Any wine geek worth their salt loves a good barrel room. Ok, going on trip after trip wandering round looking at rows of neatly packed new barrels can get a bit tiresome after a while, but it’s the smell of the place and knowledge that all that lovely liquid is ageing away beautifully under the oak. And at Quinta Do Noval they’ve got one of the more impressive ones around.
I went on holiday, years ago, to Sardinia. For one reason or another we spent the whole time driving round the island trying to “do Sardinia” in a week. Pinging it from Cagliari to San Pietro, up to Alghero, and across to Porto Cervo. I spent more time in the car than outside. And on the drive back to Cagliari I went a funny shade of green and had to take a breather. Ever since I’ve struggled with car-sickness as soon as the roads get a bit bendy. My first trip to the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal nearly killed me!
Port producers are pretty terrified of turning into the next Sherry. The harsh truth of that is that Sherry producers, rather infamously, let their drinkers die on them. A new generation of drinkers doesn’t know what proper Fino sherry is, let alone how to drink it properly. So they’re having to invent new ways to get the younger crowd drinking it. The best way so far? Cocktails! And the fine boys and girls whose job it is to market port round the world are right there with them.
Wine making is full of old school traditions. Some are now on their way out as practicality, time, and – let’s be fair – hygiene have all had their say. But one tradition that remains in the production of some Port wines is grape treading. I’ve always wanted to have a go, and a couple of weeks back up at Quinta Do Noval I got the chance. It was fantastic.
One of the first things you’re told when you’re sat in your lecture room at WSET (wine exam board) HQ, eagerly waiting to tackle Port, is that most people in the UK drink it wrong. I’m not saying that they miss their mouth and tip it down their shirts, or that they stand on their heads and try and drink it backwards. It’s more that bad habits have crept into how lots of Brits drink Port. And as a Port lover myself, it’s that glorious mix of funny and annoying to watch it happen.
Once you start really getting into wine, it’s not enough to just head down to the shops, buy a bottle, and get stuck in. You need to be there, you need to wander round the vineyard and soak it all up. Couple of reasons really, one is that you get to drink the wine with the locals, eating the local food, doing your best to feel like part of the furniture. The other is that vineyards are invariably beautiful places. One wine region is chalked up on most people’s lists as the number one “need to visit”, and lucky little me got to go there a couple of weeks back…the Douro valley in Portugal.
So the marketing guys and girls have come out with this term “Brosé”. It’s where rosé wines are starting to get guzzled by blokes as well as lasses. More power to it I reckon, I’m a rosé lover and proud! But why is it something that people still feel like they need to hush up? Why do my mates give me a right old barracking if I ever pick some of the pink?
I didn’t ever fall in love with the idea of wine by drinking an amazing glass of anything. I didn’t have a mate who had an amazing collection that they wanted to share the love with. I got into wine by going out on holiday to Piemonte in Italy and spending time in an insanely beautiful area with the winemakers who live there. The passion and feeling of what they do with their days is absolutely infectious. As knobby as that sounds, it worked for me!
Some events you get invited to and you think “yeah this is going to be pretty good!” Unfortunately you go into some of them with that attitude and they disappoint. Luckily for me, and everyone who attended, Sandeman’s 225th birthday party’s London leg was not one of them. I thought it’d be great, and it was!