And now for a Part II posting about my culinary travels in Europe...
After a lovely time exploring the northwest of Spain, it was time for my next stop: Portugal. The highlight of my visit was the city of Oporto as the locals call it, or Porto to everyone else, located on the north coast at the mouth of the Douro River. Porto is famous for its rich history related to Port wine, dating back to the late-1600s. Given that it was a port city at the mouth of the river that served as the commercial waterway from inland to the coast, trade was brisk out of Oporto. In the 1600s, the British established trading companies in Porto to ship wines back to England given that they were at war with France and supplies of French wine were difficult to obtain. In order for the wine to last for the shipping duration and weather conditions, they added Brandy to the fermenting wine – and Port wine was then born.
While in Porto, I of course wanted to visit one of the Port houses. Porto has a number of them, all of which are located along the river. I visited the Sandeman Porto Cellars, where I took a tour and learned all about the fascinating history of Port wine. After the tour, I did a tasting of four different varieties of Port wine. It’s funny – I’d flown half way around the world to taste wines that are probably sold at the wine shop down the street from my apartment in San Francisco. But like any wine experience in the region where it comes from, there is no substitute for trying it where it’s made – the experience always has an extra dimension.
Another night, I decided to try Porto’s famous sandwich – the Francesinha, which means “little French girl." Imagine – a sandwich with various types of Portuguese sausage and steak, covered with melted cheese and a tomato-based sauce, and topped with a fried egg. It has to be one of the most delicious yet filling things I’ve ever eaten – and I went back the next day!
Throughout my travels in Spain and Portugal, I learned all about different wines, cuisines and cultures. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to visit a new wine region where my palate will be educated and enlightened.