Tasting Porto

by Taryn Balchunas

Photo by Taryn Balchunas
    My sister and I make the obligatory trip to one of Portugal’s best wineries on our weekend vacation to Porto, Portugal.  Recommended to us by the owners of our hostel, Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman winery offers free wine tours for a specific reason: they are located at the top of a hill and assume that most tourists do not want to pay to make the extra trek up to their wine port.  Portugal already has a hilly landscape, but Taylor’s is located away from Porto’s city center, across from the humongous Ponte Luis bridge.  Receiving free wine at Taylor’s can act as the reward for crossing that bridge alone.
While entering Taylor’s wine cellar, I first notice the circus-like red, blue, and yellow tent embodying the ceiling.  Visitors gather under this canopy and take in the well-balanced feng shui reception room.  The smell of the grapes is eminent in the air, and tickles my noise hairs when I inhale.
    The tour starts as a suit-clad guide ushers the visitors into an actual wine cellar.  The temperature changes immediately to a chilly air that pinches our skin.  Pictures are displayed on a wall of the actual wine-making process.  The tour guide briefly explains how winemakers at Taylor’s still use the traditional process of treading the grapes by foot in a lagar, or tank.  Corte, or cut, the first stage of treading, involves literally crushing the grapes with the feet.  Winemakers do so by linking up and stepping on the grapes in the lagar in laborious unison. The second stage of this process, liberdade (liberty), keeps the grape skins underneath the surface of the wine. The winemakers individually cover every base of the lagar to ensure of this, and watch the wine begin to ferment. What a sight that must be to see in real time.
    Barrels upon barrels line both sides of the group of visitors whose shoes crunch the graveled ground. The tour guide stops at specific barrels to point out the ID number and how many liters of wine that barrel holds. At the end of one barrel-filled room, a barrel that looks like an amplified version of the others contains 20,000 liters of port wine. If visitors have not taken out their cameras at this point in the tour, now is the time to do so.
   Another barrel that receives the crowd’s attention has a picture of one of the winemakers inside of the barrel with a pick axe on the front of it. The tour guide lifts the eight by eleven sized picture and reveals a door that is the same width and height. Believe it or not, this door is constructed to fit the dimensions of an average person’s shoulders, and the winemakers are able to climb through this door and into the barrel. I am tempted to ditch the tour group and try this out myself, desiring to wade in the port wine.
    All of this talk about wine and the smell of the fermented grapes makes me salivate. The tour guide outlines which port wines work best with food pairings. On the sweeter side, port wine can be paired with both sweet and salty foods. They say that cheese and fruit are the best food to combine with port wine, a type of wine that is meant to savor the flavor. The image of a platter of brie, gouda, and sharp cheddar cheeses with a side of fresh berries and melon pops into my head, and I desire to get the already stale taste in my mouth to go away. More importantly, I want to taste the wine, and am on the verge of opening a barrel in order to suck down a couple of pints. Visitors do not have to be alcoholics to crave a drink in this place.
    The tour is a solid half an hour, and the group meets back in the reception area to sample two types of Taylor’s original port wine: a Vintage 1965 red, and Taylor’s Chip Dry white. Visitors are only allowed one glass, and I mistakenly tried the white port, whose flavor left me dissatisfied and left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. My sister let me taste her red wine, and I proceeded to sneak sips each time she asked me to hold her glass when she wanted to snap a picture. I recommend the red for people whose taste buds are more akin to a sweeter sensation, and the white for those who prefer their wine to contain a more nutty flavor.
    Visitors are encouraged to stick around after the tour has finished to not only enjoy their wine, but to take in the view of the city. Just past the reception area lies a courtyard with birds roaming around. These birds, which are similar to peacocks, refract light from the green feathers on their heads. Through the carefully trimmed bush arch in the courtyard, patio tables and chairs line the grass. The view can be seen from these chairs, but standing allows for a better experience. Porto’s myriad of orange roofs blend into each other and the colorfully painted buildings become spotlighted in the afternoon sun. With a splash of wine in my system and the sun on my back equally giving me a warming sensation, I part my lips to inhale the fresh air, content.
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