On the first night, we remarked on the irony that we drank absolutely no wine whatsoever. After a few Super Bocks down by the water we gorged ourselves with roasted chicken, and then hit the ginjinha bars - little holes in the wall selling little plastic cupfuls of brandy, drank on the streets. The bottles were packed full of cherries and we got a couple of cherries in our cups at one or two places. The brandy ranged from tasting like cough syrup at worst, to a lovely fruity liquer at best. The soaked cherries were potent. We wobbled back to our hostel.
Nursing a slightly fuggy head the next day, we made our way to the rather plush Grand VIP Lisboa, where the conference was being held, and where we were to stay for the rest of our trip. On the first evening, we faced two formal tastings; one with Vinoble and the next with the Douro Boys. We were to taste a mammoth 26 wines. I was nervous. Tweets flew around warning us to spit the wine, or we'd never make it through. I've never spat wine out.
We entered the room and were faced with tables and tables of Riedel glasses set up in a crescent shape around each seat. A friend remarked that there must be at least £10,000's worth of glasses in the room. It was a nightmarish situation; there isn't usually an evening that goes by that I don't knock a wine glass. These would go down like very expensive dominoes.
We kicked off with a Vinoble's tasting of dessert wines. To start, an almond flavoured, caramelised Gran Barquero Amontillado was surprisingly dry for a sweet wine. Lustau Solera Reserva Amontillado Escuadrilla followed swiftly. Aged in American oak casks, it smelled a bit vegetal and salty. The nutty flavour wasn't immediate and was more of an aftertaste. I found it tasted better on the second sip.
One of my favourites of the evening was Apostol Palo Cortado VORS. It had a rich caramel flavour, and smelled nutty and of toast and buttery. It had a sharp finish that livened you up some, like a smack round the face. I was enjoying this tasting. Quevedo Colheita 1994 was a dark rich red colour, and was dark soft fruits on the nose. It was very sweet, coating the mouth with syrup.
The Moscatel Roxo 1999, above, was another favourite of mine. It was a beautiful light amber colour, and having been aged for 8 years in old oak barrels previously used for whiskey, I expected it to have a more oaky flavour. Instead, it was flowers, herbs and grass. It had just a hint of sweetness and had a light, tea-flavoured finish.
The Justino Henriques Colheita Fine Rich 1995, saw a return to nuttiness. It was a deep, dark brown and quite dry. A rather stark contrast to the wine we'd tried previously. The penultimate wine, Sandeman Vintage 2007 was the only in the tasting that I disliked. It was peppery, spicy and of cloves, with an earthy hint of soil. I'd heard murmurings that it was too young.
The final wine we tried was a Pedro Ximénes Gran Orden. It was the colour of iodine, and stained a yellowish tinge to the glass. It smelled of molasses, figs, and reminded me of Christmas. It tasted intensely of toasted raisins, and I didn't get a lot past that.
After this, we breaked for a glass of beer, apparently a good palate cleanser. I was cheered by my first foray into a formal tasting; no glasses were broken by my hand, and as I looked back at my notes they sounded coherent. I hope you think so too.