On the Road Again…

After a year and a half of living in Portugal, we are finally buying a place in Porto. Talk about an ordeal! Buying real estate is a big deal under any circumstances. But doing it in a foreign country and during the biggest pandemic since 1918 adds a whole new level of stress to the process. And I should know, I sold and taught real estate for 20 plus years in the states!

I have owned many properties, but never have I had such a hard time finding the right one. We must have seen 15 or more apartments before we found the right one. Of course, our parameters made it a challenge. We needed more space than our bank account could really afford. Oh, and wanting to be centrally located and preferably in Porto added to the challenge.

We have been in Vila Nova de Gaia for the past 1.5 years, and it is nice enough, but it is as expensive as Porto and a lot more rustica, shall we say. We are talking farm animals here. And excessively barking dogs everywhere. I guess if you don´t mind roosters, chickens, and geese, incessant dog barking shouldn´t bother you. Right.
When people think of cities in Europe, they generally think of old buildings. And there are certainly plenty of those. However, new construction is booming in Portugal. So, our pad is all new inside, completely remodeled, and the outside of the building is being resurfaced as well.
It quite a bit smaller than we are used to, but being in the city is worth it. And we lucked out and got a great deal on it. So, it´s good bye Gaia and hello Porto!

We just have to survive a week or so in an Airbnb that is a fourth-floor walk-up since our psychotic land-lady won´t give us two more days, and the movers couldn´t accommodate us on the day we should be moving out. Bugger. No problem. At least, we will be in Porto away from the constantly barking dogs! With fresh territory to explore, it will be nice to be back in the city.
So, onward and upward, Porto, here we come!

Tomar: Portuguese verb meaning to take or to have. (Also, Thomar in English.) And, a city in central Portugal!

Tomar is a magical city in central Portugal. It is about an hour north of Lisbon, in the very center of the country, and has one of the most amazing castles to be seen anywhere. We are thankful to our friends Ken and Rose who live there. Without them, we might not have had a reason to go there!

The Nabão River, Tomar.

The lovely river Nabão runs through the city. It creates the perfect backdrop for a great meal at any of the restaurants situated within view of it. Tomar is a knights templar city, having been a headquarters for them in the middle ages. It is known for its medieval knight’s templar fest, which takes place every July. (Not this year though 2020 being the year that wasn’t!)

Convento de Cristo, Tomar

There are many great sites to see in and around Tomar, but the main attraction is the Convent of Christ. This former convent castle almost has to be seen to be believed. It is the size of a small city. In the 1500s a massive aqueduct was built to furnish it with water. Both edifices are impressive. The castle is so amazing that we drained our phone’s batteries taking pictures during our visit!

Tomar is part of the Tejo wine region in Portugal. Formerly known as the Ribatejo region, it is known mostly for good value and bulk wines. The best Tejo wines are full-bodied and complex, and the Castelo Templário is a great example of this. Akin to a good California red blend, its silky finish was long, and it’s rich black fruit flavors were delicious. It is a blend of Touriga Nacional, the flagship grape of Portugal, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Castelão.

Tomar is an enchanting city with great sites, restaurants, and wine bars. We are thrilled to have friends that live there and are willing to show us around. There is so much to see and do, one could easily spend a week exploring the area. We will certainly return soon.

How About a GT?!

Portugal is well known for its wines, but how about gin? That’s right, I said gin! Many drinks aficionados know about Spanish gins, Gin Mare being one of them, but Portugal? Not so much.
Well, I’m here to tell you that some amazing gins are being produced in Portugal. The lion’s share of Portuguese gin comes from the Alentejo region in the south. However, I am partial to the lesser-known gins from the north. (I live in Porto so, I am biased!)
Probably the most well-known brand is Sharish, which comes in a cool pseudo triangular bottle. Well, look…

Sharish Blue Magic Gin.

It is like a London Dry style of gin, to my taste, with even the juniper flavors dialed down a bit. Sharish also makes a gin called Blue Magic, which changes color when it comes into contact with tonic water. A nice touch, a gin that is refreshing and entertaining!
Big Boss is the next best-known brand and is made with 11 different botanicals. They also make a pink gin. These two are on my list to try, among others!

My favorite is Quinta de Ventozelo gin which is made by the winery of the same name and is located in the Douro wine region. It is the result of a research project with Biomedicas Abel Salazar in downtown Porto, and Cantinho das Aromaticas in Vila Nova de Gaia. (The latter is a farm that produces herb teas and plants. it also has a fascinating history that dates back to the 12th century!)
Ventozelo is a delightful botanical gin made from a wine derived distillate, lemon peel, mint, coriander, juniper, thyme, and lavender, among other herbs.

