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In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog you’ll hear my interview with Quinta de la Rosa owner, Sophia Renqvist. She has been involved with the Quinta for much of her life and has contributed in numerous ways to the wine industry. It’s later in the post.

Day 7 – The Dão and Douro Valley

One of the wineries on my shortlist from the Wines of Portugal Zoom event was Caminhos Cruzados Winery. That destination gave us a reason to avoid the toll fees of highway IP3/A24 and wind our way up hills and into shallow valleys as we ventured even further northeast. The country roads continually offered interesting sites and rarely did we find slow-moving traffic. When we arrived near the town of Nelas we were disappointed to find Caminhos Cruzados closed. Well, it was a gamble as I didn’t arrange a visit ahead of time. Returning to the main road, we decided to explore. Once again, luck was on our side! We came across LusoVini Vinhos de Portugal. It’s a wine center with Taberna Da Adega (their eno-gastronomic space), a small but interesting winemaking museum, and a wine shop. They were just opening when we arrived so for a while we were the only ones in the place.

The Dão region is home to Touriga Nacional, the most widely used grape variety in Portuguese red wines. You can count on Touriga to be used in the wines of Pedra Concela, Varanda de Serra, and Flor de Nelas, the local brands featured in the LusoVini wine shop.

 

 

 

 

Click on the images for larger sizes

 

We were getting hungry so we took advantage of their Taberna. Once again, we were reminded that the Portuguese tend to over-serve. We ordered two appetizers, a cheese and sausage platter, and croquettes. The olives and bread were complimentary with the wine. However, if you eat them they’ll charge you. But look at that platter and six croquetas! Again, these were appetizers. We couldn’t come close to finishing it.

A wine bottle fireplace?
Nice touch! I don’t recall ever
seeing something like this before.

Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine - Part 2

Historic fermentation tanks are not new to us
but these copper fermenters featured in their
the museum was a first.


Feeling satiated and happy with our discovery, we drove out of Nelis and kept to the countryside roads all the way to Pinhão and the Douro Valley. Since I first saw images of the valley I felt determined to see it in person. Being an avid photographer, Meredith was all for it.

A sight to see, the Douro River

After two more hours of the two-lane route N323, we finally reached the crest of the rugged mountain, and the Douro River came into view…2000 feet (640 meters) below. It sure was hard to keep my eyes on the road’s hairpin turns while trying to get a glimpse of the river and vine-covered hillsides.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

With the grape harvest a few weeks previously, the vineyards aren’t quite as lush as they are throughout the summer. As you’ll see in the view from our room at Quinta de la Rosa, some vineyards closer to the river still appeared greener. The town of Pinhão is set above the bend in the river.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

Exploring Portugal - Part Two

Quinta de la Rosa sits just above the Douro River. It’s more expansive than this photo indicates. Through much of its history, the Quinta was an active wine-producing facility. Now, most of the wine production is done off-site. However, barrel aging and tours of the facility continue. It’s worth taking the time to experience it.

 

The Quinta was one of the first properties to incorporate stone walls on the treacherous terraced hillsides. The narrow rows and slippery slate rock are so challenging, this La Rosa vineyard is called Vale Do Inferno, the “Valley of Hell.” Why bother with the difficulty? Because their courageous effort results in such damn good wine!

 

Quinta de la Rosa offers complimentary breakfast and their dinner options range from traditional to regional styles, like braised goat. I chose it one night and was worthy of adding it to my list of unusual cuisine experiences. During several meals, we sat next to a couple from Luxembourg, Patrick and Sandra. We had a series of coincidences, the first of which was signing up for the Quinta’s wine tour and tasting on the same day. More unexpected surprises with them were to follow.

Aging wine in their century-old barrels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinhão lights up at night

Before leaving for our trip, I was able to connect with personnel at the Quinta to set up an interview with the owner, Sophia Renqvist. Following lunch on our second day there, she invited us to her home on the property. We chose the dining room, with the Douro as the backdrop, as the setting for the interview. Aside from her family’s long history in Portugal, you’ll hear how her father, Sophia, and her son have incorporated new ideas for the Port, still wine, and even craft beer industry.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

We did leave the Quinta for dinner one night. It was a tempting revelation to hear a Michelin Star chef opened a restaurant a few miles down the river in the town of Folgosa. Nestled between the roadway and the Douro is DOC by chef Rui Paula. The decor, the service, and the cuisine were exceptional! World-class restaurants show up in some of the most remote regions in this 21st-century gastronomy era.

