I have worked in wine and spirits for over 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 Porto, Portugal.
Winter has arrived in Portugal. We have been lucky to have had mostly sunny days through November. But now it is cold and rainy here in Porto, as is expected this time of year. The pleasant weather is one of the things that attracted us to Portugal. And we chose to live in Porto to avoid the heat of summer that can be extreme in the southern parts of the country. Mission accomplished there. The summers have been beautiful, and in the 70s for the most part. Fall is fabulous, with warm days and cool nights through the end of October. Spring can be very hit or miss, some cold rainy days interspersed with sunny days.
Last year, we suffered through the coldest winter in 30 years here. And our electricity bill showed it. 300-350 euros for the coldest winter months. Yikes! We are used to paying 35-50 per month.
When we first visited Portugal, I noticed the lack of heating in most buildings. I thought, wow, the weather must be so mild that heating isn’t necessary. Silly human! Au contraire, mon frère. Here is what I have learned after living here for almost three years. The Portuguese are incredibly stoic when it comes to suffering through cold weather. Yup, it is winter, and it is cold. Suck it up! That is the attitude. I don’t know if it is a holdover from the Salazar dictatorship or what, but doing without heat does not seem to bother most of them.
As wussy Americans, we are not keen on freezing our keesters off for months at a time. So, this year we got a more energy-efficient space heater and ordered some heavy draperies in hopes of warding off the worst of the winter cold. If that does not help, we may have to install heating. We are crossing our fingers that window coverings will be the answer. In the meantime, we will be drinking lots of spiced wine and doing plenty of cooking and baking to keep things warmed up.
I have said it before, and I am sure that I will say it many times more, the Douro wine region in Portugal is one of the most breathtaking in the world.
We had the good fortune to attend a harvest day at Quinta do Tedo this past September. And it was no end of fun. It also showed us how much work goes into harvesting grapes and making wine. My hat is off to the owners, Vincent and Kay Bouchard because the amount of work required to make a good bottle of wine is staggering. Not to mention the manpower that is necessary to hand-pick fruit and process it. Much less running a successful Quinta with accommodations and a restaurant. Whew! Makes me tired just thinking about it.
Before going out into the vineyard to pick grapes, we were treated to a breakfast of hearty soup and pataniscas, which are cod fritters. After this fortifying snack, we were armed with clippers and a bucket and went out into the vineyard. We picked grapes for about half an hour. And let me tell you, I would not want to have to do it all day. This is back-breaking labor. After emptying our grape buckets, we walked back to the winery for a light lunch. A Feast is a more apt description. The table was a groaning board of Portuguese delicacies. Holy mother of yum! And all accompanied by the house red wine. Delicious.
After lunch, we went to the lagares, large stone vats, to stomp the grapes we had just picked. Again, it was fun for about an hour. We did get to sample some port wine while we were at it, which helped. Portugal is one of the only countries that still use foot treading to crush the grapes. Workers typically stomp the grapes for about four hours at a time. Oy!
After giving the grapes a good stomp, we took our newly purple feet back to the tasting room to sample more port wines. Divine is what they were. Ruby, Tawny, and Vintage, oh my! Port wine is a deep subject and one of the great Portuguese gifts to the world. The wines from Portugal are diverse and outstanding, as is the food. And after spending the better part of a day helping with the harvest, I appreciate them even more.
Thanks again to the Bouchards and their staff for a memorable and delectable experience.
Vinhão, also known as Sezão or Sousão in Portugal, is one of the red grapes in the Minho or Vinho Verde region. It is known for its deep dark color and biting acidity and is usually blended and used for Port and table wines. As grapes go, it is a pretty rare and exotic specimen.
It produces my favorite color in a wine. Black iris. A deep, dark purple that is almost black. If you spill this grape juice, you had better have some serious cleaning agents at the ready. (Yes, we spilled it all over a white wall and thought we would have to repaint, for sure. Thanks to Neo Blanc, the wonder cleaner, for saving the day! We could not believe that it cleaned up so well you would never know it happened.)
And this brings us to the wine of the hour: São Gião (sow guy-ow) Vinhão (vin-yow. I know, Portuguese, oy!) Colheita Selecionada. https://quintasaogiao.pt/en.