Ventozelo Craft Dry Gin

It is crisp and lemony on the palate with hints of herb, especially thyme. It also turns opalescent in the glass when served with tonic water. The Ventozelo site suggests making its gin and tonic using non-aromatic tonic water, and three juniper berries, and to garnish with an olive or a grape. (I like to garnish it with a slice of lemon.) It is refreshing and delicious for summer!

My next favorite is Tinto gin. Tinto is a red gin from the Minho region, which is also home to the wines of Vinho Verde. It is made with local ingredients that include, blackberry, rosemary, and poppy, along with Perico, a local variety of pear. The red color comes from the poppy flowers. It also comes in a cool bottle with a plain cork stopper and gold lettering. The Tinto gin has a sweet herbal nose and drinks almost like an amaro, it is so herbaceous in flavor. Fab on its own or with tonic.

Tinto, Red Premium Gin.

There are a host of others that I am on a mission to try. These gins are as unique as the country that produces them and are worth the hunt to find them. Sadly, finding any of them outside of Portugal is a challenge, at best. So, if you come across one, give it a whirl!

Wine, wine, everywhere!

And, so many drops to drink! There are a total of 14 different wine regions in Portugal. 12 on the mainland and two more on the islands, Madeira and the Azores. My current pipe dream is to visit each one and to write a book about them. I am planning my next trip to the Minho now. It is the northernmost wine region in Portugal. Might as well start at the top.

The Minho comprises the better part of northern Portugal. It starts at the Spanish border and goes south until the Douro region. Alvarinho is one of the major grapes in the area. it is known as Albarino in Spain. Same grape, different country, and spelling. Vinho Verde is the major type of wine in this area. Meaning green wine, green, in this case, refers to young wine. The most common grapes in Vinho Verde are, Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Loureiro, and, Trajadura, for whites, and Vinão for red.

O Prado’s house red Vinho Verde. http://oprado.pt

Yes, there are red Vinho Verdes, and they are delicious! One of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon, O Prado, has a red Vinho Verde as its house red wine. It is a perfect match for the grilled salmon when it is on the menu. Red Vinho Verde is light, fruity, and Gamay like in its flavors. Unfortunately, for those who don’t live here, it isn’t seen much outside of Portugal. The red Vinho Verde wines can vary in weight and flavor.

Cool label for a great wine! vinhoverde.pt

The Pardos red Vinho Verde from Antonio Joaquim Castro Pinheiro is a rare and wonderful thing. It is a dark, black iris color and is not just spritzy but downright frizzante, with meaty black fruit flavors. It is an entirely different animal, even in the red Vinho Verde department. It clocks in at only 11 percent abv, but it is dry on the palate. It is a wine with plenty of wow factor.

Solheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde. https://www.soalheiro.com/en/home

Vinho Verde wines come in red, white, and rose. They vary from dry to almost sweet but most are light and fruity with a hint of spritz which makes them perfect for the warmer months. Some of the better-known brands are, Aveleda, Casal Garcia, and Solheiro. Most are a blend of different grapes, but the single varietals are wonderful. Solheiro produces Alvarinhos that are delicious. There is more variety within these wines than one would imagine. They are certainly worth checking out.

Castelo de Moinhos Alvarinho Vinho Verde. A little 3 Euro number from our local Mercadona grocery store! They also make a red Vinho Verde. mercadona.pt (Yes, living in Portugal is a wino’s dream!)

Aguardente Anyone? (Agua who?!)

Aguardente is the Portuguese take on brandy. And, OMG, it is good! As a longtime brandy, Cognac, and Armagnac lover, I was thrilled to find a Portuguese take on the spirit. In the US, a decent brandy starts at about $30 a bottle. Excellent everyday Portuguese brandy can be found for about fourteen euros a bottle. Yes, Virginia, Portugal is a dream come true for lovers of quality drink! (Wait ’till we get to the gins and vodkas!)

Aguarente.01
São Domingos Aguardente Vinica Velhíssima.

How does Portuguese brandy compare to its European counterparts? Favorably! It tends to be softer and sweeter than traditional cognacs and German brandies. For a stronger spirit from Portugal, there is bagaceira. Bagaceira is clear, strong, and delicious. If you are into that type of jet fuel…! Reminiscent of Italian grappa, it is usually bootlegged. But, it can be found for sale at some wineries.

