Port Wine Funchal, Madeira Island

Posted by: Adam Lapsevich - Contributor on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 9:00:00 am

With the seasons changing, our dinner parties shift from outdoor patio events to delightful evenings in our dining room, complete with a fireplace, good friends, lively conversation and lots of fine wines. There is always some gastronomical delight served (I have a lot of “foodie friends”) with fun cocktail music in the background and plenty of laughs. People love coming to our home because in the cooler months, after dinner we bring out some of our favorite port wines to serve with dessert. (No coffee drinkers here!)

If you’re not familiar with port wine, you need to try it! Porto (also known as “port”), is a Portuguese fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine. There are also dry, semi-dry and white varieties as well, but most common is the Tawny Port or Ruby Port.

I first sampled port in 1994 on a visit to Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, which is due east of Morocco and north of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Atlantic Ocean. I was on a transatlantic cruise and it was our first stop after spending 5 days at sea. Not only was it a welcome site to see land, it was even more exciting when I signed up for one of the shore excursions to a winery where they produce Porto.

FUNCHAL

The city of Funchal, on Madiera Island, is home to roughly 111,000 year-round residents. It’s actually Portugal’s 6th largest city. It’s history dates back to 1424 when the settlement began. A wine culture appeared during the early settlement. Notables that enjoyed the Maderia wines included English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, In Richard III, a play written by Shakespeare in approximately 1592, the brother of King Edward IV selected a death by drowning in a barrel of Madiera wine!  I’m not sure if I’d go that far but it’s certainly better than many other execution styles!

There is so much to do as Funchal today is a modern tourist town, with plenty of hotels, a thriving port bustling with cruise ships and an international airport. Funchal has many museums as well.

DINING

Besides wine, Funchal has a lively and quite delicious restaurant scene. There are incredible cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs all over the island. The food scene includes restaurants that serve local Portuguese cuisine as well as plenty of international fare as well. You’ll find Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Japanese, Chinese as well as other ethnic eateries spotted around the city.

Part of my love for fine food and wine started when I first visited Funchal. I’ve always appreciated my mom’s delicious homemade delicacies but when I sampled my first tastes of porto back on the Spring day in 1994, I knew I was hooked!

If you’re thinking of visiting someplace different, Funchal, as well as Portugal in general (We’ll have this for a future blog post) are excellent choices.

Now head to your local wine shop, run, don’t walk, and check out port selection. My personal favorites are not super expensive. You never want a cheap bottle of port…. Typically, a decent bottle would be $16-30, with even better bottles starting around the $35 mark.  Dow’s 10 Year Tawny is one of my personal favorites, ($35). On the lower end, Warre’s King Tawny Port is very good, and it’s less than $20. Port is served in a small stemmed glass and is usually about a 3-ounce pour. I have about 5 different sets of port wine glasses. For some reason I receive them as gifts from people quite often! (I wonder why!)

Whatever you do, don’t go cheap or you’ll be turned off immediately. Splurge. Enjoy an elegant dinner and sip a glass next time you’re out dining. It’s a lot less expensive to purchase your own bottle and enjoy it at home though versus in a restaurant. Most restaurants tend to jack up the price for port, and considering it’s such a small pour, invest in your own bottle and serve it with friends in the comforts of your own home.

Bon appetite. 

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