This is new favorite red wine for us. It has black fruit, violet, and spice aromas with super blue and blackberry flavors. It is medium-bodied and bone dry on the finish with a killer minerality. It is unique. It is somewhat like a dry Brachetto (an almost equally obscure wine). Only Vinhão is drier, darker and, has more body. It pairs smashingly with salmon or other fatty fish and cured meats and cheeses. It is delicious with eggplant parmesan and the like. It also drinks well by itself. (Important safety tip, it does not pair well with light-colored walls or carpeting!) It is a great summer red wine and should be served with a slight chill. And check out that label. The artwork is stunning and is meant to reflect the terroir of the wine.
And now for the bad news. Good luck finding it outside of Portugal. The red wines from the Vinho Verde region are pretty rare, even in Portugal. They make up only about seven percent of the wines hailing from Vinho Verde. When reading about the region, the red wines are often not even mentioned. The recommended red grapes are Amaral/Azal tinto, Borraçal, Brancelho, Espadeiro, (which makes a mean rosé), Padreiro, Redral, Rabode Ovelha and Vinhão. There are several more that are permitted in the DOC wines of the area. Welcome to Portugal, where 250 to 350 indigenous grape varieties exist, depending on who you ask! It is a wine mecca second only to Italy. A foodie and winos paradise and a wine geeks dream. Sáude!
The US specializes in urban jungles. LA, New York, and Chicago all personify types of urban jungles. They all have areas that are asphalt jungles. Full of hard surfaces and danger. Los Angeles, especially since they concreted over most of the city in the first half of the 20th century. All three specialize in plenty of urban violence, which is epidemic throughout the states.
Here in Portugal, we have entirely different types of urban jungle. There are oases of greenery everywhere if you know where to look. And then there is the wildlife. Avian wildlife predominates. Followed closely by cats and dogs coming in a distant third. (We are talking urban wildlife here. The number one spot, of course, goes to the humans. Far and away the most dangerous of the lot!)
I have mentioned the Atlantic seagulls before. They really are kings of the coasts. As near as I can tell, man is their only predator. The Portuguese Atlantic gulls can be vicious pigeon killers. It is actually pretty scary to witness. And with so many pigeons, the gulls will never go hungry. I wonder if pigeons are a delicacy to them since they mostly eat fish. It is pretty horrifying to hear the screams of the city rats when the seagulls go after them. I have seen them feed their chicks with fresh rock dove meat. Yum. It gives one new respect for the seagoing warrior gulls. And the screaming of the sea pterodactyls is near-constant in the cities near the coast.
On a lighter note, we have what seems like a flock of parrots in the neighborhood. They fly by so quickly, it is hard to tell if that is what they are. Given their screeching and small green bodies, we guess they must be renegade parrots. Songbirds are very popular as pets here and, you know they must escape from time to time.
When it comes to screeching, there is nothing like a peacock. The peafowl really makes the most Jurassic park sounding noise. Several parks have them in abundance and, they tool around like house pets in various parts of town. It is entertaining to see.
We hear about the shootings du jour in the US, and we think, wow, it just seems to keep getting worse in the not-so United States. We are happy to have traded the concrete jungle for a peaceful urban oasis.
With the pervasive summer heat, naked is the way to go. And in the obscure grape department, Vinão is the winner for this wine drinker. As much as I love a good white from Vinho Verde, especially the Alvarinhos, I still love a chillable red wine. Vinão is one of the few red grapes from the Vinho Verde region in northern Portugal. This grape is hard to find even in Portugal but is worth seeking out. The red wines from the north are fruit juicy, delicious, and eminently chillable.
The Naked Vinhão from AB Valley wines is a white wine made from red Vinhão grapes. This wine tastes like a red. It is a bit disconcerting when you first take a sip. Tasted double-blind, I bet most tasters would say that it is red wine. Nope, it is a white wine from red grapes. It is crisp and refreshing, fruity, and grapey in a good way. It has great acidity that makes one want to have more after each sip.
Naked Vinhão is the brainchild of António Sousa, the winemaker for AB Valley Wines. The single varietal whites from the area are outstanding. Try some Avesso, Arinto and Azal on for size. These are all delicious well-made wines from the region.
