23 Unusual Facts About Whisky

Visit Islay with a Rabbie’s tour.

Our friends at Rabbie’s, our travel partner for our Scotch whisky travelogue series on Amazon Prime, have given us 23 fun facts about whisky. How many of them did you know already?

Bernard Shaw described whisky as liquid sunshine, and we can’t help but agree. Although the sunshine can be a little bothersome the next morning when you’ve indulged in one too many glasses.

Mark Twain begs to differ, however, as he’s famous for boldly declaring “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

What could we possibly have to tell you about whisky that you haven’t heard from these great poets, playwrights and avid whisky drinkers? You’d be surprised. Whisky has a long history and its makers and consumers are fond of a good blether. 

So whether you’re a whisky aficionado or have only just begun your love affair, you may be surprised by a few of the following facts:

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  1. Whisky or Whiskey - what’s the difference? The Irish spell it with an ‘e’ whereas the Scots spell it without one. This is due to the variations between Scottish and Irish Gaelic.

  2. The New York Times famously used the word ‘whiskey’ with an ‘e’ to encompass all forms of the spirit from all locations. This caused so much outrage amongst readers, they were forced to change their style guide to reflect the appropriate spelling for their regional distribution.

  3. Many distilleries store casks of whisky belonging to other brands and distilleries in their warehouses. This way, if a fire or catastrophe occurs, they won’t lose all their stock. 

  4. The term whisky in Gaelic translates to ‘water of life.’

  5. When whisky is stored in barrels for maturation, approximately 2% of the liquid evaporates per year. This is called the ‘Angel’s Share’ as this portion of liquid gold seemingly disappears into the heavens. It keeps the angels in good spirits.

  6. Moonshine is typically un-aged whisky with a high alcohol content, which is made illegally. It’s called moonshine because it would be created under the light of the moon, hidden from the eyes of the authorities.

  7. A bottle of Macallan Valerio Adami 1926, 60-year-old was sold for £848,750 in 2018, setting a new world record for the most expensive bottle of whisky.

  8. Whisky doesn’t age once it’s bottled. So there isn’t much point in saving it for a rainy day, just crack it open when you feel like it.

  9. Whisky gains its colour from the barrel it’s aged in. Sometimes, for the sake of product image, brands may put caramel colouring in a batch to make the whisky look more consistent when bottled on the shelf. The additive isn’t supposed to affect the taste of the whisky. 

  10. Scotland relies on a constant supply of oak casks previously used to store bourbon in the US for maturing whisky.

  11. Much of the flavour of a batch of whisky will depend upon what was stored in the cask previously. Bourbon, sherry, rum and port casks all generate different finishing flavours.

  12. A Swedish distillery has just started using AI to help generate the perfect whisky recipe based on past and current consumer trends.

  13. Surprisingly, France and India are two of the biggest consumers of whisky, alongside the US. 

  14. The iconic American soda brand Mountain Dew was originally intended to be a chaser for sub-par whisky.

  15. Just as the Brits say “cheers”, the Germans shout “prost” and the Spanish yell “salood,” you’ll find the Scots chinking whisky glasses and saying “Slainte,” which means “good health,” as they share a dram with friends.

  16. Contrary to popular belief, nosing isn’t the act of sticking your conk in other people’s business. It’s what you do when you inhale the aromas of a fine whisky before drinking it.

  17. A copper dog is a device that was used by distillery workers to smuggle whisky home after a hard day at work. It’s copper pipe with a penny soldered on one end and a cork stopping the other. A wily employee would dip it into the cask to fill it with whisky, and then smuggle it home in his trouser leg.

  18. When the TV show Mad Men hit the air, it spurred a significant spike in orders for Old Fashions at bars worldwide. In some areas, the demand for Canadian Club almost doubled.

  19. Diageo, one of the world’s largest distillers, released a Game of Thrones collection of Whisky in 2019, in preparation for the final season of the hit TV show. They paired Scottish distilleries with the prominent family houses of the seven kingdoms. Each was matched up carefully, considering house traits alongside distillery history. Cardhu was paired with house Targaryen for its past of strong female ownership. 

  20. Ardbeg, a popular Islay distillery, sent vials of their whisky to the International Space Station in 2011 to see how the gravity in space would affect compounds of the whisky over time.

