5 years, 9 months ago
In the rarified world of connoisseurs there has to be more snobbery about alcohol than anything else – possibly with the exception of cigars (not just smoking apparently).
If half of the nonsense is to be believed, the Highlands of Scotland are peopled solely by wise and mystical maltmen rolling barrels of seaweedy nectar from the shores of ancient isles to the hallowed whitewashed walls of sacred distilleries. Hints of heather and notes of medicine, angel’s shares and aged casks – ‘usige beatha’ isn’t just the ‘water of life’, it’s life itself to the initiated. Not a lot of mention made here of the cheesy gift shop aspect of most Highland distilleries, the busloads of tourists swigging drams at 10 in the morning or the fact that quite a lot of the world thinks nothing at all of drowning out the peat and toffee with a half litre of diet Coke and enough crushed ice to freeze the top notes right out of even the most legendary Highland malt.
And wine doesn’t fare much better when it comes to talking a load of old booze. Travel hopefully to any of the great French regions any time of the year and if you’re looking for pretension you won’t be disappointed. Our word to the wise is watch carefully: while visitors are being seduced by vendanges, views and charming vendeuse, nearby the more drinkable wines are sold by the vrac to canny locals with empty 5 litre plastic water bottles and 10 euros in their pocket.
We’re not advocating abstinence, far from it: half of the fun of holidays is indulgence and if that’s about getting familiar with the national drink then so be it. It’s just that we like our liquor a bit more real, less ‘acquired taste’ and – philistines that we are – good in cocktails too.
That’s why we pick Porto.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, Best European Destination 2012 and a hilly haven for lovers of art, architecture, romance, history, food, nightlife and, of course, Port.
Forget the teeny, tiny glass of after-dinner stickiness once served with a sliver of stilton. And dismiss from your thoughts Anthony Trollope’s genteel old ladies with their medicinal tipple. Now, Port from Porto (it’s not really Port otherwise) is as modern, varied, exciting and fascinating as the city itself and just as accessible.
At first glance, Porto looks exactly like the romantic image of somnolent afternoons behind fluttering muslin curtains, languidly exotic ladies with parasols and evenings spent gambling under gently crumbling arches while the colonies slip quietly from your grasp. But for all the heritage trams, historic houses and slow sailing barcos rabelas on the wide Douros River, Porto isn’t a slave to its past and closer examination reveals a city as famous for modern art and architecture as it is for Baroque Cathedrals and ancient traditions.
To give you a taste of why Porto’s never far from the top of our ‘great cities we know and love’ list, here’s three of our favourite Porto Port Caves, the reasons we love them and some insight into how they express their home city so perfectly.
Porto Cálem is one of Porto’s most prestigious caves but its warm, down to earth and innovative attitude is indicative of how easily it wears a flawless reputation. Known for rich, opulent Tawny and Ruby Ports, without hesitation it’s the award winning Cálem Whites that characterise contemporary Porto for us.
Crisp and fresh, chilled over ice, on their own as an aperitif or as the base for countless cocktails, the Cálem White Ports are the city’s astonishing Casa da Musica, warm summer evenings on the coast at Foz or Sunday afternoon sunbathing by the River Douros, Fundação Serralves art exhibitions and shopping for books on the Rua de Fabrica (where you’ll find ‘Lello’, one of the world’s most famous bookshops and a mecca for dedicated bibliophiles).
Cálem Lágrima & Tonic
1 part Cálem Lágrima, 1 part tonic water, ice
Fill a tumbler with ice, add the Lágrima, pour over the tonic, stir well and garnish with lemon or mint or a sprig of basil.
Taylors might conjure up images of formal dinners and military traditions but in Porto it’s all about luxury, elegance and heritage and if that was a drink it would definitely be the deep deliciousness of Taylor’s vintage selection.
Taylor’s Vintage is Porto’s leather seated, wood panelled tram cars and the iconic Torre dos Clérigos. Its intriguing complexities are reflected in the city’s Ribeira district and the subtle charms of the slow moving barcos rabelas. And if you just want to hang out, this is the Port that epitomises the careless glamour of Porto’s old town squares and the steampunk retro of the youthfully revived Clérigo district.
12 oz. Vintage Tawny Port, 8 oz. Armagnac, 4 oz. White Rum, the peel of 3 lemons cut in single spirals, ¾ cup of sugar, juice from the lemons, 24 oz. water, 1 whole nutmeg.
Mix the lemon peel and sugar in a large bowl, leave to sit for an hour. Stir in the lemon juice, add the Port, Armagnac, Rum and water and stir again. Carefully slip in ice cubes, chill for 20 minutes and grate 1/3 of the nutmeg over the top. Serves 20 thirsty people.
Krohn is the cool looking Porto port, its packaging more dangerous vodka than sedate ladies retiring after dinner to leave the gentlemen to their cigars. But the Undated Krohn range is our choice for companionship because it works with everything from cake or cheese to Porto’s impeccable sardines and famous tripe dishes.
And for us there’s nowhere in Porto better at food than Mercado do Bolhão. Renowned for its endless selection of everything edible, it’s where to put your port in its proper context: with food. It’s also an edifice that has to be seen, more grand railway station than marketplace any day.
Krohn Undated Ruby Martini
2 oz. Krohn Undated Ruby Port, 1 oz. Vodka, ½ oz. cranberry juice
Put everything into an ice filled shaker, do that thing, strain into a chilled martini glass, serve garnished with olives.
Far from comprehensive, a little personally biased and very port based, but hopefully a guide to give you a taste of why we love Porto (and not just for its national drink). There are many more Port Caves in the city, all of them welcome visitors and you’ll easily find them on the edge of the River Douros and snaking up the Gaia hills beyond.
Featured image by Amaury Henderick.