Que Se Foda. A wine whose time has come. It means what the f*%# in Portuguese. More of an art piece, really. Wine as art, if you will. Or art as wine. The perpetrator of this bit of fun is Francisco Eduardo. An artist based in Lisbon. Here is the message on the bottle: “The message behind the coarse expression used in this work of art is a message of hope and a synonym of faith. When we are in doubt, often our fears win over our dreams, and it is at that time that it is necessary to say, (WTF.) Que se foda?!”
WTF indeed! Side effects of the pandemic include political insanity and random increased violence, especially in the US and on airplanes, it seems. Wow. Just when we thought it could not get any worse in the weirdness department. And I love that this artist is selling his Que se Foda wines online with great success. The red sold out before we even knew about it. (Sounds like a great wine, I will have to seek it out from the winemaker.) I was lucky to score a bottle of the white Vinho Verde before it sold out. Hopefully, Mr. Eduardo will keep them coming.
The TTB (Alcohol and Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau) would throw a fit if someone tried to sell wine with such profanity for a name on the label in the states. Puritanical mo-fos. I am pretty sure that the acronym would not be approved unless it stood for something else altogether. Much less spelling it out as it is on this fine Portuguese wine. And look at me, unwilling to even spell the word out myself. This from a lifetime of conditioning and fear of offending anyone. WTF?!
Happy Porto garbage trucks. That’s right, I said happy Porto garbage trucks. The color of the city of Porto is a bright navy blue. Which is appropriate given the proximity to the river and ocean. And even the garbage trucks are painted this color. They are shiny and new-looking and have digital signs on the back with public service announcements. Use máscara. Use a mask! Obrigado. Thank you. We have lived here for a while now, and we love the city and most everything about it. When I remember the nasty-looking garbage trucks in the US, and I see the trucks here in Porto, all I can think is, happy Porto garbage trucks! The atmosphere in Portugal is happier and more relaxed than in the states, by far. And as far as the superior quality of just about everything here, I think it is a case of smaller is better. I like to say that Portugal is a lot like California only, smaller and better. No offense Cali, but it is true! Bigger and bolder are not always better.
Sundays. Remember when Sunday was a day of rest? Probably not. That concept has somehow been lost in the US. It does not matter what day it is. It’s, go, go, go, all the time. Here in Europe, Sunday is still a day of rest. Shops are closed, and the streets are quiet. It is my favorite day to go out strolling. The Portuguese say, calma! Calm down, take it easy. America has forgotten what it means to take it easy. In so many ways.
And the flowers. There is a profusion of flowers everywhere. The trumpet flowers are enormous, and the perfume from them is intoxicating. And then there are the giant multi-colored hydrangeas. They are mind-blowing.
And, once more, I have to mention the food and drink. I wish I could convey how good it all is here. You have to taste it to believe it. Again, I think it is a case of a smaller place that has superior quality. We have never loved having salads as much as we have here. And the country is a wino’s dream. There are fabulous wines to be had for less than five euros. Portugal personifies the saying as an embarrassment of riches. We are so happy and fortunate to be here to enjoy them.
Above, mustard pork Niçoise salad with shrimp, greens and bechamel stuffed bread. And this was created with leftovers! Thanks to Feito Prati for the amazing pão trança, braided stuffed bread, and the mustard pork.
I read this one in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Big mistake. It just got me all fired up about the egregious disparities between the US and the rest of the world. Again.
12 of the “best” rosés in this lineup are American. Of those 12, 11 are from California. Biased? I am thinking so. Then there is the subject of price. “…over half of the bottles here clock in at under $25…making them great case-buys.” Lol. Sounds expensive to me. Maybe that is because here in Portugal I can buy fabulous rosés for about $2-5 per bottle. If I want to seriously splurge, I can drop 24 euros on an outstanding single varietal Touriga Nacional rosé. I am sure it would compare favorably with the $40 Provence rosé they peg at number four on the list. In fact, I know that I would prefer the Portuguese rosé because I have had the Domaines Ott rosé. And while it is good, it is not worth $40 a bottle in my book. The Pacheca reserva rosé is more complex and satisfying in my estimation. And admittedly, in this case, I am biased.
