Scenic Azure pairs perfectly with Douro Valley

Focus on Culinary Travel

Scenic Azure pairs perfectly with Douro Valley

By Richard Varr
September 27, 2021

Executive chef Pedro Ribeiro and pastry chef Rafael Gomes during a pastry cooking demonstration on the Scenic Azure. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Executive chef Pedro Ribeiro and pastry chef Rafael Gomes during a pastry cooking demonstration on the Scenic Azure. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Executive chef Pedro Ribeiro and pastry chef Rafael Gomes during a pastry cooking demonstration on the Scenic Azure. (Photo by Richard Varr)

With crisscrossing vineyards blanketing the Douro River Valley’s hills and mountainsides, it seemed there would be no limit to the world-class Portuguese wines to pair with the menus offered on the Scenic Azure. 

And indeed, pairing the right Portuguese wine with every dish was something the ship’s culinary staff did quite well. 

I was hosted by Scenic on an 11-day Unforgettable Douro cruise in August on the 96-passenger Azure, which was purpose-built for Douro sailings and debuted in 2016. 

The staff carefully selected from the region’s abundant wine choices, matching them perfectly with lunch and dinner entrees. (All wine is included on Scenic.) 

The selections really shine at the Table D’Or, the six-course dining experience available to top deck and junior suite cabins, and at Portobellos, where the chef cooks a five-course tasting menu in front of guests and every passenger can reserve a place at least once during each sailing.

A different wine is served with each course. We tasted  the region’s roses, sparkling or reserve wines, dry whites and fruity ports.

The staff not only served but educated us about what we were drinking. At Table d’Or, senior butler Filipe Silva explained why a full-bodied red from extremely ripened grapes complemented the flank steak with Madeira wine sauce: “The red wine is soft in tannins and with a touch of the fruity character to balance well with the flavor of the steak.”

Portuguese specialties dominated the menu at Portobellos, which included octopus salad; mussels with pickle garnish; and shrimp and red onion-spiked tuna toast for appetizers. Desserts included rich custard with cinnamon and lemon. 

Appetizers including tuna toast, olives and mussels served during the five-course tasting menu at the ship’s Portobellos. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Appetizers including tuna toast, olives and mussels served during the five-course tasting menu at the ship’s Portobellos. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Appetizers including tuna toast, olives and mussels served during the five-course tasting menu at the ship’s Portobellos. (Photo by Richard Varr)

“I like to make it simple and beautiful,” said executive chef Pedro Ribeiro. 

Local cuisine is featured throughout the sailing. When hunger calls during the day, the Azure’s River Cafe serves light meals and snacks and offers some Portuguese favorites like white beans with bacon and an egg-rich rice pudding. Among the special events, which include a sun deck barbecue and a tart-cooking presentation, is a wine and spicy sausage and Portuguese cheese pairing.

The Azure also offers continental cuisine options. Daily entrees served in the Crystal Dining Room include specialty dishes like mustard-crusted pork tenderloin and duck leg confit with Grand Marnier sauce as well as standards to please even the least adventuresome diners, such as chicken breast or sirloin steak.

Gorging on gastronomic history

Scenic, which includes all shore excursions, offered a variety of tours into the Douro wine region that brought to life some of Portugal’s culinary traditions. 

In the plateau-top village of Provesende, we tasted traditional bola de carne (a meat bread stuffed with chunks of pork and chicken) paired with a dry white port from the Morgadio da Calcada estate. At riverside Pinhao, where the train station’s blue azulejo tiles depict a traditional grape harvest and creaky rabelo boats moving wine barrels downstream, we stopped in at Croft’s flagship Quinta da Roeda vineyard and sampled Croft Pink, a refreshing rose port, and fruity, full-bodied Porto Reserva. 

Along the way to the medieval town of Guimaraes, purported birthplace of Portugal’s first king, I saw small stalks of Galician cabbage plants used in the country’s popular caldo verde, a hearty potato soup accented with spicy Portuguese chorizo. I also tasted a powdered sweet tart made with egg yolks, spaghetti squash and crushed almonds. Key to the tart are the egg yolks, which had once been considered worthy only as animal feed; the egg whites, however, were valued by nuns to starch their long robes. 

Almond cooking demonstration during a Scenic shore excursion in the Douro Valley region. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Almond cooking demonstration during a Scenic shore excursion in the Douro Valley region. (Photo by Richard Varr)

Almond cooking demonstration during a Scenic shore excursion in the Douro Valley region. (Photo by Richard Varr)

But eventually, “the nuns decided to combine sugar and yolks, and that’s how the pastries were born in our country,” said Scenic tour guide Ines Peixoto. In Portugal, Scenic’s own onboard guides lead almost all tours.

When visiting Guimaraes’ 15th-century Palace of the Dukes, we walked through an expansive banquet hall with a sprawling tapestry and colossal table where Peixoto told us medieval diners had no forks and instead gorged themselves using their fingers.

Hearing that, I was even more happy to return to the Azure’s fine dining, where each server makes sure cutlery is perfectly placed with every course. 

Bom apetite!

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