Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Douro Valley part 2

Back to lunch along the Douro. One of the best things about lunch was that Fernando, our guide, not only translated every detail of the menu for us, but he also explained what dishes were specific to the region and why. He recommended the lamb and the pork, so I ordered the former and Rob ordered the latter. The meal then started with a delicious sausage, made from scratch that morning, we were told. Hands down the best sausage I've ever tasted. Then came the main courses, which were huge platters of food. We also got heaping bowls of extra potatoes and rice for the table. I couldn't get enough of my lamb course, which came with potatoes and cabbage, both also delicious. When Fernando ordered an extra lamb dish for the table I was so grateful. Rob's pork had been marinating in a garlic sauce for more than 24 hours and was equally exceptional. The house wine was also excellent. It was red wine served either chilled or room temperature. The chilled version turned out to be a particularly nice summer drink. Everything was just wonderful. We were probably grinning from ear to ear the whole meal with delight.

All good things must come to an end, so we had to leave for our next stop eventually. That stop was Pinhao. It's a tiny town and we mainly just wandered around the train station whose walls are lined with azulejos that tell the story of making port.

This panel shows the boats loaded and heading down the Douro to Gaia.

And here's Rob at the station in Pinhao.

Finally we set off for our very last stop -- a local vineyard. We drove to the Quinta do Panascal, one of the region's top vineyards, which produces Fonseca brand port. (You can see pictures of the quinta at the Fonseca web site.) Vineyards are graded by some formal entity and the grades can range from A to F. Fonseca's vineyards are all grade A. We had the option of watching a video tour or talking a walking tour with an audio guide, so of course we picked the latter. It was mid-afternoon so the sun was a bit intense, but the views were well worth the effort. Here are some of our views.

Where the mountains look lined are where vines have been planted. There's several different techniques, but most rows of vines run parallel to the ground, although some run perpendicular.

This is what the vines looked like up close. It was just a couple weeks before harvesting begins, so there were huge bunches of grapes on every vine.

We tried to take a picture of ourselves in the middle of the vineyards on the mountain, but it didn't quite work...

We think the lens must have been in the shade where we propped up the camera. :)

We left the quinta with a small bottle of vintage port that we have to let age in the bottle for 10-15 years. So if you're in town for our 15th anniversary (13.5 years from now), you are invited to share it with us! Seriously! Once you open a vintage bottle, you have to drink the whole bottle within a day or two.

After the vineyard we had a two-hour drive back to Porto, and we said goodbye to the Douro Valley.

Far and away one of the most gorgeous places we've ever been.

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