There are more wineries or Quintas than you’re likely to have time for, but don’t let that keep you from hitting as many as you can. Aside from the wines of Quinta de la Rosa, we tasted a flight of Port wines at Quinta do Bofim, a Symington Family Estate, and chose a selection of dry white, red, and Port wines at Quinta das Carvalhas. As you can see by the picture at Carvalhas, the pours were generous. Both locations, and most others, overlook the Douro River. The wines offered an authentic expression of Portuguese grape varieties that we’ve become so fond of. Add the scenery and tasting spaces and you know you’re in one of the most distinctive wine regions in the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before we left we drove northeast into the hills to see where the road would take us. After another twisting, curving drive we made it to the top. We passed by one winery but it was closed. Driving just a few miles further we followed a sign and ended in the quaint little town of Provesende. We wandered through a couple of tight streets, then ended up at Cafe Central for tapas and wine. (Ya, no surprise). But it was very cool to witness the local activity while sitting at the table. An extended family was to our right, some coming and going, and to our left, older gents were playing cards, grumbling about a disagreement, while watching football (soccer). After eating as much as we could of the super-sized tapas appetizers again (!), we left and found ourselves among parochial churchgoers gathering for an All Saints’ Day procession heading to the cemetery. What a fantastic snapshot of a day in a small Portuguese town. Yet another travel lesson; unforgettable experiences can occur when you explore outside of your plans.

The next day we headed east. You may lament having to leave Pinhao, but the N222, then N108 routes follow the Douro River Valley for nearly an hour. We had hard-to-dismiss valley views to the left, and small towns clinging to the hillsides ahead of us and to the right. Across the river, a number of the terraced hillsides featured large billboards signifying the vineyards of Sandeman, Grahams, Crofts, and other Port producers. We were on our way to Porto, with a dreamland stop at a most amusing winery along the way. Join us for the pleasures of Part 3.

Did you know: The Douro Valley was the first Demarcated and Regulated wine region in the world. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog, we head from the Douro DOC, through the Porto region into Vinho Verde. You’ll hear my interview with Quinta da Aveleda winemaker Fabiano. Click the images to see larger sizes.

Day 10 – Penafiel, Vinho Verde

As we headed west we encountered another rainy day. It wasn’t much of an issue, and by the time we arrived at Quinta da Aveleda, an umbrella wasn’t needed. The hidden Aveleda estate has been in the Guedes family for 5 generations. I saw an interactive video of Quinta de Aveleda during the Wines of Portugal online seminar, then had the opportunity to try some of the wines during a San Francisco Portugal Wine tasting event. They inspired me to book a tour of the property and taste other brands. Fortunately for us, Aveleda was on the route to Porto.

The jardins (gardens) were extreme and magical. They feature a small tree forest that, as I recall, has trees from every region in the world. We saw redwoods from California, palm and maple trees, and many others. The variety of flowers was also abundant. Then we passed by whimsically designed structures, which evoked the sensation of stepping into a fairytale!

Exploring Portugal

The original guard house from the late 1800s, seemingly from another world.

A house built as a wedding gift for a family member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the tour, which I highly recommend, you’ll also enter the granite wine cellar dating back to 1885. This is where they age the family’s brandy, Adega Velha. The birth of the international brand stems from a well-kept secret older than the winery itself. To read the intriguing story, visit the website Adega Velha.

The aging elixir

Bottles of brandy from past decades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the wine tasting, we tried the Solos de Granito, 100% Alvarinho from Vinho Verde. It was a tantalizing blend of citrus and tropical flavors. There was a Moscatel-Galego-Roxo from the Algarve region. It was dry with red fruit and mineral notes. Then the Vale D. Maria from the Douro Superior, further east than Pinhao. It featured grape varieties used in Port wines but was also dry, not sweet. Very good!

Villa Alvor is another vineyard the family owns in the Algarve region on the country’s southern end. This blend was layered with flavors from grape varieties Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, and Syrah. It possessed dark fruit qualities, a medium body, and light to medium tannins. It’s an easy-drinking, enjoyable wine, especially for its $3 price tag. Across from the tasting room is a store and gift shop that sells many of the family’s wine brands and brandy.

 

After the tasting, winemaker Fabiano showed up for the interview (I didn’t catch his last name). As you’ll hear, the family sources from vineyards across the country. Click Play to hear our conversation.

