November 09 2012
“Gate closing”, as every jaded traveller knows, really means “Gate may in fact only open in 15 minutes, but please hurry to a more cramped space where there is only one bathroom and nowhere to buy alcohol”. To indicate your contempt for such bourgeois brinkmanship, its important to be last onto the plane, talking loudly into your phone.
On this occasion I was returning to Porto, having accepted an invitation (offered a few months earlier over breakfast at the Lanesborough) from Adrian Bridge, CEO of Fladgate Taylor Partnership, to stay at his boutique hotel The Yeatman in Vila Nova de Gaia, nestled above the lodges I had visited on a previous trip. “Nestled”, however, is rather humdrum – “crowned” would be a much better descriptive of The Yeatman’s elevated position with unrivalled views across the river, whether appreciated from one of the terraces or the pool (second picture) or, indeed, your bath (rooms have retractable panels to enable you to escry the vista while abluting).
Invariably for a wine hotel, The Yeatman has a Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa – much lighter and airier than others I have seen but still rather wasted on me since most of the exciting wine-based treatments are unsuitable for the facially hirsute. Instead, I enjoyed a gruelling massage; oiled up, tenderised then finished off with a spray of mint essence. Wandering back to the room (first picture), feeling slightly like a tied lamb joint, I took in the stories told by artwork in the corridors, namely, the history of Porto, its art and artists, the Peninsular War, the country’s wine regions and the winemaking process. The attention to detail and clever use of space encourages a deeper contemplation of the surroundings.
I remember sailing in (or more accurately, motoring in) to Porto as the harbour gates were closing, one late summer night a decade ago. It was the final leg of an ill-advised and ultimately abortive (but actually quite pleasant) excursion north from Lagos, gateway to the Algarve. We had hugged the coast for best part of a week, barely avoiding the edges of a vicious storm and not at all the persistent wind on the neb, which kept our sails furled and speed down to a miserable 12 knots as we chugged along, increasingly despondently.
But back to the present, and the evening feast. Ricardo Costa, previously executive chef of St John Street’s hidden gem The Portal, in London, has earned the hotel a well-deserved Michelin star. Amuses included a memorable apple and black pudding macaroon and a vivifying raw mussel and cucumber cube dish. The Yeatman’s “eggs three-ways” followed – fried on vitello tonnato; poached on sea urchin; and confit on apple – and were delicious. They just avoided being overpowered by the accompanying Esperao 2009 white blend, a buxom and unabashed mix of Semillon, Marsanne and Roussane (not varieties known for their acidity) wrapped in new oak – a fur-clad courtesan of a wine. A fine piece of hake may have been the main course, but dinner’s showstopper was a dessert with ice cream and dill, which was particularly appreciated by my wife, who, like all Swedes, employs dill in dishes as if it were salt or sugar. Thirty-year-old Dow Tawny Port was a fitting digestif outside on the restaurant balcony – a wine of remarkable pungency, depth and resolution; distinctive and yet often mistaken for Verdelho Madeira or Palo Cortado. Later during our stay we would sample 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old Taylor’s Tawny – an excellent way to appreciate the quality gradient of this quite excellent but under-appreciated style – but for me 20-year-old remains the benchmark ratio between quality, price and complexity.
Read WineChap’s second dispatch from Porto on Monday November 12.