  21. The term ‘dram’ widely adopted in the Scottish vernacular, is believed to have evolved from an apothecary’s units of measurement.

  22. Keeping with the theme of whisky and medicine, during the prohibition era the only whisky legally imported by the US was scotch whisky, as it was often prescribed to ease many illnesses.

  23. And last but not least, Humphrey Bogart’s final words are rumoured to have been “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.” May we live and learn from Bogart’s mistakes.

Discover whisky for yourself on a tour with Rabbie’s here!

The Viceroy Riviera Maya

Imagine a place where the word ‘stress’ doesn’t exist, a place full of wonder and excitement, yet an unquestionable tranquility that can calm even the most active of minds. A place where the air soothes your body like a protective Mayan spirit guarding you from the hurdles of life. Well, such a place exists, so you need ‘imagine’ no more.

You arrive at the hidden village of Playa Xcalacoco just outside Playa del Carmen Mexico. Miles of beachfront hypnotize your eyes and that pleasant ocean scent of salt and seaweed floods your nostrils. You close your eyes and take a deep breath in as the calming sounds of lapping waves and chirping gulls block out all other chatter. The shoreline disappears into the surrounding enchanting Maya tropical forest just waiting for you to get lost and explore the natural world.

Your heart races at all the exciting possibilities of your stay at the romantic Caribbean hotel Riviera Maya, Viceroy. The luxurious, eco-conscious getaway is inspired by the encompassing environment with intimate and serene features that blend seamlessly into the dramatic and dense tropical foliage. Designed with the guests in mind, Riviera Maya welcomes you with a grand tour of the resort before leading you to your villa. The palapa-roofed villas are decorated with Maya aesthetics utilizing as many natural elements as possible: louvered-mahogany doors and windows, sisal rugs, and canopy beds with hand stitches Egyptian cotton linens. Each villa comes equipped with spacious indoor and outdoor shows so no sand gets dragged in.

When you’re not enjoying a beach day, a trip to Riviera Maya’s sunning spa, or embarking on a jungle expedition, make sure to take in the dining options and nightlife. Wrap your taste buds around the two dining experiences. Le Marea restaurant serves dinner with a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea’s blue expanse. Enjoy contemporary Mexican cuisine with Mediterranean influences alongside an array of daily specials and chef recommendations. The Coral Grill & Bar looks to serve guests all day with a focus on locally caught and responsibly fished seafood, local organic produce, and homemade wood-fired pizzas.

Your paradise awaits you full of adventure, relaxation, and delicious food.

My recent travels took me to this very hideaway resort deep within the Mayan territory of Playa del Carmen. Not your typical resort with hustle and bustle that is seen all too often in the Playa del Carmen and Cancun region. We’re talking about a cozy haven of luxury that flows through your mind and soul from the moment you enter the lobby to the very moment your head hits the pillow at night.

First and foremost the architectural design of this nirvana is simply incredible. From the candles that line the courtyards at dawn to the uniquely distinguished lighting and roofing thatched from palm leaves, your senses are elated, as indigenous charm becomes undeniable luxury. You are transported to a Mayan paradise, your very own isolated escape with a team that will gracefully look after your every need.

Embodying the true essence of Mexican culture throughout; the food and drink scene embraces local delicacies specific to this region. While the beach is spectacular and the focal point of any luxury beach resort getaway, what captured my attention even more so were the range of activities one can partake in.

From start to finish, every moment is special and each second that goes by is savored. This bespoke experience allows you to experience the Mayan culture in a completely unique way, from the picturesque sandy beach, to the gourmet food and unique drink scene – there is something for everyone.

Should you fancy learning more about the local culinary delights that grace your palate, immerse yourself in a cooking glass – from the simplest delicacies such as Mayan Guacamole to traditional main courses and desserts, the chefs arms are open as they take you under their wing and share their secrets.

If drinking is more your style, discover a new drinking sensation with the resident mixologist, Victor. From staple Mexican tequila cocktails to unknown Mezcal concoctions, this interactive journey through the world of the drink will bring forth a whole new level of drink exploration.

Viceroy is a complete gem, it’s a secluded paradise with so much charm and rustic tranquillity. Get ready to melt your stresses away and enter a world of complete peace and calmness.

