porto riverfront

Pre-Camino mandatory stop:  Porto, Portugal, where you are greeted at the reception desk in your hotel with a glass of Port wine.  Not a bad way to start a vacation pilgrimage!

After some 16 hours en route, Porto greeted us with sun, smiles and lovely tannins.  A quick nap at the elegant Hotel Park Atlantic, a shower, and we were ready to head out for a 5 pm tasting at Churchill’s.  We got this appointment through Sharon’s connections.  Churchill’s is a newer player in the Port wine game, starting in 1981, when John Graham struck out on his own.  Graham – if the name sounds familiar, it should.  Graham’s has been producing acclaimed Port wines for centuries.  John Graham decided to take his Port wine-making knowledge, and find his own individual style in the market.

That he has done, and he has done it well!

If I had to choose the best wine that we tasted at Churchill’s, I would be stuck for an answer.  We started with Douro wines, before the big-boy Ports came out.  First up:  Douro Branco 2011.  WOW!  This white is extremely well-balanced, belying its 13% alcohol content.  This is a summer white that will please the red-drinkers in your crowd, balancing fruit and minerality.  Summer sun, a barbecue in the offing, the voices of kids playing in the yard.  Perfect.

porto churcill red

Next up were two red wines that would be perfect for the steak on the grill, with a side of au poivre.  The 2009 Grand Reserva Touriga Nacional was poured first, a red that was again perfectly balanced, with loads of flavor and complexity.  Its color was a deep garnet, promising to surely stain my future white summer shirts!  I loved this wine, and was reluctant to move onto the next, a 2009 Quinta da Gricha.  This second wine was opened earlier, as we learned, because it does take some time to open up.  Its first flavors were nice, but I was looking to return to the Touriga Nacional.  Which I did.  Interlude of almonds and local cheese, and then a second sip of the Quinta da Gricha…. second WOW of the day!  This wine just kept getting better and better!  If you are looking for a surprising new red to give as a gift (to someone who would appreciate it) (don’t give it to my mother) (but my father might really enjoy it), this is the bottle you want!

But wait! There was more!  We still had to get through the Port wines!

We started with a white Port wine.  Yes, white.  This might be a “starter” Port, for people who think they don’t like it, or think it belongs in dark, wood-trimmed rooms with men in smoking jackets, pulling on cigars.  This was a nutty Port wine, creamy and smooth.  It would be well served in those pre-barbecue hours, with the sun still shimmering on the water.  Maybe the sound in the background is no longer kids playing, but instead the lapping of the waves, because the kids are old enough to drive and have decided to head out for ice cream before dinner.

porto crusted

Next up was Crusted Port, a name I loved when I saw it in the bodega.  Crusted Port wines come from two consecutive non-vintage years.  They are skillfully blended, resulting in a Port wine that cannot be called “vintage”, but has the flavor and complexity that could be considered “almost-vintage”.  The wine was not as sweet as a vintage port – selling point for some.  Oh, and the price is what it’s all about.  Here is a great Port wine, at a price that leaves cash in your wallet to send those kids out for ice cream.  In your car.  With sky-high insurance, since they are teenaged drivers.  Crusted Port wine is well worth finding, and you’ll enjoy saying the name over and over again.

We moved on to the 20 Year Tawny.  This was a classic and elegant Port wine.  It does evoke those wood-trimmed drawing rooms, seemingly placing you in a novel from the Great Gatsby era.  This is a wine that will never go out of style.  Yum.  Perfect.

Finally, Sharon and I tasted different vintage years, me the 1997 Vintage, which was more acidic, and Sharon the 2007 Vintage.  As someone (who shall remain nameless) remarked, the 2007 “has lots of action on the palate”.  To which she added, “Ooooh.  That doesn’t sound good, does it?”  Followed by “Please don’t quote me!”  Quoted in anonymity, then.

It took us a full hour to find the Churchill’s Visitor’s Center.  We scaled mountains steep hills, only to be directed back down, over a few streets, back up the mountain steep hill, “oh, no speak English” (same with Spanish), “Shuuur-sheeel?  Down, down, then left, then right.”  The hill climbs were certainly worth it in the end.  Look for these wines and Ports, and you will not be disappointed.

What a great first day on pilgrimage!

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. You couldn’t find the visitor center because you were on your tenth glass of vino and Porto. Baked boiled and fried in portugal.

  2. Wow, not the pilgrimage our grandmothers knew! Considering that American Pilgrims were an austere lot, not sure “pilgrimage” is the correct term. More like a “pourgrimage” (not to be confused with a “poorgrimage”)! Good luck in the days ahead, Claire!

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      Thank you, Scott, for coining the theme “pourgrimage”. We will try to live up to that. Won’t be too hard, given we are starting just over the border in Spain.

  3. I love their White Port – it almost has these sherry like qualities to it and is perfect a little chilled. Sounds like you’re having a (much deserved) great time!

  4. I love all things Douro

    What a pleasure to meet you both, thank you for the great write up. As for the quote…. Never gonna live that down!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll To Top