How to Open the Doors of Portception

With (deep) apologies to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell along with Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and the Doors of “Peace Frog” and more:

If the doors of Portception were cleansed every thing would appear to people as they are, Infinite. For people have closed themselves up, till they see all things thro’ narrow chinks of their vinous cavern.

There is one large reason I see for the doors of Portception to be closed for many. I discovered it during a wonderful harvest trip to Portugal sponsored by Symington Family Estates. The good news is it’s something very simply fixed and will promote Port pleasure. Perhaps you’ve tried Port in the past on one or more occasions and found it a bit “meh” or even disappointing/overwhelming/not to your taste. This is what you need to do:

DRINK YOUR PORT CHILLED.

YES, CHILLED.

You must chill…your Port.

The vast majority of red wines are consumed at temperatures far too high. So when you get a a fortified wine like Port, where you’re looking at alcohol by volume (ABV) levels of up to 20%, drinking it warm exacerbates its booziness to the detriment of all finer qualities. I can’t tell you how this made such a huge difference on this trip. I’ll also say that the weather was in the upper 80s and 90s in the Douro and we ate outside a lot. In the shade, but still. You wouldn’t think it was “Port weather.” But it was a comfortable delight to pass around the cheeses and cap a meal with some Port.

How to Open the Doors of Portception

I would like to drink a glass of Port right here / Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira / Photo: Shana Clarke

Now lets talk food and Port. I know that the classic match is with strong blue cheeses. Which we had none of. Which was more than fine. I don’t necessarily want Port’s role reduced to taming the most  intense(ly flavored/smelling) cheeses. I want it more as a complement. So I really enjoyed it with some milder cheeses ranging from a bit runny to firm.

As far as desserts go, again, don’t want to swing to the extremely sweet side of things. A more complementary dessert would be something with nuts, a little savoriness, but not cloying. The chilled temp also makes it more food-friendly.

CAVEAT: Please do not misunderstand me when I say chilled. I am not saying fill up a cooler with ice water and dunk that bottle of vintage Port for hours and drink it at an arctic temperature akin to a PBR/Rainier/Narragansett etc. It should be cool to the touch. Also, it’s going to warm up in your glass. Err on the side of too cold rather than room temperature. Unless your room temperature is like that of a basement/cave (aka my idea of heaven), you’re going to need the use of your fridge.

How to Open the Doors of Portception

The view from Quinta dos Malvedos, looking across the Douro River, in the morning light.

The House Style

How to Open the Doors of PortceptionI was thinking about an article my friend/colleague Courtney Schiessl wrote, “5 Ways That Port and Champagne Are Alike.” Does that sound kind of nuts? Sparkling and see-through versus fortified and fuerte? Well, it’s spot-on. One of the interesting tastings we had was a look at 2016 vintage Ports from Symington Family Estates’ houses.

Just as you may like Bollinger or Taittinger or the style of a certain Champagne house, Port producers have a similar signature. Perhaps you’ll dig Graham’s unique notes of mint or Dow’s drier finish, (Note: these were not qualities I divined as an expert Port taster but comments around the table from folks much more Portceptive than me.)

Non-Wine Activities in Porto

I made the best of a long stretch of free time between hotel arrival and first group dinner.

  1. Took a little walk on a pier.

2. Had an idyllic lunch at O Travessa. Who wouldn’t want to sit on this oasis of a patio?

3. Visited the very cool Serralves Museum and strolled through the lovely sculpture park. How about the natural light inside this Anish Kapoor piece?

So go ahead and bust out of that virtual cavern and experience the infinite by drinking Port with a chill.

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Headed to Portugal: Boats, Trains and Planes

Greetings from the Newark Liberty International Airport, good ol’ EWR. I’m waiting to board a flight to Lisbon then Porto for a media trip sponsored by Symington Family Estates.

It’s my first visit to Portugal in (gasp!) six years. What will I be doing while I’m there? I’m glad you asked.

The lovely terraces of Quinta do Tua / Photo via Graham’s Port

My first full day (Monday) I’ll be visiting Cockburn’s Port Lodge. It’s the only Port place that still makes its own barrels. I’ll be checking out Cockburn’s on-site cooperage. Roll out the barrels!

Next is a visit to Graham’s 1890 Lodge for a tasting of the 2016 vintage.

Starting Tuesday, vineyard visits to Quinta do Tua and Quinta dos Malvedos. Then one of my all-time favorite experiences. Not just wine, but everything. It’s a boat cruise along the Douro, gazing at the inspiring terraced vineyards and more, to Quinta de Roriz. Then back on the boat to set a course for a vertical tasting of Quinta dos Malvedos Port from multiple decades.

Wednesday brings a stop at  Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais. Then another boat to Quinta do Vesuvio.

Now things get really interesting. After dinner, we are treading in the lagares. As in stomping grapes. This is actually something I’ve never done before.

I heard a story from someone that there are wine people who like to wear white trousers while they do it so they come back with custom-dyed purple Port pants. Hmm. I already have purple pants and I can’t see ever owning white pants in my life so I’ll pass. (Now, white t-shirts? That’s a different matter.) But I will stomp.

Thursday brings more boats (!!!!) at we float to Quinta do Bomfim, then a train to Porto. Dinner will be our final hurrah.

I’ll be on IG and stories so follow along.

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