Address: Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo Mexico
Telephone: +52 984 877 3000

Shangri-La Paris

No other city in the world does luxury, elegance, and history quite like Paris and when you stay at Paris’ historical Shangri-La Hotel, you will experience luxurious royal treatment in a place that used to be home to well…royalty. With 63 rooms and 37 suites, you’ll never be too far from all of the history, culture, and mesmerizing views of the City of Lights. Home to two Michelin star restaurants, Shangri-La knows how to put on the Ritz. Built inside of the palace of French Imperial Roland Bonaparte, the hotel was originally constructed in 1896.

Shangri-La Hotels acquired the palace in 2006 and took four years to renovate. They took the time to restore all of the palace highlights to their 19th century glory while at the same time incorporating modern updates, making the transition into a luxurious 21st century hotel complete. The renovation was painstakingly put together, going as far as to remove original wood floors slat-by-slat and then putting them back together. Shangri-La Paris is perfect for a romantic getaway, a conference, banquet, or a storybook wedding.

The restaurants L’Abeille, Shang Palace, and La Bauhinia offer French, Chinese, and a blend of French and South-East Asian cuisines respectively and they are prepared to fulfill any appetite. Sitting across the Seine in front of the Eiffel Tower, nestled near the Champs-Elysees, avenue Montaigne, and world renowned museums, Shangri-La Paris is the ideal place to stay for locals and tourists alike.

If you are lucky enough to stay in the La Suite Gustave Eiffel, sitting on the sixth floor, be sure to take plenty of selfies on the balcony. Your friends will be green with envy when they see your views of the Eiffel Tower. Or if rooftop terraces are more your style, stay on the fifth floor in La Suite Chaillot, boasting 1650 square feet of amazing views and decadent lounge areas for up to 6 guests. Another suite, La Suite Shangri-La, was built with the breathtaking views in mind. Constructed with a 46-foot-long panoramic window, this suite has photo-ops galore, looking over Napoleon’s Tomb, Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and the Eiffel Tower.

The crème de la crème is without a doubt L’Appartement Prince Bonaparte, which is the largest suite in the hotel and used to be the private apartment of Prince Roland Bonaparte. In this suite, the prime example of mixing 19th and 21st century style is in the bathroom, with marble bathrooms giving way to heated floors. The suite can also connect to two other rooms for a total of 3,770 square feet and three total bedrooms. But if your luck fails and you can’t stay in one of these premiere rooms, not a problem, as 40 percent of the rooms and 60 percent of the suites in the hotel look out directly over Paris’ most well-known monument. That’s right, almost every room offers a stunning and unique view of la tour Eiffel. No matter where you stay in Shangri-La Paris, pack a crown, and be prepared to live like royalty.

Address: 10, avenue d'Iéna, Paris, 75116, France
Telephone: (+33 ) 1 5367 1998

The Three Drinkers team up with Rabbie’s to offer whisky tours around Scotland

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The team behind Amazon whisky travelogue show ‘The Three Drinkers do Scotch Whisky’ have teamed up with the popular tour company Rabbie’s to offer whisky tours around Scotland.

“‘The idea behind the series was to inspire people to travel to Scotland and to taste whisky, perhaps even for the first time,’ says Helena Nicklin, one of the show’s presenters. ‘With the programme now in 167 countries and territories worldwide, it makes perfect sense to team up with Rabbie’s - the experts in their field for whisky tours - to offer a natural next step for our viewers.”

The partnership joins the dots for viewers inspired by the show, which is now streaming live on Amazon Prime, to easily book a wide range of whisky and tourism experiences from 1 to 8 days around Scotland from London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow.

"From etiquette to the provenance of the ingredients, we love to help travellers discover Britain and Ireland's drinking culture,” says David Scott from Rabbie’s. “When we saw Three Drinkers, we knew this was a great opportunity to form a partnership. Their show introduces people to some of our country's finest products, and we help customers enjoy these flavours at their source without having to worry about the drive home!"

A competition to celebrate the partnership

Rabbie’s and The Three Drinkers are celebrating the partnership by giving away a series of luxury, 8-day whisky tours around Scotland in competitions for both Europe and the USA. Each tour will take in Speyside, Islay and Edinburgh, giving a true flavour of the country.

The first competition (Europe) goes live on Wednesday 15th May and runs for six weeks.

