Perambulations: Porto and the Douro

October 7, 2012 • 12:26 am

This is what I woke up to this morning: the view of the Douro Valley from my balcony. The vineyards you see in the distance are actually on the other side of the river of this very steep valley, and you can see the terraces where the grapes for port are grown (click all photos to enlarge):

But before we arrived, I gave a talk at the Fundação Serralves yesterday afternoon; it’s the cultural center of Porto, situated on the grounds on an estate once owned by the wealthiest man in the country. We had a wander on the property before my talk:

The Foundation bookshop was full of books on art. There was exactly one science book: Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, a pro-ID screed. I made a big noise about this in my talk! Here is one of my hosts, ornithologist Martim Melo, holding the offending book:

After the talk, we repaired to the property of the parents of my official host, Nuno Ferrand. After a harrowing two-hour drive up the Douro Valley to the family port farm, Nuno’s parents, Maria and Nuno Sr., both over eighty, greeted us with a sumptuous dinner. A traditional Portuguese feed starts with soup, and so we began with spinach soup, produced (like nearly everything else in our dinner) on the farm:

Progress comes slow to this rural area, though the ports are now transported down the river not by small ships, but by tanker truck. However, this village didn’t even get electricity until ten years ago.

There was a wonderful local relish made from macerated unripe olives—great with bread! I can’t remember its name, but I’m sure at least one reader will:

Then chicken and rice and a fantastic local wine. With the exception of port, the wines of Portugal, both red and white, are of a very high standard. I’ve not had a bad bottle since I’ve been here. Sadly, because production is small, they’re rarely imported to America. And they are inexpensive: I’ve rarely seen a bottle for more than 13 Euros in a restaurant, and they’re half that in the shops.

Dessert was a humongous bowl of custard topped with meringue, followed by a “tower” of fruit grown on the property: grapes, pears, and ripe green figs. I love figs, and they’re pricey and hard to find in the U.S.; I of course gorged myself on them:

To finish, port, of course: but a port whose grapes were picked, vinified, and aged on this property. It was barrel-aged ten years before bottling, and so approximates a tawny port; but it had the freshness and fruitiness of a vintage port. Delicious! Note the private label:

Today we inspect the property and the wine-making process; the harvest and crushing are going on at this moment.  It’s a beautiful day in the Douro.


18 thoughts on “Perambulations: Porto and the Douro

  1. I am familiar with patê de azeitonas verdes, but this looks just like green olives made edible through marinating, a form of preserving. The spices, herb, etc, vary from household to household.

    I am guessing Nuno is the gentleman in the striped shirt–give him a hug from us all for reacting so quickly and preventing a tragedy.

    1. It looks like the olives were «britadas,» or at least that’s the name we use in the south. Culinary traditions vary a lot from village to village, in some parts of the country chicken rice would be cooked in the chicken’s blood.

  2. Sooooo jealous! One of fhe greatest pleasures in life, at least for me, is sitting by a fireplace in the Fall with a good book and a good port. I have always wanted to visit Porto and its hinterland.

    As for the other wines, that is somewhat true for other European countries as well. I had some great wines in Germany and Switzerland, but you hardly ever find wine from those countries anywhere else because production is relatively small and pretty much all of it is consumed locally.

  3. Doura Valley looks like a true paradise, the food looks amazing and the best thing about it is that you are travelling and talking about something you believe in and love- something that inspires me… At the present moment i am studying evolution at school with my mad scientist teacher and we are looking at thing like natural selection, survival of the fittest etc. but that is a different story………… what are your takes on believing in religion and evolution – said by my chemistry teacher

  4. …the ports are now transported…by tanker truck.

    Not bottled on the estate? I’m not sure whether to be disappointed by this revelation or not.

    This calls to mind a similar surprise a few years back when a Krispy Kreme tank truck overturned south of Seattle and spilled a load of doughnut frosting across the interstate.

    Makes you wonder what’s in the rest of those tankers you pass on the highway.

  5. The food and drink look fabulous, but what I really envy you is your lovely hosts’ old world hospitality. That was where you were the luckiest.

  6. Looks like you’ve stumbled upon a little corner of paradise. And you have the most estimable hosts!

  7. You don’t want folks to start exporting good wine – when they get to that stage they start putting way too much sodium sulfite or sulfur dioxide into the wine as a preservative. Southern Italy’s `vino locale’ is among my favorite – but you only get it for a month or two each year and none is exported.

    I never understood why figs were so damned expensive. They sure grew well in Az and they’re prolific fruit bearers. Maybe most other places suitable to growing figs have too many native non-human animals who feast on figs.

  8. And yet, Republican member of the US House of Representatives science committee and medical doctor Paul Broun dismisses evolution, the big bang theory and embryology as ‘lies straight from the pit hell’. What do they teach in medical schools these days? And if medical doctors are scientists, then as JAC points out – so are plumbers.

  9. On the subject of wine – we drink acceptable quality red blends here in the Western Cape wine producing province of South Africa, for the nominal amount of $2.50 a bottle….
    If you haven’t already visited this part of the world Professor Coyne I would be more then pleased to give you a guided tour should you consider a trip here!

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