November 16 2012
Back at the Yeatman, at Dick’s Bar – named for Dick Yeatman, whose personality clearly inspired the comfortingly “clubby” St James’s feel of the place, complete with cigar library – we met up with director of wine, Beatriz Machado. I had heard from friends and colleagues, who had previously been guests of the hotel, that Beatriz and the list she has curated are among its most memorable features. We were not disappointed. The Yeatman offers 82 wines by the glass, has 1,000-plus references and a 26,000-bottle cellar. Interestingly, the focus (85 per cent plus) is Portuguese wines, increasingly lauded by wine commentators and sommeliers but still relatively unexplored by the drinking public. We toured the cellar and chose bottles to sample (there were also numerous barrels of port, pictured). I enjoyed perusing the seasonal Wine Club magazine – which splits wines by the glass into handy annotated flights bearing names such as The Groundbreakers, The Limited Editions and my favourite – The Irreverents. If there is a more accessible and enjoyable way to become familiar with Portugal’s wine geography, I’d like to know of it.
The hotel’s wine partners, as well as sponsoring a room, also sign up to host one of the weekly wine dinners and are encouraged to provide some of their otherwise unavailable older vintages for the Yeatman’s wine library, the aim being to compile the most extensive collection of Portuguese fine wine. Some highlights from a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon tasting included:
Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Madrigal (Lisboa), an energetic 100 per cent Viognier, more reminiscent of Côte du Rhône made on the other side of the track from Condrieu than flatter, flabbier examples from further south.
An older Quinta do Ameal ’03 (Minho), holding up like mature Mosel Kabinett Riesling – giving lie to the notion that Loureiro cannot age.
Cedro do Noval and Quinta da Gaivosa (both Douro), two very different modern wines from the region – the former silky, supple, international with its generous whack of Syrah, the latter more classically styled, a nod to earth, spice and power.
Terras d’Alter Outerios (Alentejo) added an enormous 50 per cent Petit Verdot to its Syrah for a wine as outlandish in conception as it was successful on the palate – the ripe fruit of the wine balancing the punch rather than pinch of pepper and paprika.
Other wines, many equally as interesting, were woven in-between these, but we concluded with a highlight – Soalheiro’s dessert Alvarinho at 9 per cent, which was revelatory.
On my first night in Porto a decade previously, we ate Chinese. The next day we crossed the bridge (no cable cars back then) and took a stroll down among the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, completing a tour of the Sandeman Lodge (with a guide dressed as Zorro) by finishing the rest of the group’s half-drunk samples of cheap white, tawny and ruby port. We then purchased four bottles of some far more impressive 20-year old tawny – to this day a favourite despite the worst hangover ever. I had not returned to Porto until now, but as then I have appreciated the city’s vibrancy, its late-night riverside café culture, architecture unscarred by the bombs of the previous century’s warring and most of all its eponymous beverage. Some things have changed, myself included, but Porto remains a fantastic destination for a weekend break – or longer if you fancy a trip up the Douro – and the Yeatman offers the perfect base to enjoy the city.