Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Up the Douro River

Where does one go after they jump off the Italian peninsula? One journey I recently made took me back about 200 years to Portugal, Oporto and the Douro River. Portugal, to me, is like going back in time to what Italy felt like when I first went there. Time moves slower, people walk with a gait that resembles an accompaniment to their Fado’s. Yes slow food is very much alive and theirs is slower… food, wine and the music , that wonderful music.

So why would someone jump off the Italian wine trail? Nothing above me, nothing below me, was that one of the koans we were told by the master, selling water by the river? The river in this case, The Douro, and the land that encloses it, is one of the most important wine producing areas in the world. As important as Bordeaux or the Mosel Valley, Napa or Tuscany, Burgundy or Kakheti, Champagne or Piedmont. Places that time has been honored with the toiling of the vine-tenders. But back to the Douro.

We took a few days in Oporto to acclimate to the pace, and I would recommend that exercise. Harvest time is not high season but is the reason this port exists. The ancient wine families and their business houses across the river at Villa Nova de Gaia, small cafes, slow moving boats, all very laid back and therapeutic, in a very good way.

A train is a wonderful way to move people from one time to another. On the train, workers are heading home with skins filled with home made wine. One soul makes eye contact and brings over a sandwich and a boda bag. The wine is a dry rose, definitely home made, something I will remember as well as the 1945 Dows Vintage Port I had a day earlier or the 2005 Chateau Margaux a few months later.
People, hear me, it isn’t always about the 100 point wines, sometimes it’s about the experience, the ride up the hill, that temporary escape from a world gone insane, that journey up the river.
The Alto Douro ~ off at a tiny speck of a village called Tua. Our home, for these days on the Douro, is Quinta Malvedos , a remarkable estate house with a veranda and provisions. We are guests of The Symington family and a gathering of journalists and members of the world wine community are assembled here. This is a little like being in a chapter from Norman Douglas’ South Wind. A master of wine and his young acolyte. A high priest of the wine world and a good hearted soul. They will share the downstairs room. Two journalists for two very prestigious journals for the successful and wealthy classes. Nice chaps, both of them, representing the east and west coasts of North America. Two rooms on separate floors. Myself and the one who brought me, from the lower midsection of the US, a food and wine writer, on the floor with the wonderful veranda. And our hosts, Rupert Symington and his stateside accomplice.I may not be the most critical of people, and I tend to not want to find too much fault in those around me, especially in close quarters and for a short period of time. So why would I mention it? For those reading who might think this is just a shallow glom. These were nice folks, all of them, and they made the trip that much more memorable. And memories are the harvest of experiences.But this isn’t a travel log. Like the master says, nothing above me, nothing below me….so we jump off! (To be continued)

3 comments:

Travel Italy said...

Beautiful place but I believe the people you share it with are always the most important part of the equation. I look forward to reading the "continuation".

Anonymous said...

tell us more about the 1945 Dow's...

Italian Wine Guy® said...

coming....

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