Prospective winners need to check The Three Drinkers or Rabbie’s social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) for details of how to enter. Competition dates 15th May - 21st June 2019.

See the tours on offer at https://www.thethreedrinkers.com/scotland-whisky-tours

Ellenborough Park, Cotswolds

The extravagant castle-esque structure that is Ellenborough Park will transport you into a world of luxury and comfort. This Cotswold manor house dates back to the 15th century gaining its name from the iconic Cotswold stone from which it’s created. The real beauty behind the hotel comes from Lady Ellenborough, Jane Digby, herself. For it was her unique style and personality that inspired the individuality of the hotel back in the 19th century. She was a dazzling character who took the English society by storm with her remarkable beauty and scandalous behavior. As a result, Ellenborough Park gained its reputation for country retreats, romantic breaks, a striking wedding venue, and perfectly conducted conferences.

Ellenborough Park has stood tall with some contemporary restorations made along the way. Now, the hotel has a five-star appeal to all who wish to stay including brilliant restaurants, a dual-level spa, and exemplary service by a friendly group of staff. The accommodations tastefully reflect the history and image of Ellenborough Park. Each room and suite is equipped with Hypnos beds, marble finished bathrooms with under floor heating, and the ever-fashionable fluffy gowns and slippers. Rooms are available in four separate quarters: Main House, The Mews, Ellenborough Gate, and Woodland Court (which has suites named after famous racehorses).

The main restaurant offers contemporary selection of British inspired cuisine with European twists, accompanied by a stunning wine selection. No wine selection is complete without a stellar team, and both the staff and sommelier do justice to the quality that is housed within these beautiful walls. With the perfect size portions to whet the appetite, it’s the marvelous antique cheese trolley that adds the final touch do this gourmet experience.

Ellenborough Park is also surrounded by luscious countryside, sitting in the heart of the Cotwolds. Take a stroll through the hills after visiting the bespoke ‘Boot Room’, to fit yourself with the most comfortable boots and parker jackets you’ve come across. Upon completion of your hike, soothe your body in the warm sunshine as you sip on local ales and watch the wildlife flurry on by – tranquility to your ears as the sunset begins to set the sky on fire.

Whether for travel, events, or conferences, Ellenborough Park can accommodate all like royalty – a bespoke experience for those who like to add a little calmness to their lives.

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Southam Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL52 3NJ | 01242 807655

By Aidy Smith

Hotel Esencia, Cancún

It started with a blank canvas, an empty white page, a bare wall. Then came lines, words, walls and windows as the masters try to create a work of art – a piece, a story, a hotel that makes a statement.

When art collector and entrepreneur Kevin Wendle purchased the Hotel Esencia in 2014 he added eleven new accommodations and edited the design of the twenty-nine existing bedrooms and suites back to a nearly blank canvas. The surfaces shine a pure white that mirrors the way the hot sun overexposes the famed sand beaches of the Xpu Ha region of Mexico. The deep brown wood edges the doors and walls like the frame of a finished work. Wooden accent pieces are arranged around the room in a manner both aesthetic and functional. Spots of color create artistic splatters in the form of flower arrangements, unique local art pieces and abstract designs on pillows and duvets.

Fifty minutes south of the tourist section of Cancún, opposite the island of Cozumel, the Hotel Esencia sits on the eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula as the pinnacle of unpretentious refinement and luxury. From the private white sand beaches to the open yoga studio to its varied restaurants and bars, the hotel’s offerings reflect the cool yet classy vibe of the décor. Hotel Esencia’s Mistura restaurant serves up an authentic Mexican gastronomic experience through its use of seafood dishes and specialties from the grill whereas BeefBar Esencia offers a selection of exceptional meat cuts from Australian Black Onyx and Wx Wagyu beef, and Certified Japanese Kobe beef.

The lush green jungle and crystal blue Caribbean create the perfect backdrop for the newly expanded Hotel Esencia. The doors of the central hotel open to the garden paths that meander along the coast and through the trees, connecting the jungle and beach rooms and suites to the spa, gym, restaurants and bars. The hotel works in conjunction with nature from the minimally invasive construction techniques of the new structures to the locally sourced food featured on the many food and drink menus.

