Porto, home of Port(o)

After seeing an article in the NYT Travel section about the university town of Coimbra, I decided to make a trip westward to see my Iberian neighbor, with destinations Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon.  While Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal (yet is only half the size of Pittsburgh), the big draw to the city is their namesake wine, Port.  Not being an apertif drinker, I came in eager to try my first Port where it is known best.

I chose to take an estate tour at Taylor Fladgate’s, the oldest private Port house in Porto, where they described this interesting libation.  When Britain and France were at war in the – well let’s face it, each of the 9th through 19th centuries – the British needed a new wine source.  Liking the more acidic wines of Portugal, they began importing (at this time, regular) wine from Porto.  As this was a difficult journey for wine casks to make, the merchants began “fortifying” the wines with brandy to maintain quality.  Playing a bit with the recipes, Port was born.  When wines are maturing, it is actually the sugar in the grapes becoming the alcohol.  By adding the brandy halfway through the fermentation process, merchants could stop   the conversion, leaving half wine, half grape sugars, and a hit of brandy in each cask.  The result is an apertif with the full body/flavor of wine, the sweetness of the grapes, and the warmth of brandy, all rolled into one delicious glass.

Beyond wine, the city itself is sprinkled with colorful row houses and buildings, most of which date from the 18th century.  The Portuguese landscape is also much more hilly than any country I had been in to this point, making for cityscape pictures with more layers and texture.  And, of course, sun-baked red roofs on white stucco walls as far as the eye could see.

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