Scary fish and Churchill’s port & wines
EEEEKKKKKK! That is one scary looking fish. I bet you’re wondering what exactly it has to do with wine. Well, that is what greeted me after my tour of the cellars of Churchill’s Port’s new visitor centre and lodge in Gaia, Portugal. It’s not some mutant fished out of a polluted river in South East Asia, it was actually our dinner. And a very tasty dinner it was. The salmon (yes, that’s what it is) had been smoked for hours in a old port wine barrel before being plated up and left to scare me upon emerging from the cellars.
Despite it’s appearance, it was delicious, having an intensely salmon flavour without the oiliness that so often accompanies smoked salmon. The flesh was flaky and dry but not dried out – served with a mustard dill sauce, it was divine and paired with Churchill’s table rosè wine, a perfect way to end a Friday.
Churchill’s Port was my last stop on a 4 day trip to the Douro Valley and Porto, Portugal with Discover the Origin. DTO’s mission is to introduce us to the lesser known but still amazing food and wine regions of Europe, the Douro Valley and port wine being one of the areas on their list. The very charming Johnny Graham, founder of Churchill’s, was our host and happily led us through a tasting of not only Churchill’s port wines but also the line of table wines that they are now producing.
Churchill’s is a young port house, founded only 30 years ago after Graham’s was bought out by a big conglomeration. Johnny found that he couldn’t use his surname but he could use his wife’s to found his own port wine house. The new visitor centre and tasting room we were visiting is situated overlooking the Douro River in Gaia and is where Churchill’s currently ages their ports. Speaking to Johnny though, he told us that they are currently in the process of building a new winery in the Douro and will be not only producing all of their wines there but also aging their ports there as well, an interesting move on their part and the second time on this trip I had come across port houses aging their port in the Douro Valley rather then in the traditional Vila Nova de Gaia.
The table wines that Churchill’s are producing are made with the same grapes that go into their vintage port production, all Grade A vineyards and composed mostly of touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta roriz. My tasting notes for the red wines are sprinkled with words like “expressive, perfumed, well balanced, lively and excellent structure”. Churchill’s is producing some top notch red wines and the whites and rosè are just as impressive. One distinctive note on the whites and rosè was that they were bottled under – get ready for it – screwcap!! Shock and horror from the Portuguese but Johnny sees no reason why these wines should be under cork when they are meant to be drunk young and fresh. He does, however, use cork for his reds and, of course for the ports.
We were introduced to Churchill’s Dry White Port and while it was not what I would consider “dry” for a white port, it was drier then most. Nicely balanced with a hint of hazelnuts and dried white fruits, it reminded me of a dry sherry but not quite, it didn’t have the saline notes that dry sherry has and was an altogether very elegant wine. It is the custom to drink white port with tonic but Churchill’s was so good it seemed a waste to water it down with ice and tonic so we drank it straight and munched salted almonds alongside it. The white port is available at many fine restaurants in the UK and Churchill’s have just launched a 100ml bottle of both the white port and port for sale in restaurants. A perfect way to end (or with the white port begin) the meal and you don’t have to worry about how long the port bottle has been open.
The aforementioned Churchill’s rosè went swimmingly with the fish, the wine being 100% touriga nacional. A fresh strawberry nose with more of the strawberry and cherry flavours on the palate,it is a dry wine with a slight creamy texture and balanced acidity, making this a very approachable and easy to drink wine. The best part is, the rosè is available in the UK and retails for £6.99, a bargain considering the quality of the wine.
We polished off a couple of bottles of that rose while eating the salmon and by the end of the night, it was not anywhere near as scary as it looked at the beginning. As a matter of fact, it was pretty much just a pile of fish bones. A big thank you to Churchill’s Port for introducing me to the culinary delights of port barrel smoked salmon and, of course, to their fine ports and wines.