Hotel Esencia offers a variety of accommodations from single rooms to three bedroom villas either nestled under the canopy of trees or along the white sand beach. Guests are provided even more options when it comes to refreshments and activities. From fine dining at Mistura to the juice bar that transforms into a cocktail lounge as the sun makes its way access the sky, Hotel Esencia strives to provide traditional favorites with a global flare and offers an array of dishes to please a variety of appetites and provide guests the energy they need to enjoy the hotel’s many amusements. Within twenty minutes of the hotel are the Robert Trent Jones 27-hole golf course and the Mayan ruins of Tulum, or guests can experience the local wildlife by snorkeling the reef just outside the hotel or by hitting the swanky nightclubs on the Riviera.

Hotel Esencia’s crowning achievement is that it presents its guests with not only a blank canvas but also the tools and freedom to shape the holiday of their dreams.

Address: Carretera Cancún – Tulum km 265, Xpu-Ha, Quintana Roo 77750 Mexico
Telephone: + 52 984 873 4830

Les Sources De Caudalie, Bordeaux.

Wine is much more than a drink; it’s an experience. For some, it’s a way of life and for many whose passion involves this wondrous tipple, there’s nothing quite like standing amongst the vines that grow the very grapes for the wines they like to drink. Aidy Smith went to explore a piece of heaven in Bordeaux: Les Sources de Caudelie

My recent travels took me to a wine oasis – not just a winery, but so much more; a bespoke paradise that encapsulates every essence and meaning of the word ‘vine’. You see, when you take luxury gastronomy, phenomenal service and pair it with the world’s original vinotherapy spa that sits amongst vineyards sites dating back to 1365, you begin to realise than an incredible treat is on the horizon.

Les Sources de Caudalie is a true vino gem. Not only is it home to one of Bordeaux’s most famed two-Michelin starred restaurants, it is the site of the world’s first vinotherapy spa, the pioneering health clinic that offers a wide array of pampering pleasures based around one key component: the grape.

The whole vibe from the minute your feet touch the ground is one of comfort, indulgence and calm. While knowingly in the centre of one of the world’s most iconic wine regions, there is no stuffiness and no snobbery, just a tranquil luxury that begins to loosen your mind, body and soul within moments of arrival.

It’s morning, the sun has just risen and as you make your way to your modern yet rustically designed cabin for the next couple of days, you can’t help but take in the beautiful haze that hovers above the small pond in the morning fog. Swans elegantly wake as you wander past, stretching their wings as they greet and welcome you to their nirvana. Welcome to vino paradise.

Many getaways and escapes in wine countries can claim to be a ‘true wine experience’, but when it comes to Les Sources de Caudalie, not only has every minor detail been met, it has been exceeded. The rooms boast contemporary and modern design, complimented by rustic and historic touches, taking inspiration from the old French barns that once graced these lands. Melt into the comfiest of chairs while listening to that favourite stress-relieving playlist on the speaker system; it really is the perfect combination.

It’s no secret that the French are known for their food and Les Sources de Caudalie couldn’t be more of an emblem to that statement. Three restaurants sit amidst the vines each with their own unique and distinctive charm. The winery itself has been handed down to various owners throughout the generations, but the vines themselves sit upon sites that have been home to the grape since 1365.

With a two Michelin star restaurant and multiple wine bars, it’s the vinotherapy spa that acts as the crown jewel. Sitting between the prestigious vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Grand Cru Classé de Graves, the stunning rustic wooden and stone building will take you to another world entirely.

Named as the original pioneer of Vinotherapy, Les Sources de Caudalie Spa opened its doors in 1999. Since that date it has maintained its reputation as the original and most luxurious vinotherapy location on the planet. The spa treatments utilise locally sourced vines and grapes alongside natural spring water taken from a 540m-deep well directly below the property, riche with antioxidants and minerals. Guests can bathe in red-wine baths, spoil themselves with crushed grape scrubs or experience the ‘winemakers massage’; a special ritual that utilises a winemaking rake to massage energy paths into the spine.

In sum, Les Sources de Caudalie is a true indulgent paradise, for those who want to unwind and escape the hustle of bustle of their daily lives while being immersed in the world of the vine.

Address: Smith Road Haut Lafitte, 33650, Bordeaux-Martillac 
+33 (0) 5 57 83 83 83

Tasting Port in the Douro


Port. Or Port wine, as the Portuguese call it. A drink that is so quintessentially British, some people even presume it comes from the UK.  Colin Hampden-White visits the Douro to discover some of the Port region’s finest offerings.