So why are wines so much more expensive in the states? Well, because of the three-tier system, a throwback to prohibition, prices are disproportionately jacked up. There is talk of revamping this auto-overpricing system. But given America’s Puritanical, capitalistic roots, I would be surprised if that actually happens. (Just like the health insurance system, to name one of the many broken systems in the US. But I digress.) Reading the Vinepair article, I am reminded of how oblivious people in the US are. Hell, I was one of them until about five years ago. Back in the day, we all thought that America was the greatest country in the world. And maybe back then, it was. Sadly, not anymore. When I mention how scary and dangerous it is over there, my friends say it is not that bad. Really? When a person can be shot and killed going to the grocery store on any given day, I have to say, yes, it is. The shooting du jour has become shootings du jour. And that is the tip of the iceberg, I am afraid. But again, I digress.
To further illustrate my point, here is an article about affordable rosés that appeared in the Irish Sun. https://www.thesun.ie/fabulous/6994586/10-presentable-bottles-rose-enjoy-ireland/ It is titled, On the Grapevine. 10 of the best perfectly presentable and very affordable bottles of Rosé wine for you to enjoy. They run from about 6.50 to 25 euros, with one from Italy for 40 euros. And, I should point out that the 40 euro number is different because of the winemaking process and is aged for a year. That might justify the higher price. (Not just another overpriced French rosé.) Now, Ireland is an island and, these wines all have to be shipped over. So the fact that they are so much cheaper than their American cousins, for the most part, underscores my point. Most of them are 7-12 euros. This sounds like a much better case-buy to me.
The Palmelão pictured below is a great every day rosé for about $2. I am sure that it would compare favorably to most of the $15 rosés that are available in the US. And it is not Franzia-like leftovers. It is a well crafted three-varietal rosé. For about two dollars a bottle. (Eat your heart out two buck Chuck!)
Having spent years in the booze biz in the states, I have tasted a lot of wines. And while I can appreciate a good Provence rosé, now that I have had some of the Portuguese rosés for a fraction of the price, I can never go back. Never mind the wildly overpriced California offerings. (Sorry, Ca. And, I am from the Golden state.) Why would I want to? And, I guess if you live in the United States, it helps to be oblivious to these kinds of disparities.
So close and yet so far. That is how it feels living in a foreign country during a pandemic. One could say that is how it feels living in a foreign country in general. We are close to others physically but, the language acts as a barrier that keeps us from connecting. And with lockdown and social distancing and masks, even more so. Having been stuck at home for the past three months, we have got to know our neighbors through observation. Since we live over a café, there is plenty to observe. It is sort of a neighborhood hangout. The guys stand around and chat off and on at all hours of the day.
Here’s what we have perceived about them. Our neighbors upstairs are very sweet octagenarians. They are friendly and thankful to have us. Apparently, the previous tenants were not so desirable and routinely trashed the place. Isabel always says, if we need anything, just let them know. I just wish I could understand her better. I figure I get about half of what she is saying when we interact. Their daughter is friendly as well. Happily, she speaks English, which helps. They warmly welcomed us to the neighborhood, which was great.
The dudes in the hood, however, were another matter. They have been very wary of us. Finally, after six months, they will say good morning or afternoon when we see them. One of them has two dogs, and he has become friendly. His dogs and our dog have become buds. We have even chatted once or twice, with my limited Portuguese. He seems nice enough but somewhat downtrodden. He wears a sweatshirt sometimes that says NOTHING. This, to me, speaks volumes. He appears to be kind of sad at times and sometimes looks positively beat up.
Then there is the talker. He has a distinctive voice that carries. I get the feeling that he does not like us. Or maybe he just doesn’t like foreigners. He doesn’t seem as threatened by us now as when we first moved in. Just a feeling I get. Xenophobia is everywhere. The funny thing is one evening, I overheard him saying what I construed as something derogatory about the English and Americans. Full disclosure, English and Americans were the only two words that I understood of his would-be diatribe. Then, in a moment of the universe laughing in my face, I saw him wearing a sweatshirt that said USA on it the next day!
