Saturday, 27 June 2009

Portugal - Day 4, Port Wine and a Francesinha

We thought we were going to enjoy a personal tour of the lodge and this looked most likely until just as it started a coach full of Australian holiday makers gate crashed our tour and we were caught up in an antipodean Saga adventure through the cellars. There was a film and then several stops for information and at least this time it was in English so finally Sue and Christine knew what it was all about.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is fortified with the addition of a Brandy in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The wine is then aged in barrels and stored in caves, or cellars, before being bottled.

The wine received its name Port in the latter half of the seventeenth century from the city of Porto where the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe from the Leixões docks. Actually there are no port lodges in Porto but an after dinner Vila Nova de Gaia doesn’t have the same ring to it. The Douro valley where Port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region or appellation in 1756, making it the third oldest defined and protected wine region in the world after Tokaji in Hungary and Chianti in Italy.

This was all very interesting stuff but what we really wanted was to get to the tasting and we weren’t disappointed when at the end of the tour we were given three generous glasses of port in the hope that we might buy some more from the shop. Actually Kim and I enjoyed a bit more than that because our lightweight drinking companions only managed a sip from each glass so we were obliged to finish theirs for them as well as our own.

The day had slipped by and time was getting on now and before we returned to the metro we needed to find somewhere to eat. I had spotted a couple of promising places earlier this morning so we walked back briskly (very briskly actually) down the dangerous road, along the riverside, over the bridge, through the Ribiera and back to the Rua de Flores where we choose a traditional little place with basic furniture and red check table cloths and with no other customers quickly placed our orders.

The girls weren’t taking any chances and choose familiar dishes but Micky and I decided to sample the local speciality of Porto, the Francesinha, which is a sandwich made with toasted bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. Francesinha means Little French Girl in Portuguese It is said it was an invention in the 1960s of Daniel da Silva, a returned emigrant from France and Belgium who tried to adapt the croque-monsieur to Portuguese taste. Francesinha sauce is a secret, with each house having its variation and the kitchen was momentarily thrown into a panic when someone had to frenziedly explain to us that they had run out of their special spicy sauce and would we be alright with an alternative. We explained that this really didn’t matter to us because we had never had one before so really had no idea what to expect anyway. This settled things down and we were eventually served the sandwiches and I have to say that I failed to see just what all the fuss was about.

We left the café and hurried back through the Praça da Liberade to the Trindade metro station where we caught the tram which took us back to the stop with the empty car park and once reunited with our Ford Focus drove the short distance back to the Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport just out side of the city to return the car, check in and wait for our return flight. Interestingly, Francisco de Sá Carneiro was for a short time the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1980 and some people have questioned the appropriateness of naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash!

At the security gate Micky seemed to be having difficulty with his luggage. He always has a bag full of items that might come in useful in an emergency but this afternoon he was still lumbered with the two packs of crisps that he bought twenty-four hours earlier in Vila Do Conde and although he was minded to dump them Sue insisted that he kept hold of them just in case. There was no just in case and Micky finally dumped them on her desk back at her office the next morning.

I had enjoyed Portugal again and on the flight home I was ashamed of my previous ignorance about the place. I had always assumed that because of its geography that it must be a lot like Spain with a few minor differences but I had come to understand that Portugal, its people and its culture and heritage is very, very different indeed.

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