Aguardente.XO.1
Aguardente from Lourinhã.

Portugal has a demarcated region for it’s best aguardente. It is called Lourinhã and is located on the coast near Lisbon. Lourinhã aguardente is magically delicious and costs more than your average supermarket variety. Aromas of candied fruit, and brown sugar on the nose. On the palate, dried fig and nut flavors with a silky smooth finish and a hint of sweetness. If you like brandy and come across a good aguardente, it is a must-try!

Famous Wines

Portugal is famous for its Port wines and Vinho Verde. Port wine is an entire subject unto itself. Port is a fortified wine which means that it has a higher alcohol content than most wines. Usually, around 20% alcohol by volume. Generally speaking, Port is considered a dessert wine. However, vintage Ports can be had like unfortified wines and paired with meals.

Monte bravo vineyards
The Vineyards at Quinta do Montebravo.

An authentic Port wine must come from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The Douro is one of the most stunning wine growing regions in the world. And, it is one of the only regions in the world where foot-stomping is still used to press the grapes. Port wine is versatile and delicious. You should try it if you have not already! It is not just for old rich guys anymore!

CruzPort
White Port at Porto Cruz in Vila Nova de Gaia.

A recent trend in the Douro is the making of quality table wines. Here is where Portuguese wines are the underdogs of world wines. They have quality and diversity that is remarkable. However, most of the world is unaware of this. I am here to tell you that Portuguese red and white table wines are fantabulous!

And that brings us to Vinho Verde, which literally means green wine. Green meaning young in this case. Vinho Verde is historically a light white wine that has a little spritz to it and can be a little on the sweet side. It has become more and more popular in the US as a crushable summer white. Here’s a little secret, Vinho Verde comes in a variety of styles, including dry and red! Most of the red Vinho Verde stays in Portugal and it is too bad because it is delicious.

So, your first step in getting to know the wines of Portugal is to get yourself some Port and a good Vinho Verde! Since it is nearly summer, may I suggest a dry white port to start, which you should use to make yourself a port and tonic. Garnish with a slice of orange. Enjoy!

Gaia.Port
White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval porthouse in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) White Port makes an excellent aperitif.

And Now This…

Portuguese wine and spirits.  Because, I love me some wine and spirits!

Wine is a deep subject. There is no end to it once you start to study it. American wines are probably the most straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they are easy by any means. Then there are French wines, Italian, German and Austrian, and Portuguese, to name a few. Each one is a study in itself and, the approachability descends with each country listed!

I have been a student of wine and spirits for over ten years, and the learning curve continues to challenge me. So, in an attempt to educate myself and hopefully shed some light on the subject, I am going to write here about Portuguese wines and the derivatives thereof.
It would be a waste not to strive for expertise in the subject when I have the supreme good fortune to be living in Portugal! So, here goes!  Bring on the Vinhos Portugueses!(See previous post, Got Wine?)

Check out this little number! Pacheca Rosé Reserva. Now that the weather has started to heat up, it’s rosé all-day season! It is an herbaceous and complex rose made up of 100% Touriga Nacional, the premier grape of Portugal. With brambly red and black fruit flavors, it is outstanding, refreshing, and goes with just about anything. Think of it as the little black dress of wine!  Saúde!

Got Wine?

Portuguese wine is a world unto itself.  The geography of the country makes it more isolated than most. It is easier for Portugal to keep to itself more than many countries since its only neighbors are Spain to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.   

As a result of its relative isolation, the wines of Portugal have traditionally stayed mostly at home.  Port wine is the one exception.  Britain and Portugal have had a close relationship for centuries and Port wine is one of the reasons.  The British have been port lovers since the 1700s and this unique fortified wine comes from the Douro wine region in northern Portugal. The Douro was the first demarcated wine region in the world. The Marquis de Pombal made it so in 1756.  He knew a good thing when he saw it, and real port wine can only come from Portugal.  And while Port wine is one of the country’s many claims to fame, the table wines are the unsung heroes of the wine show in Portugal.  

Portugal has over 250 different indigenous grape varieties.  It is second only to Italy is this respect.  (Italy has over 1,000 different native grape varieties!)  Any self-respecting wine drinker knows the big names in Italian grapes.  (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese…anyone?  Anyone?)  Portuguese wine grapes?  Not so much. 

Here’s a hint, for reds, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and, Tinto Roriz (aka Tempranillo in Spain) are big names.  For whites, Alvarinho (same as Spanish Albarino, just spelled differently), Arinto, and, Antao Vaz.   