 

Following the tasting, and purchasing some wine, we got back on the wine road toward our next destination.

Day 10 – Porto

I’ve felt the desire to see colorful, historic Porto (or Oporto) as I did the Douro Valley. Although, instead of vineyards growing on the hillsides; historic homes, businesses, cafes, and Port houses line the Douro River just east of where it spills into the Atlantic ocean. Iconic bridges, such as the Ponte da Arrábida and Ponte Luís I, connect Porto’s center on the north to the Vila Nova de Gaia municipality to the south.

We stayed at the historic, yet modern Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel. The beautiful blue-tiled building was founded in the year of its name as a stationary manufacturer. To this day, it continues to feature elements from its notable past that you’ll see throughout the hotel. The location worked out well for us. One benefit – it sits at the end of the revitalized Rua das Flores, a pedestrian street of merchants, referred to as “the Mecca of Romanticism.”

Photo credit: Viagensa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our surprise, the Porto location of the Wines of Portugal tasting room is located on the Rua.

 

 

 

Making New Friends

While we were still in Pinhão we discovered that not only were our new friends Sandra and Patrick traveling to Porto, but they also booked their stay at the 1829 Hotel! How crazy is that coincidence? But it didn’t end there. We ran into them on the streets a couple of times, which led to head shaking and laughs. Hooking up for dinner and meeting at the aerial gondola added to our time together which always included engaging conversation. We have remained in touch since then.

Much of our time was spent in Port Houses and cafes, yet we did find interesting sites throughout the city. A favorite was The Portuguese Centre of Photography, residing in a 200-year-old former prison. The aged concrete walls, iron bar doors and windows make for an artsy architectural design feature, in addition to the photography and the History of Photography exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another impressive attraction we visited was the Church of São Francisco. Finished around 1425, the church features the best example of Gothic architecture in Porto. In the early 18th century, the interior was decorated with exuberant gilt woodwork. Five hundred years later it continues to glow brightly. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a mesmerizing sight to see.

And then there’s the Port wine. I love Port!

Wine has been exported from Portugal since the mid-12th century. The popularity of sweet, fortified Port took off with the Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty of 1654 which created new opportunities for English and Scottish merchants living in Portugal. As Sophia Berqvist of Quinta de la Rosa pointed out in Part 1 of Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine, England has been deeply involved ever since.
However, the German-founded company,
Kopke boasts of being, well, as the building says…         

My wife Meredith enjoyed their 2005 White Port so much that she bought one to bring home. The photo of me was taken in Kopke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a tour of the familiar Port producer Sandeman. As we listened to stories of their history, strolling through the low-lit cellars, the iconic “Don” was omnipresent. It was quite an educational tour followed by a tasting of 4 wines. We were part of a group of people from other countries, which led to interesting conversations.

 

 

 

I have to say, one of my favorite tasting was at Quinta do Noval. It included a 1996 Vintage Porto and 20-year-old Tawny Porto.  

We also visited Taylor Fladgate but didn’t make it to Cockburn’s, Croft, Cálem, Fonseca, Graham’s, or the others. So much Port, so little time!

Small vessels, called Rabelo boats, were used to transport barrels of Port wine and passengers from the Douro wine-growing region all the way downstream to Porto. That method existed until the 1960s, but to pay homage to tradition the Porto houses unfurl their sails during the festivities of St. John’s (São João) on June 24th. The Rabelo Boat Regatta showcase the navigational talents of their crews as about 20 rabelos strive to be the fastest to sail up river to the finish line. As a gesture to their history, you can see the boats daily as they line the river bank of Vila Nova de Gaia.

We were across the river to the north for the last couple of hours of daylight on our final day in Porto. It was a surprisingly warm afternoon for November 4th. We wanted to celebrate and heard about the Porto Tonico. It’s young White Port, and tonic water with a lemon slice. It was the ideal refreshing cocktail as we relaxed and reflected on our time along the Douro River.

The next day we took the high-speed train Alpha Pendular for the 3-hour trip back to Lisbon for our flight home the following morning. We had a feeling of “a trip well done” as we did about as much as we could have in the 12 days we were in the country. Renting the car allowed us to explore many unexpected, fascinating places. We drove about 800 miles in 10 days and the rental was only 224 Euros. And let it be known, whenever I travel on the wine road, my wine suitcase is always by my side.

Considering an international trip soon? Portugal was fantastic. The Portuguese are welcoming, most speak English, and the meals were usually more than we could eat. Felicidades!