Some will say that when visiting the Douro, Taylor’s is a must; others that the place not to be missed is Quinta do Noval.  There is a third: Quinta da Romaneira owned by Christian Seely of Noval fame, but has only been under his tenure for ten years. Recently, I spent some time in the Douro and visited the three port houses, uniquely different in their history and outlook.

 Quinta da Romaneira is not far from Noval; in fact Christian could see the estate as he worked at Noval and had in mind one day to acquire the estate. Ten years ago he managed this.  The estate boasts an exclusive hotel where the likes of Brangelina have stayed.  This idyll is also now Christian’s home and the estate thrives under his command.

 Quinta da Romaneira stretches for about two miles along the river Douro with 400 hectares of land, of which 300 hectares are grade A vineyards. Much of the land is now planted, but there is still ample space for expansion. As well as the production of traditional port, fabulous red wines have also been created over the last ten years, alongside a crisp white and a wonderfully balance, aromatic and delicate rosé.

 Back in Porto, I was welcomed through the doors of Villa de Gaia on the opposite bank of the river from Porto, for a sojourn at the Yeatman Hotel. It’s a recently-built hotel that feels as if the city had specially reserved just the right space for it, overlooking the river with a magnificent view of the Unesco protected old town of Porto.

 The hotel makes a fantastic base for visiting the Douro offering the only Michelin star restaurant in Porto, a luxurious spa, conference facilities and space to land your helicopter.  Try the revolving bed in the Bacchus suite so you can switch between TV and magnificent view.  between TV and magnificent view. This hotel is all about wine; each bedroom is sponsored and themed by a winery or port house and corridors educate guests about cork production and the history of wine in the Douro. The cellars (which can be visited) have an extensive list of Portuguese wines alongside other old and new world wines.

 An old-fashioned train ride is the best way to experience the spectacular views of the Douro, following the river, winding up the valley, a new view around every corner. Traditional white villages nestle among the vines or are poised on the shore edge as if about to take a dip.

 Passing through tiny stations with their colourful tiles Quinta Vargellas had its own station where I was greeted by Alistair and Gillyane Robertson, 4th generation of the Taylor’s family, we walked up the cobbled roads to the Quinta. Quinta Vargellas is a country home for the Robertsons who return at harvest, hosting lucky guests and immersing them in the world of port. A folly, built for Alistair and Jilly’s 40th wedding anniversary, overlooks all the differing types of planting style of vines - traditional walled terraces, mound terraces and linear arrangements. These patterns in the hillside start to give the idea of how much love and care is put into the land to create the ports. Watching the sun go down over the vines with a glass of Chip Dry Taylor’s white port mixed with tonic and a little mint was the perfect journey’s end.

Port comes in many differing styles; Ruby is a blend of vintages,  LBV (late bottled vintage) is kept in barrel longer than vintage port before bottling to create a port which can be drunk immediately.  Tawnies are aged even longer in barrel and released after 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. The single vintage expression of a Tawny is known as a Colheita and can be much older than the aged expressions. Finally there is vintage port; this can be a blend of various Quintas (or farms) giving an overall house expression such as Taylor’s Vintage Port, or can be released as single Quinta vintage ports, such as Quinta Vergellas for Taylor’s, or Quinta do Noval, a single estate owned by AXA Milliseme.

Supper on the terrace, to the rhythm of the cicadas, was all about port.  From vibrant and refreshing gaspatcho soup, subtly enhanced by a dash of white port, to delicate fruit pudding with 20 year-old Tawny; cheese was accompanied by a rare 1991 Quinta Vargellas vintage port.

 As though attending a late-night party, we joined harvest workers in the lagard, reminiscent of a small, shallow swimming pool, to tread the grapes.  Purple-stained legs danced to tunes from an organ. To round the night off, we sat by the pool with 20 year-old Tawnies from both Taylors and Fonseca to appreciate the differing house styles.

The Nogueira winery is Taylor’s main winery in the Douro and is just 45 minutes’ drive from any of the quintas from which they receive grapes to ensure perfect conditions for vinification.  It’s next to Quinta da Roêda of Croft, another Taylor’s brand, acquired in 2001. Much work has been accomplished in the vineyards since Taylor’s ownership; close inspection of the vines at Quinta da Roêda showed how the differing grape varieties need discrete positioning and spacing.  This creates a lattice of green across the hills which is like no other wine region.

