Sardines are a polarizing comestible. You either like them, or you don´t. And as much as I have always liked them, they are not as good stateside as in Portugal. In Portugal, they are a national treasure. The little fishes are deliciously grilled fresh throughout Portugal from June through September, the best months for them. Canned, they are a delicacy that comes in many flavors. They come with olive oil, tomato sauce, spicy olive oil or tomato sauce, or mustard sauce, to name a few. They are available at the supermarket for about a buck. And gourmet versions run about four or five euros.
We had the immense fun of touring the Pinhais sardine factory in Matosinhos. Matosinhos is just west of Porto and is famous for the fish and fish restaurants. The Pinhais sardine factory has been in operation since 1920. And they operate pretty much the same way today as they did back then. The front office and entry have remained unchanged since the 20s.
The Ajuelos tile work is beautiful. Much care went into the design of the factory. The staircase to the second floor looks like a fish when viewed from below. It is artful and ingenious.
Only the best sardines are chosen for canning by the women who work the floor. They sort and prepare the fish on long marble tables.
Then the cans are hand wrapped in colorful paper. The ladies doing the wrapping
are quick and efficient. We got to try wrapping cans ourselves, and we were slow and inefficient in comparison.
No surprise there. After taking the tour, we sampled the tinned fish, and they did not disappoint. Our sardine factory adventure ended with a glass of Vinho Verde white wine and a sampling of sardines. It was the perfect mid-day snack. Who knew that canned fish could be so much fun and so delicious?
I have slept through January and most of February. When it is cold, I prefer to stay in bed and hibernate. Having followed the sun to Portugal, I have been following the sun into my bedroom as well. The rays do not hit the windows until between ten and ten-thirty AM. That is when I start to consider raising the shutters. We have added curtains and two heat and A/C units to our place. These additions have helped immensely with temperature control.
I guess I should just stop trying to be like my Portuguese neighbors and admit my failings as an American; we like things to be easy and comfortable.
And, happily, this has been the warmest and driest winter in Portugal since 2000. This is good and bad, of course. It has put the entire country into a drought situation. That pesky climate change thing again. Yesterday it was 70+ degrees in Porto. Most unusual for this time of year.
And yesterday was a milestone for us. The third anniversary of our arrival in Portugal. It is hard to believe it has been three years already. We have never looked back and are so thankful because life is so much better here.
I still have to laugh that Portugal was never on our radar as a possible place to live until it was pointed out to us. And it has turned out to be the best possible place to live! There is no comparison to the states because everything is so superior.
The quality of the food and wine alone is worth moving for. Not to mention the great weather and low cost of living. The country itself is spectacular. Covid notwithstanding, I could be content to spend the rest of my days traveling through Portugal alone. It is tiny but so packed with eye-popping beauty.
As much as I love wines from other countries, it is hard to drink anything other than the local wines. They are so good and can be had for a fraction of the price. Anything you could want can be had here. If you like Burgundy, get a Jaen (red) or Encruzado (white) from the Dão. Bordeaux? A red or white from the Douro. California? Alentejo, Tejo, or Sétubal has drops that compare. Champagne? Bairrada has you covered. Fabulous sparkling wines, in general, can be had from any wine region in Portugal.
And it does not stop there, dessert wines? Porto, Madeira, and, Sétubal all have a unique diversity of sweet wines.
The fun never stops, as I like to say.
I used to say that I could spend the rest of my life exploring Italy, another wine mecca. Now, I know that I will spend the rest of my life exploring Portugal. Hopefully, I can revisit Italy too. 😉 Meanwhile, viva Portugal! Sáude.
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.