I have worked in wine and spirits for the past ten years. I am Certified Specialist of Wine and Spirits Educator through the Society of Wine Educators and am certified to teach English as a second language. I live in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.
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?)
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
It is great to be here! We still wake up every day and pinch ourselves that it’s true, we live in Portugal! The summer was wonderful; the weather couldn’t have been better, mid 70’s to low 80’s. Now, I’m told that this was a very unusual summer and that it is usually much warmer. And to that I say, thanks universe, and hope that cooler summers will be a trend.
And, of course, the food has been fan-freakin’-tastic everywhere we have gone. The same goes for the wines. I used to be such a wine snob. In the US I would look at the wine list and sometimes not even have wine if there wasn’t anything that looked good on it. Here, the house wine is fine! They are nearly all good if not excellent.
As for the Portuguese bureaucracy, we have been extremely lucky. At our visa renewal appointment, we only had to wait about 15 minutes and when we went to finanças (Portuguese IRS) to register after getting our resident visa cards, we waited five minutes tops. Incrível! So far, so good.
The DMV (IMT in Portugal) was another matter. You have three months after you get your resident card to turn in your foreign driver’s license for a Portuguese drivers’ license. (Although, I have been reading that that is about to change, and it will soon be three years before you must get a Portuguese license.) If you make the three-month deadline it only costs 30 Euros. If not, it costs 60 Euros and you must take a driver’s test. (Ugh!) Before you can go to the IMT and get your new driver’s license, you must register with the Centro de Saude, (national health system) and get a certificate of health. You must also get a certified copy of your driving record to prove the validity of your current driver’s license. Three months, no problem. Right.
After wrangling with the Colorado DMV and the USPS for a month, we received the certified copies of our driving records by registered mail. At this point, we now had 10 days before the deadline to turn in our US licenses. It cost $64 and change to mail four pieces of paper to arrive in Portugal within a week. International logistics are still costly and time-consuming.
It took three trips to various Centros de Saude and a trip to the wrong IMT office before we made it to the right office and spent the afternoon waiting for our numbers to be called. (It reminded me of the afterlife waiting room scene in the movie Beetlejuice.) Happily, though we spent the day from 9-5 between the health office and the IMT offices, we made it on the last day of the deadline! Whew! Got ‘er done! I guess long waits at the DMV are universal.
Now, theoretically, we should be Portuguese bureaucracy home free until next June when we will have to renew our resident visas again. It has certainly been an adventure!
So, we just figured out that the last two boxes that we shipped from Denver should arrive soon! They cleared customs about a week ago. These were the things we forgot to pack up and send with the movers: a framed botanical print (heirloom) and some miscellaneous kitchen things that we had to have. We should have just left them, but noooo…that would’ve been too easy! Hopefully, they will arrive soon.
Meanwhile, Portugal has officially entered festival season! P-A-R-T-Y, because we gotta! The Porto Beer festival kicked it off for us. Craft beer in Portugal is just getting started which is awesome! As much of a wino as I am, it is great to have a good beer occasionally.
The Porto beer fest is the biggest artisanal beer festival in Europe with 47 breweries and 368 beers to try and, they do it right here! It runs over four days and there are lots of food trucks to choose from for having a good nosh to pair with the beers. You pay 4 Euros for a glass and purchase tokens for beer samples. You can come and go as you please over the four days.
This eliminates the insanity that we see at the GABF: Huge mobs of drunken hooligans in Denver for three days trying to sample 3,000 beers in one day because the tickets are so expensive ($70-85) with no real food. The Great American Beer Festival was fun 15-20 years ago before it became such a behemoth scene. It’s so American; take everything to the extreme and charge as much as possible.
We had some great brews from Portugal, Spain, Estonia and the Netherlands, to name a few. There were even a couple from the US, Sierra Nevada and Kona Brewing. There was also a nice Spanish whiskey and coffee liquor to sample from Yria out of Madrid. Their beers were great as well and they had a delicious mead made with cherries. Yum!
For food there were delicious empanadas, prosciutto like ham and Serra Estrela Portuguese cheese sandwiches which were outstanding, several different kinds of burger trucks, crepes, sweet and savory and a tasty doughnut like cake from the Algarve that was dangerously delicious. There were even several vegetarian offerings. Yes, all in all the event was a taste treat sensation.
On June 23rd, we will have the festival of São João here in Porto, which is a BIG deal, I’ve heard. Can’t wait. It is the official start of the grilled sardine season, one of my favorites. And don’t even say ew until you’ve had one here. They are delicious and nothing like the sad fishy things you get in the states. (Even though I liked those too!)
visited two more wineries in Pinhão while we were there: Quinta de la Rosa and Quinta do Seixo. One would think that it would get old touring
port wineries but, they were all quite unique.
Pacheca, while a rather large operation, was spacious with lovely
grounds and a wide selection of wines.
Quinta do Pôpa was a small boutique wine house that sat high above the
Douro river and gave individual tastings from the terrace overlooking the water
below. (They were doing renovations, so
tours were not available at the time.)
You could also order a picnic basket lunch to have with your wine
tasting, which looked great! (We had a
cheese plate that was perfect with the wines.)
do Monte Bravo was the smallest and most endearing with unequalled personal
hospitality as well as being the perfect place to get away from it all at the
same time. The food and wines were
fabulous, and we felt like we were staying with friends. It was an unparalleled experience which we
can’t recommend enough.
de la Rosa was medium sized and, like Pôpa, offered panoramic views of the river. It also had rooms and an excellent restaurant
as well as an informative tour. They
also make beer at Quinta de la Rosa; a lager, an IPA and a stout, all of which
were as delicious as the wines and ports.
do Seixo was the largest operation we saw and is owned by Sogrape which is a
huge port wine conglomerate that also owns Sandeman, one of the biggest port
houses that has holdings in Spain where they make sherry as well. The Sandeman brand image is an international
icon of port wine. He is a silhouette of
a man with a Spanish hat and Portuguese cape to symbolize both countries that
was created in 1928.
do Seixo is a state-of-the-art port winery that gives a fun and informative
tour. The tour guide wore a hat and cape
and made sure that everyone had a good time while learning about the process of
making port wine. There was wine tasting
at each winery and Seixo was the only one that only offered port wines. (That
is one of the great aspects of visiting the Douro valley; most of the wineries
make great table wines as well as port so, if sweet wines aren’t your thing,
the dry wines are delicious as well.) They did, however, have a bar
where you could have port cocktails after the tour which was awesome! Porto tonico, anyone?
e tonico (dry white port and tonic water) is our new favorite cocktail and we
have one or two almost every evening to celebrate the fim do dia. Try it and you’ll be hooked, at least for the
all, we made it to five wineries in three days and had an incredible time. The Guia de Enoturismo lists 16 top wineries
in the Douro valley so we will be returning for more sometime soon!