 Croft has improved a great deal.  David Guimaraens, the great-great-great grandson of the founder of Fonseca, Manuel Pedro, has been the head winemaker since 1994.  An inveterate story-teller; he oversees the winemaking and blending for all four Taylor Fladgate Port houses.  He’s most proud of making the Croft 2003 as the conditions were difficult to control and the year very hot, yet he managed to produce a wonderful wine.

A most memorable of tasting at Taylor’s office included not only the complete range of ports from three of the houses owned by Taylors, but also some very old colheitas from the newly acquired Kohn port house. Incredibly rich and complex, these dated back to 1863 and showed how good port of that age can be. The tasting concluded with the magnificent and other-worldly Taylor’s Scion Tawny from 1855.  It has everything from zesty orange peel to deep dark bitter chocolate and a massive range of dried fruits including prunes, figs and dates.  This is not just an interesting old wine, but a hedonist’s dream, creamy in texture, balanced beautifully with the acidity, leaving the palate clean and eager for more.

Porto is littered with port lodges; each port house has a lodge where the wine is stored in huge vats before shipping and Taylor’s is one of the most impressive with vats varying in size from a few hundred litres to 100,000 litres. Here we had lunch with the present CEO Adrian Bridge whose wife, Natasha, is the 5th generation of the family.

The second half of my trip took a very different turn. From the huge warehouses of Taylors to a single quinta estate of Quinta do Noval. Sitting amongst the vines a few miles outside Pinhoa in the heart of the Douro, the quinta nestles on an outcrop overlooking the Pinhoa and Douro rivers.

Quinta do Noval is owned by AXA millesimes, an offshoot of the French insurance company, which also owns Pichon-Baron in Bordeaux. The quinta has been sympathetically restored and modernised.  It’s tasting room overlooks vats of the new wine but the buildings retain a romantic feel: picturesque tiles line the dining room walls, narrow passageways with stained glass between the buildings lead to the vines, it all feels like a bygone era.

Only 200 - 300 cases a year are produced of legendary vintage Noval National, created from non-grafted pre-pheloxora vines grown on a tiny 2 hectare plot next to the quinta. Chatting with Christian Seeley, MD of of Axa Millesimes, at a tasting in London of Nacional vintages dating back to 1963 confirmed this amazing estate on the itinerary.  The tiny Nacional plot even has its own pigs to provide fertiliser, and when individual vines eventually die, the same variety vines are planted back into the ground to keep the plot free of grafted vines. The rows are tended by a mule and his human companion; mechanisation can not penetrate here.

Quinta do Noval has a Ruby port which has been re-branded as Noval Black, aimed at introducing port to a younger market.  They also produce excellent 10 – 40 year old tawny ports, a 2000 Colheita, LBV 2007 and the new vintage port of 2011, the final port showing again how good the vintage ports of 2011 are. The 2011 vintage is so good that individual house styles are easily distinguishable, that of Quinta do Noval being lush, juicy and red fruit style in its youth.

For dinner the quinta’s table wines were served with the cook’s speciality of goat, before a delicious 1976 Colheita and finally a 1994 Noval National, this last wine has such purity and density of fruit, balance and elegant you’ll never want the bottle to end.

The next day I spent in the vineyards with my host Catia, learning about the viticulture of the estate and meeting some of the harvest workers. There was rain forecast and the best of the grapes where hurriedly being harvested before this crop damaging event took place.

In the afternoon a visit to the warehouse showed the wines ageing in old wood, which is simply meant as a vessel for the wine as it ages. As we wound through the barrels and vats we met José Gouveia who at 84 years old was still mending vats having worked on the estate for well over sixty years. Far from tired, he was engrossed in his work, his face animated as he kept the precious liquid safe in their surroundings. 

During the evening, the weather closed in and by the morning the rain was coming down hard. Even in these adverse conditions the hills of the Douro have a mystical feel as hillsides disappear behind clouds, reappearing looking like great whales breaking the surface. The sound of the rain drumming on the vine leaves has the same enchantment as sitting under a tropical forest canopy in a storm. I could have stayed there quite happily, letting time do its stuff, waiting for the next great vintage to emerge.