A summer holiday in an obscure and remote corner of the Portuguese hinterland provided an excellent excuse for a day or two in Oporto en route. As we had children in tow there was only so much wine stuff we could really engage in, but Churchill’s (who work with my husband’s company in the UK) were utterly charming and welcoming to the the next generation of Wright-Muscat mini wine merchants.
There is only one way to get across to the Visitors Centre in Vila Nova de Gaia (also their warehouse for ageing the ports) – in the Churchill’s tuk tuk of course… which had a surprising amount of oomph, for whizzing around the hilly winding streets of the stunning old city.
Next stop Churchill’s for a tour and tasting – I am sure all the major Port houses do these – and it is really worthwhile, with even the most uninterested infants perking up at the thought of crushing grapes by foot. A relative newcomer to the exclusive club of top Port Houses, Churchill’s was founded in 1981 by Johnny Graham after his family’s eponymous company was sold to the Symington Group.
The cellar tour was followed by a tasting, with, controversially, the White port, matched with salted almonds, and the 20 Year Old Tawny as the stars of the show for me. That is not to diminish their ruby and Vintage ports, which are extremely good, rather that I am interested by ways in which Port can be drunk other than at the end of a feast in a state of total sensory overload.
Lunch, including some traditional “bolinhos de bacalhau”, and arguably rather too much of the aforementioned extremely fine White Port, was in a secret garden with a stunning view across the river to the tiled houses of Oporto.
And then back across the river to Oporto via the cable car and the alarmingly vertiginous Ponte Luis.
Our main regret of the trip was failing to stock up on more wines while in Oporto, as the two highly commercial brands of Vinho Verde in the village shop in Aldeia Vicosa had little to recommend them.
So more of a travel post than a proper wine post, but at only two hours flying time from London, this is a serious option for a long weekend. And with a little more time, and fewer children, it would be easy to head up river into the terraced vineyards of the Douro for a more complete wine experience.