Chase away the summer heat with a Porto Tonic cocktail. It's gin and tonic's sassy Mediterranean cousin, light and fresh and full of flavour. (Skip to recipe.)
I'm slogging away in the garden, trying to be master of the weeds (but I think I'm their slave, instead), and thinking back to our wonderful Mediterranean holiday in June. I've already shared our journey through Spain, but now I want to show you our little foray into Portugal. We only had a week in that beautiful country, but what a week it was!
We crossed the border from Spain into the little town of Alcoutim. Raymond wanted to get onto the zipline that goes across the river from Spain into Portugal, crossing a country border and a time zone, but it ended up being a bust. It was a hot and sleepy day. The little booth at the river was open but nobody ever showed up. We had a lovely lunch there anyway.
Our first night was spent in the beautiful ancient walled city of Evora. It's a small town with a big history, dating back to Roman times. It feels sleepy and ancient, a place where time has stood still. The town draws you in and beckons you to stay a little longer.
And then there's Porto! We loved this city with its beautiful tiled buildings, steep hills, and gritty port-city vibe - colourful, feisty, and a little edgy. The riverfront is a bustling place where you can sit in cafés and sip your sangria while you watch the comings and goings of people and boats, imagining life decades ago when sailors swaggered the docks of this busy port.
Barrels of port wine used to be brought down the river from the Douro Valley wineries in Rabelo boats, to age in the port wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto, before being shipped abroad.
Porto is known for its colourful tiled buildings in the old town.
Of course, we had to try the famous Porto sandwich known as 'the Francesinha' (little French girl), aka the 'heart-attack sandwich'. There are many variations, but this one had two slices of bread sandwiching an astonishing stack of layers: the local spicy red sausage, slices of ham, cheese, a pork cutlet, a beef steak, and a fried egg. The whole thing is draped in cheese slices, topped with an egg yolk, then drenched in a hot, spicy tomato sauce and served with fries!
After leaving Porto, we traveled into the interior of Portugal to spend three nights in the famous wine-growing region, the Douro Valley.
It's a spectacular hidden jewel of terraced hills and stunning emerald vistas corduroyed with vineyards and olive groves in every direction. We stayed at a lovely quinta (a Portuguese wine estate), eating their gourmet meals, walking the estate's orchards and vineyards, and buzzing our little white car along the hairpin winding roads to explore the villages and valleys framing the Douro River - an unforgettable part of our adventure.
Now, on to the Porto Tónico
While staying at the Quinta da Barroca in the Douro Valley, I had my first Porto Tónico. I asked the bartender, Patrick, (he's Portuguese, but said his mother named him that because she liked the name) to make me a local drink that would be good for a hot evening. I watched him stir together this delicious concoction.
Patrick took great pride in his craft, rubbing the rim of the glass with a bruised lemon peel, pouring the tonic carefully over the back of a spoon to preserve its bubbles, and 'slapping' the mint leaves gently against the side of the glass to release their volatile oils before adding them to the drink. I do believe all those touches (plus the fact that I was enjoying this drink in a beautiful stone building in a beautiful wine valley in a beautiful foreign country) made the Porto Tónico especially memorable.
I must admit I looked forward to one of these refreshing cocktails every evening to sip on after a grueling day of sightseeing, wine tasting, and eating amazing food in this stunning region of Portugal.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: White port is not always easy to find outside of Portugal, unless you have access to a specialty liquor store. Patrick says you can make a Porto Tónico with ruby port, too, and it is very tasty. Just use a strip of orange peel instead of lemon peel. (I tried it and I agree: delicious.)
You can slap the mint leaves as Patrick does, or just twist them together to bruise them a bit (the lazy way, like I do).
Patrick mixed the Porto Tonic in a 1 to 5 ratio of port to tonic water. This made a very light, refreshing drink, perfect for a hot day. In my research for this cocktail I found a wide range of port to tonic ratios being used; a 1:2 ratio is quite popular, making for a much stronger drink. Some recipes use a 1:4 ratio.
This just goes to show that you can mix the drink to your taste. As long as you have some port, more tonic, and lots of ice, it's a Porto Tónico. And don't forget the lemon or orange peel and a couple mint leaves.
Porto Tónico from the Douro Valley in Portugal
- ice cubes
- 50 ml (¼ cup) white port [or substitute ruby port]
- 200-250 ml (1-1¼ cups) tonic water, to taste
- a strip of lemon peel [use orange peel if using ruby port]
- 2 mint leaves
*This recipe is for a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio of port to tonic water (1 part port to 4 or 5 parts tonic), making for a light refreshing drink. You can make it with a ratio of 1:2 for a stronger drink, or to your taste.
Fill a large glass about ¾ full with ice cubes and add the port wine. Pour the tonic carefully into the glass over the back of a teaspoon, to keep it from losing its bubbles and carbonation. Twist the lemon peel strip to release some of the oils from the peel, then rub the peel around the rim of the glass to add a lemon flavour when drinking. Push the peel down into the ice. Twist the two mint leaves together to release some of the mint flavour. Push the leaves down into the drink.
Stir the drink gently with a spoon to mix everything. Enjoy.
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