In this post I will focus on the Portuguese flavours and regional products tastings I was able to experience during my stay in Douro.
One thing that you have to take into consideration when travelling the Douro Valley is that throughout all its history it has been a Port Wine Producing region. Purely! DOC Douro table wines only came out in the last 30/40 years and tourism has really only opened up in the last 10/15. This means that the tourism, hotels and restaurants offer in the Douro Valley is exclusive and very scarce. While a good wine hotel to stay in can be relatively easy to find, the same cannot be spoken about a good restaurant. So here are some of Douro's top food experiences.
Gourmet Experience at Quinta do Panascal
Even though Quinta do Panascal doesn’t not directly overlook the Douro, its location on the left bank of the Távora River (one the Douro's most important tributaries both in water and in history) falls nothing short of the exclusivity that it advocates. This estate belongs to the Guimaraens family and the Fladgate Partnership, a colossus of the Port Wine world owning the Croft, Taylor and Fonseca Port wine Brands. What makes the Gourmet Experience at Quinta do Panascal so impressive is that you can have a private lunch in the quarters where the Guimaraens family usually has their get togethers.
When I arrived to Quinta do Panascal, I was gravelly met by Ana Margarida, a PR person of the Fonseca Brand, as this Quinta only produces grapes for the Fonseca Port Wines. We tasted a few Ports, with my attention being grabbed by the bicentenary edition of the Fonseca Crusted Port and the Fonseca Terra Prima, the world's first organic certified Port wine. After, we moved to the upper floor where a table big enough for 20 was set for two. I felt like a royal... The table cloth had been ironed and one of the family's fines flatware and silverware was set. I can image this space on a Sunday afternoon, the family lingering on the now dirty table cloth watching the children play in terrace.
Since the company only produces Port Wine, they usually recommend the Douro DOC wines from Quinta do Crasto, which accompanied our prawn salad starter and our main course of Rojões. I have to confess that I don't have photo of the Rojões - small cubes of fried pork loin because I was too busy eating them. Sorry. For dessert a classic of home-made chocolate mousse with the new Fonseca Terra Prima.
You need time to enjoy all of this, so I recommend not to have anything else booked for the afternoon, as you too will want to linger on at the table of the most important Port Wine producer in the world.
Picnic with a view at Quinta do Pôpa
Quinta do Pôpa are the new boys in town. They have only been open for a couple of years, and while the estate does not have any heritage to look at, they are surely the most progressive and modern traveller oriented Quinta in the Douro. Instagram frame, hashtag t-shirts, a sweet red wine who's not a DOC, not a late harvest and not a Port either - Pôpa Doce. They are breaking the paradigm of the "old and establish" Douro houses and are coming with some very interesting products and experiences, such as a wine brunch or the Pôpa Picnic.
What this Quinta has and what is the best thing about it is the view. It sits on vineyards with a very strong incline to the river. This offers a unique vantage point to enjoy your Picnic with a view. You are free to walk around the vineyards and lay the blanket where you are most comfortable, but I strongly recommend that you stay within the green grass areas around the main house. Its ground is much softer and with no incline. Plus the view is not impeded by the vine leaves.
This is what it is all about - enjoying some traditional Portuguese food while admiring the most beautiful wine region in the world. The Quinta do Pôpa Picnic is like a Christmas hamper full of Portuguese food goodies and delicacies. The items vary according to the season, so I was given a summer menu which included: tuna and garden vegetable salad, rustic bread, stewed chicken giblets, cod fish fritters (two national institutions of the Traditional Portuguese food Panorama), a selection of semi cured regional goat and sheep cheeses, a selection of charcuterie, the estate's own olive oil and the also homemade quince and loquat jams. To accompany this Portuguese take away banquet, I there were two bottles of Conto da Terra - a white and a rosé, which are Quinta do Pôpa's entry level wines - light, easy to drink and very enjoyable with all this gorgeous food offerings.
You can also turn the Pôpa Pic Nic into a brunch, as there will be plenty of food to last you the rest of the day.
Castas e Pratos Restaurant in Régua
Castas e Pratos ticks all the boxes when it comes to showcase the best of traditional Portuguese cuisine with a modern twist, while offering over 700 different wines. This makes them one of most complete bars in the whole of Portugal. The brilliance of the idea for this restaurant was to create a space where a vast array of wines from the region could be tasted, while offering a modern take on the bold flavours of the Douro and of the North of Portugal.
What makes it even more interesting is that, the restaurant is housed in a converted old railway station warehouse. On the inland side you can have a private evening next to the old rail tracks and dine in an old cargo rail car. The front side of the restaurant has some gorgeous views to the Douro, so you are spoiled for choice.
My tasting menu was composed of a starter of Foie Gras Terrrine on a corn bread toast, port wine reduction and fleur de sal, accompanied by a chilled 2007 Quinta do Grijó Late Harvest. The first main was Roasted Salt Cod, almond crust and Prawn brandade, accompanied by 2012 Vinha Grande White. The second main course was Seared Veal on a bed of turnip greens and roasted potatoes, accompanied by Passagem 2006 Red - what a blockbuster of a wine! Desert was the highlight of the evening - Serra da Estrela (mountain cheese) ice cream and Pudim Abade de Priscos (Portuguese Pudding) fondue, which was still hot from the oven when it arrived to the table.
My recommendation is to book an early dinner, around 18h00 so you can enjoy some wine before the meal and make a full evening out of it. Afterwards I strongly advise you to go for a stroll on the river promenade of Régua, which is especially enjoyable on a hot summer evening.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions of the best wine & food experiences in the Douro Valley. Stay tunned for the next posts of my Douro Valley Wine Travel Guide, as I will share some of the best views in the Douro!