, beginning with a mushroom cappuccino amuse bouche; and followed by a crispy Alheira country sausage with mesclun; medallions of Iberian pork loin stuffed with sausage and bean mousseline; and an almond parfait with honey sauce and chestnut powder.
Our final stop before the drive back to Porto was a small winery called Quinta da Brasiera that produces 100% organic wines in granite clay soil. Their Tinto Bom ‘biologico’ wine – a red vinho verde – had won a ‘Best of Wine Tourism’ award and while it wasn’t easy to return to the ‘fresh’ light vinho verde drops after the Douro’s most robust reds and heady ports, to come full circle seemed a fitting end to our trip to two of Portugal’s most interesting wine regions.
Hotel Infante Sagres
Our final night was spent in the lavish Hotel Infante Sagres, a 17th century palace and Porto’s most luxurious hotel, where once again we were spoiled with a sumptuous suite and a tour of the historic property, including the plush Presidential Suite, where the likes of Catherine Deneuve, U2, and Bob Dylan had stayed.
Served in an exquisite dining room, dinner offered no surprises – fish soup, bacalhau with potato, egg and parsley, and a chocolate mousse with orange – but it was delicious and the company was delightful. Because as educational and as enlightening as our pre- and post-conference wine tours had been – we’d known very little about the wines of the Minho and Douro before this trip – it was, as always for us, the people who really made the experience.
From winemakers and winery owners to hoteliers and wine tourism professionals – from the Count of Calheiros and Vasco Croft to George Sandeman and Adrian Bridge – we’d met some fascinating people who were incredibly passionate about what they do. But we also befriended wine writers, bloggers, photographers, and winemakers – from Buenos Aires and Barcelona, Mumbai and Texas – who were just as excited about meeting these people and visiting these places, and felt just as passionate about wine and food and travel as we do.
* Read about our first and second days in the Douro Valley here.