Buyer Jo Locke MW reports on an opportunity for consumers, not just the trade, to take part in a spectacular event in this beautiful city
An early trip timed to assess fresh new 2016 whites, and to take advantage of two great tasting opportunities: Essencia do Vinho in Porto and SISAB in Lisbon. The latter is a trade-only event, but Essencia is primarily aimed at consumers – and I've never been to such a spectacular event.
Essencia do Vinho, Oporto
Held in the beautiful Palacio da Bolsa in the centre of Porto, Essencia is a go-to event for lovers of Portuguese wines. Fortified wines are well represented too, and with around 3,000 wines available and most of the biggest names in Portugal represented, this is an unbeatable opportunity, and in my view well worth the normal 20€ entry fee.
I was invited as a judge again this year but the culmination of our Wine Championship tastings in Stevenage made it impossible for me to attend the full programme, so I opted just to drop in on the last day.
It does get busy, and with music playing throughout there is quite a party atmosphere (both inside and later outside the venue!), but this is a well-organised event in spectacular surroundings and I would thoroughly recommend it, particularly as part of a vinous city break.
Wine tourism in the Douro
Oenotourism is booming in Portugal and the Port producers have led the way with the redevelopment of the Port lodges just across the river from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia.
The Dom Luís I bridge, designed by Théodore Seyrig, a disciple of Gustav Eiffel, over the Douro linking Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, where the Port houses have their lodges and cellars
The highlight for me is the Graham's lodge, with its beautifully laid out 'museum' (don't let the name put you off – it's small and fascinating, as well as an elegantly designed history of the port trade, and of the influential Symington family in particular), and tasting room, wine & gift shop, and smart but relaxed Vinum restaurant, with its stunning views over the river and the city.
View of Oporto from the smart but relaxed Vinum Restaurant at Graham's lodge
The Taylor's lodge has a more traditional feel but was buzzing with beautiful young folk on my last visit and the Taylor Fladgate team, under the driving leadership of MD Adrian Bridge have been at the forefront of top-end and boutique hotel openings.
Up river there are now numerous lovely places to stay and producers are thoroughly geared up for visitors. Dow's visitor centre is ideal, just a hop and a skip from the station at Pinhão, and if you go at harvest time you can witness the modern marvel of machine 'treading' of the grapes.
Quinta Nova's boutique hotel just outside Pinhão has stunning views of the river and its vineyards and they will even drive down to pick you up if you arrive by boat or train!
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