The little town of Pinhão, on the banks of the Douro, is not an obvious tourist attraction. The railway station has some fine azulejos (tiles) and a smart little bar and deli, so you can sip a white port and tonic while you wait for a train to Porto, and there is a terrific butcher-cum‑smokery, Qualifier, that specialises in weird and wonderful charcutería – smoked pig’s face, anyone? – but there is little else to detain the gourmet.
Stride out in almost any direction, however, and you will stumble across a quinta, one of the famous port farms dotted around the imposing hills: Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, for example, where guests can tour the winery, then pick up a picnic basket and head to the top of the steep-terraced vineyard for a very civilised lunch and a terrific view.
A few minutes’ walk along the river, Quinta de la Rosa – Sophia Bergqvist’s delightful, family-run winery-with-rooms – now boasts a sleek, modern restaurant, Cozinha da Clara, a tribute to Sophia’s grandmother, Claire Feuerheerd, whose portrait hangs in the handsome dining room and who was (lucky girl) given Quinta de la Rosa as a christening present in 1906. The spacious terrace overlooks the river, with glorious views in both directions.
Chef Pedro Cardoso’s elegant interpretation of local ingredients chimes perfectly with the surroundings. A voluptuously silky, sweet-onion soup is paired with a crisp little spring roll filled with moira, a kind of black pudding (from Qualifer, naturally); lightly salted cod is served as a tartare, flecked with lovage and seasoned with the estate’s own olive oil; roast kid is served with decadently rich, fatty potatoes and pleasingly bitter grelos (turnip tops: cime di rapa in Puglia); and, of course, there is a fine selection of terrific ports to round off the meal.
Quinta de la Rosa also produces some excellent table wines, as does Churchill’s, whose Quinta da Gricha is half an hour away. Set up by John Graham in 1981 after the famous family business had been sold to the Symingtons, the Quinta also offers accommodation, tours and tastings.
I tried the Churchill’s range of wines and ports at Bar Douro, in the distinctly less bucolic railway arches of Flat Iron Square, Bankside, although the azulejo-covered walls and marble-topped bar left no doubt as to the cuisine on offer.
Opened last year by Max Graham, John’s son, it is a grazer’s paradise, with petiscos (small plates) of salt-cod fritters, piri-piri chicken, and octopus with sweet potato, as well as more substantial offerings: meltingly tender leitão (suckling pig) with homemade crisps and a punchy pepper sauce; or cataplana, a classic seafood stew from the Algarve, served in a clam-like, hinged copper pan. Finish with a pastel de nata (custard tart) with cinnamon ice cream and a glass of Churchill’s 1997, and I guarantee that – like the port – you will feel thoroughly fortified.