Charles Metcalfe, is the Co-Chairman and one of the Co-Founders of the International Wine Challenge, a columnist for Essencia do Vinho Magazine, a legend in the UK wine world for his loquacious and highly entertaining speaking engagements, and with the publication of his latest book, “The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal”, is considered one of the most respected voices on Portuguese wines. We’ve known Charles for a few years now and have always enjoyed tasting Portuguese wine alongside him.
On Saturday night, October 31st Charles will present an hour long tasting on Portuguese wine. His aim is both educate on the myriad styles of Portuguese wine and its intricate relationship with Portuguese tourism. As Portugal remains a very rustic and undiscovered haven for wine lovers, Charles will do his very best to enlighten us as to the myriad of possibilities that await us – and knowing Charles, we may even be graced with a portion of the tasting done in song and verse.
What follows are a few brief questions we posed to Charles regarding the potential of Portugal as a wine tourism destination! Enjoy!
The EWBC this year in Lisbon will have a considerable amount of “first time” Portugal visitors, many of whom have online voices. Therefore, what message should bloggers take away from Portugal as a potential wine tourism destination, and what sets it apart from other locations?
Portugal’s key point of interest to wine-lovers is the great array of native grapes, from which most Portuguese wines are made. These taste different from any others in the world. And, whereas the wines of, say, Italy (another country with great native grapes) are pretty well-distributed in other countries, Portuguese wines haven’t achieved this international distribution yet, so you have to come to Portugal to find them. And Portugal is also a very beautiful country, not just the coasts, but with mountains, rivers and lakes inland, too.
Why do you feel it’s taken so long for Portugal to be recognized as a quality wine tourism destination?
A bit more focussed activity from Tourism of Portugal and ViniPortugal has certainly helped. The new network of motorways built since entering the EU has also made it much easier to get to parts of inland Portugal that were well-nigh inaccessible before. And European funds also became available to finance better equipment at wineries. That happened at the same as a new generation of winemakers was coming out of wine school, getting international winemaking experience, and making even better wines. It all adds up to a ‘new’ wine country within easy reach of all of Europe.
You visit Portugal frequently, however, as Portugal is far from the largest wine producing country, are you revisiting because you are interested in the evolution of the wines, or is Portugal expanding what it can offer? Where do you see Portugal’s wines in 5 years time?
I’m continually amazed by the number of good new labels that come to the market each time I look at Portuguese wines. I try to keep up, but it’s tricky when I am also writing and talking about wines from other countries. I think we’re reaching a point of consolidation, rather than further expansion. But most of the ‘new’ producers are people who have been growing grapes for years, centuries, even. They’ve stopped supplying grapes to the local co-op, or selling their wine to larger companies, and trying to get added value by selling wines under their own labels. This will probably continue for a while, but in this economic climate, at a moment of international wine over-supply, I think there’ll be a slow-down. In 5 years I hope good Portuguese wines will have better international distribution, and more people know what unique flavours Portuguese grapes can give.
Your book is the “definitive” resource for a gourmand traveling in Portugal. What is the key point to remember when planning or taking a trip through the Portuguese wine country?
If you’re taking an ordinary-length holiday, I’d concentrate on one part of the country, rather than trying to cover the whole of Portugal in one gulp. If you take one of Portugal’s three main airports, in Porto, Lisbon and Faro, as starting points, you can cover the north, centre and south respectively. Plan as far ahead as possible, and make hotel bookings and appointments with wineries if you like to do things that way. If you can make bookings through websites, great. If not, remember that a lot of smaller Portuguese hotels and restaurants aren’t yet brilliant at answering emails. Phone is a better way to contact them, but you may well have to attempt speaking Portuguese!
Finally, what is the “long weekend” recommendation for a European traveler who finds a cheap plane ticket to Portugal? Where do you go?
What do you see, assuming this is their first visit? I’d start with Lisbon, a wonderful, historic city, with plenty of good food, bars, clubs and things to see. Lisbon will give you a snapshot of Portuguese culture. My next weekend would be in Porto, also historic, totally different from Lisbon, with boat-trips up the Douro and visits to port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.