For comic relief, we have the Oxford yodler and Alice Kravatz across the street. The O.Y. seems like a lost soul. He has severe psoriasis and wanders around, looking bereft a lot of the time. He wears an Oxford University sweatshirt most of the time. He likes to sing and yodels occasionally in the street. He actually has a pleasant singing voice. The yodeling is a bit odd but always makes me laugh.
And then there is Alice. I call her Alice Kravatz as in the character of the same name on the old Bewitched sitcom. The nosey neighbor. She was always looking out the window and getting into the business of others. This Alice likes to look out the window of her front door. Or she stands just outside of the front door in her slippers. A blanket draped over her shoulders while watching what is going on in the street. Occasionally, she will sport a red hat reminiscent of those worn by the band Devo. Her ensembles are noteworthy. In a, I’m an old lady, and I don’t give a shit kind of way. She is the neighborhood watch.
I wonder if we would have noticed our new neighbors as much if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Because we certainly would be out and about much more. Since we are always home, and our place is like a fishbowl, watching the goings-on in the street has become a form of entertainment. I guess we all have some Alice Kravatz in us in the end.
On Monday, April 19th, Porto and parts of Portugal will reopen. Albeit with limited capacity. This means that a person can go out to a restaurant and eat inside if they so desire. Whoo-hoo! We have missed dining out so. It has been a long haul since the country shut down back in January. So much has happened since the beginning of the pandemic, it is almost too much to consider. As stated in The Princess Bride, there is too much, let me sum up. At the start of the Covid crisis, Portugal did a stellar job of keeping the virus numbers down. And the public also kept it together very well. It was a stark contrast to the chaos in the states. We held it together quite well through the first few lockdowns.
Then, after Christmas, we had some of the highest virus numbers in Europe. The downside to how family-oriented the Portuguese are. After nearly a year of lockdown, folks traveled and got together during the holidays. It was game over for low virus numbers and hello new lockdown. Still, people heeded the warnings and hunkered down for the better part of the next three months. Here is the thing, it was not too bad. Again, a contrast to the continued pandemonium in the states. Besides the general peacefulness of Portugal, the food and wine saved the day. Portuguese food and wines are some of the best in the world. And when you can get pretty much anything you want delivered fresh to your door, there is no need to leave the house. One of the many things I love about living here is that COD still exists. (And not just the omnipresent fish.) One of the surprising things about finding food to order online is that there were many local, homemade food services to be found on Instagram, of all places. We have had some of the best food, ordered on IG or Whatsapp, and paid cash on delivery. No worries, no questions asked. This speaks volumes to me about trust here. Virtually everything ordered online in the USA must be paid for in advance. There is no trust for anyone, anywhere over there anymore. It is a sad commentary on American life. Well, because people in the US are A-holes in a lot of cases. And psycho nut-cases. Just look at the news.
Here are some of our favorites. Casa Guedes. Yup, the ubiquitous pernil pork sande. Still one of the best ever. Delivered with love notes. You gotta love it.
Feito Prati. (It means made for you.) A Brazilian woman who makes the most delicious bread and entrees. Delivered fresh and hot to your door. She has a weekly menu with different entrees every day. We have been ordering lunch and a giant loaf of stuffed bread every week for over a month now.
And Flagrante Delito. An outfit that does a special menu weekly to be delivered during the weekend. They make food from different nationalities every week. We have had Cypriot, Mexican, and Italian so far. All were outstanding. Each menu has an omnivore and a vegan option and includes a starter, entree, and dessert. And all of this for about 24 euros for two, delivered. 🙂 I sent pictures of the food to my Mom in California, and she said I wish we had something like that here.
The Easter dinner we got had from The Wine Box in Porto was outstanding. As was the wine we had with it. The Wine Box is a wonderful restaurant and wine bar near the Ponte Luis I. We had cabrito which is traditional for Easter in Portugal. Baby goat. Sorry, it was delicious.
After such a long time staying home, my reclusive tendencies have increased. If I continue to stay home and not interact with people, I could stay healthy for the rest of my life. So, now that the country is about to reopen, I am ready to be a complete shut-in. It is tempting.