Promptly at noon, JDAW climbed out of the taxi and looked up at the gates of the last appointment of his trip. The tall and imposing gates had a crest in their centre, but it was difficult to make out any details from the weathered stone. He looked down from the gate and saw a smiling gentleman with a neat, white beard walking down the long drive. The gentleman gave a wave of greeting and JDAW smiled in return and walked towards him.
They met halfway and the gentleman introduced himself as José Alberto Allen, head of the family of Villar d'Allen, owners of Quinta do Noval during most of the 19th century. The house
in which the Allen family live is a national monument and is open to the public by appointment. It is an astonishing time capsule, has changed very little since around the turn of the 20th century and is filled with the history of the Allen family, their part in the history of Portugal and the history of Port Wine. In addition, the gardens are regarded as being of national importance and support a nursery business based on plants produced from the garden.
But it was the history of the family and their connection with Quinta do Noval that had interested JDAW. During his visit, JDAW learnt much of the history of John Allen and his entry into the port firm of Miller, Dixon & Co - owners of the Dixon Double Diamond brand made famous by Charles Dickens, and later through the Rebello Valente Allen partnership. The history of the wines of Villar d'Allen has its own, dedicated website here
. JDAW learnt much of the fascinating history of the family and listened while sipping on a glass of Villar d'Allen's first new port in nearly 100 years - the Villar d'Allen 20 year old tawny.
JDAW recounts that the story behind the making of the 20 year old tawny was fascinating. The family made the decision to re-enter the port market and bring their name back to the world of wine. After much debate, it was decided to create a 20 year old tawny. For many months, the family worked with samples of various aged ports looking to create the perfect blend - a blend which had all the flavour profile of the old wines in the family cellar from the family's first time in the business - in the 1800's! Many mixes and blends from the samples were tried, but none was quite right. There was some complexity and mystery missing - the challenge was trying to work out what needed to be added to create that special something; that special aspect of the wine which would make it stand out from the other 20 year old tawnies on the market. Suddenly inspiration struck, a bottle of Quinta do Noval 1827 was opened and a tiny splash added to the blend - PERFECTION!! That was the flavour profile that was matched in the final blend.
As is probably well known, JDAW is a committed drinker of vintage port. Tawny port he considers to be "brown, sticky stuff". But JDAW was so impressed by this particular 20 year old port and its complexity and similarity to very old vintage port, that he decided to order a half case to drink as his house tawny. (I have also tasted this tawny and it is truly delicious.)
JDAW has recommended to me that Villar d'Allen is an interesting place to visit (but by appointment and a modest fee is payable).
Five hours later, JDAW was back at the Yeatman. He was being collected and taken for dinner by Miguel Roquette as his last meal before returning to the UK on Saturday morning. Dinner was in a restaurant in Foz and was delicious. It was washed down with superb wines from Crasto's
portfolio and a handful of ports - Sandeman 1966, Taylor 1963 and Dalva 1941 colheita plus a couple of remnants from earlier days.
And then it was all over. Another night of sleep, breakfast and the flight back to Gatwick. Back to work and family life - Portugal would become a distant memory unless there was a way for JDAW to make sure he could always have somewhere to go to remember all his adventures, and the people he met...
...of course, I was only too happy to help him out.