I first experienced Lisbon with my wife four years ago and have remained enchanted with it ever since. The narrow windy streets, towering monuments, beautiful coast and great food all steeped in centuries of history is just incredible. It’s one of those cities that make you want just one more day to explore – like visiting you favorite museum. No matter how many times you go back to the particular museum, you wish you had ten more minutes to see that one incredible painting by Picasso or that ancient cooking tool developed by a now lost and forgotten tribe that was the foundation for the modern spatula. However, my time in Lisbon was brief and I wanted to roam as much as humanly possible before I shot down to the Southern Portuguese region of Alentejo visiting seven bodegas over the course of three days.
My overnight train arrived in Lisbon shortly after nine in the morning, and because I didn’t have any set plans until dinner, I decided to don my walking shoes and do some serious exploring. My real intention was to revisit all the places my wife and I had seen together, curious as to how much had changed in four years. As it turned out, the majority of the city had remained exactly the same making the bright and sunny day even more enjoyable as I reminisced about our first trip to Europe together as a couple.
Around two in the afternoon, I stopped for lunch in a small restaurant off a steep staircase in the Barrio Alta, where I dined on grilled squid and sipped a simple but fun little white wine made by the cooperative located in Borba.
It’s a simple wine but the crisp acidity cut through the rich meat of the Chocos (squid) beautifully, and with the sun shining down on me, I knew this was a great omen for what the next three days would bring. As lunch came to a close, I thanked the waiter for a wonderful meal, continued my leisurely stroll through Lisbon, and headed back to the hotel for a brief siesta before meeting a friend for dinner.
Waking up a little past five relaxed and re-energized, I decided to make a quick dash to a local wine institute called Solar do Vinho do Porto located not two blocks from my hotel. I had heard about the institute several times on wine blogs and through the wine community “grapevine” but didn’t really know what to expect. From the limited information I was given, I knew that the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVP) owned three venues in Oporto, Lisbon and Régua where visitors could taste the different types and brands of Port Wine of the Douro Valley in a relaxed atmosphere, but I wasn’t exactly sure what “relaxed” meant. Housed in a nondescript three story building with a faded yellow exterior, I would have completely passed it if it weren’t for the golden colored bronze plaque on the wall next to the door. Through the tall glass doors you quickly realize that the exterior dates back centuries as compared to its sleek modern interior. Dark stained wood and polished stone walls give it a rustic modern feel that is both warm and welcoming. With a mellow hue given off from the strategically placed track-lighting reflecting off the burnt yellow walls, I was immediately drawn inside where I found big oversized chairs and classical music playing in the background.
Being that my interest was absolutely piqued, I sat down in their tasting room when a very professional looking gentleman with his long ironed apron handed me a menu. On the outset, it appeared like your average high priced restaurant menu with glasses of wine and appetizers one could order, but it also had an extensive guide of both the styles and the history of port wine. What additionally took me off guard was the amount of different styles you could choose from. Colheitas, Tawnys, LBVs, White Port and Rubys were all offered by the glass, alongside a wide selection of Vintage ports which could order by the bottle. Prices were reasonable considering that you could order a twenty plus year old Colheita by the glass.
I choose a 1994 Portal Colheita:
Having only a brief moment before I needed to meet my friend for dinner, I didn’t have the opportunity to try any of their hams and cheeses; however, I fully intend to on making another trip back here.
It wasn’t until after I stepped back out into the chaotic nightlife of Lisbon that I realized what a neat little refuge this place really was. Hidden in the side of a busy street, it was the perfect escape from sightseeing all day through Lisbon’s historic center. Open from 11am till midnight, Monday through Saturday, it’s not only well worth the stop to expand your knowledge about Port wine, but also to just escape with a glass of wine.
So stay tuned because this coming week is all about the Southern Portuguese region of the Alentejo! Some good information to put in your wine trivia book, as well as some interesting profiles of the Bodegas I visited.
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