PORTUGAL: A NEW LIFE, OLD VINTAGES AND A FEW DEAD PIGS
I got married less than a week ago, so I trust you will forgive me if keeping this here blog up to date has not been amongst my highest priorities and probably wont be for a few more weeks yet.
However, I did think that a few of you sad, desperate and lonely DH addicts might be interested in what Syb and I have been getting up to on our honeymoon (mind out of the gutter you freaks)
Our original intention had been to visit Greece and Turkey, but for some reason I cannot recall we changed tack and turned our attention to Portugal. I am sure the original idea would have provided a great vacation, but after a few days of terrific eating and drinking, I am certainly glad that we ended up where we did.
After a long and tortuous trip from Los Angeles via London, we arrived our stunning location of The Pestana Palace in Lisbon with just enough time to grab a drink at the bar and crash out. We awoke the next morning, suitably refreshed and, after a huge breakfast headed out to spend a day finding out what this rather elegant city is all about. That inevitably involved food and, this being Portugal it also inevitably involved the local obsession with pastries. Damn the Portuguese love their pastries and we stopped in at one of the most well known places in Belem to sample the most famous of all, the Pasteis Da Nata, a soft egg custard in a crumbly short pastry.
Combining work with pleasure, I had managed to arrange for us to stay two nights as the guests of Quinto Do Noval, one of the finest Port houses in the Douro Valley. So, after another much needed night’s sleep, we picked up our hire car and began the 300km + drive North.
On the way, we made sure to stop at “The town that Suckling pig built” Mealhada. You will read more about that, and my trip to The Douro in two upcoming articles for The Guardian, but suffice to say that a stop at this town is a must not miss if you are any sort of lover of pork. The main drag past the town, the EN-1 is dotted with over twenty restaurants all of which offer up Leitao (suckling pig) as their main delicacy. We chose Pedro Dos Letoies for our lunch and it didn’t let us down, serving up creamy soft pork with a suitably crunchy crackling skin. Just the job to see us on our way for the next stage of the journey to The Douro Valley.
After a few hours braving winding roads and mental Portuguese drivers, we found ourselves pulling up at the palatial buildings of Quinto Do Noval, who have been producing superb port wines since 1715. Again, I will be writing a full article on Port soon, but this stop on our journey proved to be one of the most memorable not only of this trip, but also of all of my considerable travels to date.
Almost as soon as we had deposited our bags in a charming room facing the valley, we were offered an aperitif out on the sun-dappled terrace. We chose White Port, which I consider one of the truly underrated drinks. I served over ice, with tonic and lemon and we sipped from our glasses, nibbling on some accompanying roasted almonds as we watched the sun disappear over the hills.
The next day, Noval’s sales director, Rute, gave us a tour of the vineyards and the astonishing cellars, along the way attempting to explain the considerable complexity of port categories to us in a way that even I could understand. She did a very good job, particularly when aided by a tasting of some of the Quinto’s bottles themselves, ranging from young Ruby’s and Tawny’s to some rich and indulgent vintage ports and LBV’s.
During our brief stay at Quinta Do Noval, the housekeepers did their best to feed us into a complete coma with meal after meal of simple yet entirely delicious traditional Portuguese dishes. Salt cod cooked with eggs and cream, Ascorda, bread cooked with olive oil and tomatoes, served with fried eggs. Rice plumped out with shredded duck, local Douro beef cooked in the deposits of decanted port bottles and orange cake made with egg yolks, sugar and a good glug of Ruby port. All amazing stuff and with most ingredients coming from the Quinta’s estate and all served with bottles of their own excellent wine and Port.
As we left this morning to head to Porto, both Syb and I agreed, it was an experience we would not soon forget.
Let’s just say the marriage has begun well.