Porrais Douro Valley Red Wine

Traditionally both the red and white table wines have been blends of various grapes.   Single varietal wines are becoming more common as winemakers find the best grapes to vinify on their own.  Touriga Nacional is the star of the red grapes, while Alvarinho is the leading white grape.   

Here’s the thing, they are all so good! (To quote from the movie Bottle Shock.)   

Poeira Dusty Red Wine from the Douro Valley with local choriço and cheese.

When we first arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, we were excited to try the local wines.  So, the fact that 98% of the wines in the stores are local mattered not.  A year later we are still trying all local vinhos and loving them all!  Even better, the Portuguese wines cost a fraction of what we were paying for wines in the states.  It is fun and exciting to try so many great wines that aren’t available outside the country. All of the drink in Portugal is deserving of a much bigger place on the world stage. Now that we live here, we will continue to enjoy them and look for opportunities to spread the word about them abroad. Viva Portugal! 

Vila Paraíso Sparkling Red Wine from the Beira Atlantico.

 

Força Portugal!

The courtyard at Quinta da Pacheca.

We are heading into week number 4 of lockdown here in Portugal and, I have to say that it hasn’t been too bad. The lines to get into the stores have been minimal. There has not been a shortage of much of anything so far. I am happy to report that there is plenty of TP, food, and drink.
It is a far cry from the pandemonium we are hearing coming from our friends in Italy, Spain, and the US. We wish you all well! So sorry that you are the victims of so much trumpery! (Yup, it’s a word. Go ahead, look it up!)

Kudos to the Portuguese government for handling the crisis so well thus far. Thanks to the quick official response and cooperation of the people, it looks like the virus will be contained here sooner rather than later. We hope so. In any case, it is being taken a lot more seriously than in a lot of countries.

Springtime in a glass!

There have even been some perks. One of our favorite wineries, Quinta da Pacheca, has been offering 20% off their wines with free delivery on a case or more. We now have plenty of wine. More and more restaurants are offering take-out and delivery. That includes our favorite pizza place, Rei da Gula, here in Gaia. So, theoretically, we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all except to walk the dog! The mandate is to, “Fique em casa!” Stay home, which we are doing. We hope that you are too! Lay low and know that better times are coming! Stay strong and stay well everyone!

New World Order

How about that Covid-19 virus?! 

This means you!

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading in the news from the states:  38% of Americans are avoiding Corona Mexican beer because of the name!  Also, people are avoiding Chinese food because of the connection between the virus and its country of origin.  WOW! 

Some of the things I’ve been seeing online have only reinforced the contention that the level of stupidity has gone off the charts stateside.  Here are a couple more headlines out there right now: Why America’s Virus Response Looks Like a Patchwork, this from the New York Times, mind you.  Well, Captain Obvious, could it be that America is a patchwork of states that all have different rules?  And if you don’t know this you might want to go back and study your American history.  Just saying. 

Also, Infected People Without Symptoms Might be Driving the Spread of the Corona Virus.  This one from CNN.  Yup, you heard right.  Now, I am not a science type by any stretch of the imagination but, if I was a betting person, I would bet big that people who are infected and not showing symptoms are driving the spread of this new virus. 

Think about your basic cold viruses, just from personal experience I know that when I start coming down with a common cold, I am in denial about it.  Oh, I’m just tired…   Meanwhile, I’m out and about probably infecting every other person with which I come into contact.  I guess only time will tell if this is the case and the big CV is transmitted in a similar manner. 

In the meantime, people are reacting like the dumb, panicky, dangerous animals that they are, buying out basics at the grocery store so that people who might really need said basics can’t get them.  Amazing and sad but true to form, people are reacting with a panicked herd mentality. 

Important Safety Tip!

But enough of CV-19 and the blatant stupidity that is a rampant contagion worse than the virus.  It is funny how ahead of the curve we are, already working from home.  We’ve been home workers for over a year now and have become used to our own company for the most part.  We still have to walk the dog but now taking walks is our main form of entertainment outside of the house.  It’s not so bad really.  It helps if you have a hermit kind of mentality to begin with, I guess, which I do. 

Wisteria Blooming in Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia.

It is almost spring and all of the trees are blooming here in the Porto area and the air is redolent of the white Jasmine that grows in the area.  Nature says, silly humans, life goes on.  And so should we, albeit with the utmost caution. Stay well everyone!