Innovative, informative and crowd-pleasing—Port Wine Day celebrates the wine that made Portugal’s Douro Valley famous. The events of Port Wine Day commemorate the day in 1756 when the Marquês de Pombal created the oldest demarcated and regulated region in the world: the Douro. On 10 September, in the midst of harvest season and under gorgeous autumn skies, this year’s edition culminated in a day-long grand finale that took participants from the steeply-pitched terraces of the Douro to the port lodges and quays of Vila Nova de Gaia and a garden in the heart of Porto.
‘Out & About’
Beginning on 1 September, the ‘Out & About’ program featured tastings at restaurants, bars, and shops in Porto and the region, as well as the port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia. There really was something for just about everyone. Several invitation-only events provided windows onto the port wines of the 1960s, and innovative food pairings in historic settings. It was a delicious way to learn about port wine.
In the run-up to 10 September, special menus and pairings were on offer all over town. Chocolate fans had options, as did lovers of Portuguese suckling pig, tangy mountain cheeses and fancy desserts. Lime mousse and chocolate cake, meet Porto Tawny; turkey with aromatic herbs and warm figs, try an aged LBV! For eleven days, tantalizing flavors awaited guests at 23 cafes, while 18 bars served up specialty cocktails tricked out with port wine, and museums and shops offered tastings. Gaia’s lodges ran free or discounted cellar tours.
An added bonus: For one delicious evening, port wine companies partnered with twelve restaurants in Porto and the Douro Valley, offering special menus for wine dinners inspired by, and harmonized with regional wines. Tourism and gastronomy are natural partners hereabouts, and featuring local restaurants was a natural extension to the Port Wine Route and other initiatives of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP).
It was hard to choose, but after much deliberation, Tom and I opted for an evening at Restaurante Torreão, where a superb three-course menu paired with wines from Restrito and an unforgettable view of the Douro at sunset.
Restrito & Torreão Restaurante | Bar
The restaurant is dramatically situated in a fourteenth-century tower with an almost 360° view of Porto from its rooftop terrace: Ribeira rooftops and the cathedral, boat traffic on the Douro, the lodges of Gaia across the river. On a balmy late-summer evening, Torreão also commands an unforgettable sunset vista downriver toward the Atlantic.
Just past a tantalizing curve in the river the Arrábida Bridge lofts above the Douro. Beyond the bridge, just out of view, the river completes its run: a journey of almost 900 kilometers through Spain (as the Río Duero) and the vineyards of the Douro. It is the river’s 113-kilometer plunge through Portugal—and especially the last bit, between Peso da Regua and Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia—that takes center stage for Port Wine Day.
After a refreshing port tonic on the terrace, we tucked into a tasting menu of Portuguese favorites prepared with a light touch: sea bass and fennel patties, bacalhau with smoked ham and basil, black pork tenderloin sautéed with red wine, and loin of veal with Serra cheese and red wine sauce. Dessert was a pistachio and fig tart with English cream and a reduction of our favorite wine of the evening, Restrito Grande Escolha 2014.
A dinner with heart
Restaurante Torreão is much more than a place to enjoy contemporary Portuguese cuisine and attentive service in a fabulous location. It is an initiative of SAOM, a social services organization supporting people in need in Porto. SAOM’s social inclusion project also benefits marginalized citizens of Porto through training and employment in hospitality endeavors such as catering and restaurant services. After dinner, project coordinator Luísa Neves took a few moments to tell us about the project. It was truly special to discover that our wonderful meal celebrating Port Wine Day, not only filled our bellies and sent us on our way sated and happy, but also was an integral part of SAOM’s ‘project of second changes’.
Pizza and Port wine?
Can an innovative tasting that pairs pizza and port wine be a way to take aim at evolving consumer tastes? ‘Pizza Napolitana joins Port Wine Day’ was held in an elegant room at the Port Wine Institute, serving the creations of award-winning pizzaiolo Antonio Mezzarano. Port wines were selected by Bento Amaral, of the IVDP. The very idea of putting pizza and port on the same menu dismayed some old-school port wine fans and intrigued others.
First up was a contemporary white pizza that layered mortadella, mushrooms and Grana Padano cheese. The aromatic Pizza Arte got its spice factor from the addition of rucola and extra crunch from a topping of pistachios. Paired with white port, it was a classy slice.
Next up, pizza Margherita—its components saluting the flag of Italy—was made with top-quality Italian products: buffalo mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes. Fresh basil provided a floral note and a scattering of edible gold flakes gave the seemingly simple, difficult-to-make pizza a royal touch. A Ramos Pinto 2013 LBV, with its similarity to the red wine often enjoyed with a good Margherita pizza, was a classic match.
Finally, we had Pizza Passione, the most singular rendition of the Italian pizza format, prepared with intense Portuguese ingredients. It was a noble attempt to marry the signature products of two food-worshiping countries: a Portuguese plate atop a Neapolitan pastry base. Comprising Quejio Serra da Estrela, tangy alheira sausage, a Port wine reduction that substituted Balsamic, and a single cress leaf for each slice, Pizza Passione was paired with a Dona Reserva Tawny, the original evocation of port wine.
Pizza and port wine is an imaginative concept, but did the pairings work? Mostly, at least for me. The classic pizza with the most red-wine-like Port wine style got the nod from many in the room, but my personal favorite was the first slice and glass, the contemporary match-up. Pizza Passione, the most challenging to create and pair, was interesting for sure, but did not appear to capture as many hearts as the other two.
All three pizzas reappeared at the closing Sunset Party, just out of the oven and ready for guests to pair with any of the many wines—Port and others—on offer from Douro producers.
Rabelo boat regatta
Two public events closed Port Wine Day 2017: a regatta organized by the Associação das Empresas de Vinho do Porto (AEVP) and IVDP, with the rabelo boats of the various port houses under sail from Afurada to the Dom Luis I Bridge. The boats flashed colorful sails for crowds cheering from both sides of the Douro. Porto Calem finished first, Porto Cruz—with Tom aboard—in hot pursuit. The Dalva rabelo languished near the starting point after a mishap trying to raise its sail, and those of us on board took a more leisurely ride back to the dock, arriving just in time to toast the winners.
Jardim das Oliveiras, Clérigos, was the setting for the closing event of Port Wine Day 2017. The garden was packed, as producers offered tastings for the public and Antonio Mezzarano and his pizza oven reprised his adventurous pizzas.