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!

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!

Coming soon: The Last of our Stuff, and Festival Season!

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.

PBF.Signage
Porto International Craft Beer Festival Sign.

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!

PBF.Beers
Porto Beer Fest Beers for purchase.

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!)

Stay tuned!

Festival Season!

Portugal has officially entered festival season!  P-A-R-T-Y, because we gotta!  The Porto International Craft Beer Festival kicked it off for us.  Craft beer in Portugal is just starting to take off which is great for veteran beer geeks like ourselves.  As much as wine is usually my first drink of choice, it is great to have a good beer occasionally. And when I say a good beer, I don’t mean some fruit flavored concoction the likes of which are so popular in the states right now.

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 is seen 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 tried some excellent 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, Spain.  Their beers were great as well and they had a delicious mead made with cherries.   

Yria Whiskey and Coffee Liquor

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. We will certainly plan to attend the Porto beer fest again next year!

Aveleda Winery

Being in the wine biz has its perks, however small.  Thanks to Frank Mc Donald, my new BFF who imports Portuguese wines into Denver, we got to tour the Aveleda Winery in northern Portugal.  It is about an hour train ride outside of Porto and has some of the most beautiful grounds to be seen at a winery.   Founded in 1870, Aveleda has been around for a while and is still family owned.  They are famous for their Vinho Verde which means green wine for it’s freshness and light lively flavors.  Sadly, the white and some rose Vinho Verde’s are the only ones that make it to Denver.  The red wines they make are outstanding as are the spirits or Aguardente as they call them.  (Brandy or literally fire water to us!)

Aveleda is one of the biggest wine producers in Portugal and as a leader in the Vinho Verde region it exports more than half of its production to 70 different countries worldwide.  They also make Casal Garcia Vinho Verde which is the most sold Vinho Verde in the world.  The Casal Garcia arm of the company was established in 1939 when a French oenologist happened to stop by to see the vineyards at Aveleda on his way from the Douro wine region to Porto.  Aveleda’s owner Robert Guedes was very forward thinking and planted his vines by varietal in the French style which caused Mr. Eugenie Helisse to stop and demand to meet the owner of the vineyard.  Long story short, Mr. Guedes hired Mr. Helisse as his new oenologist.  (For more on this story see:  http://www.casalgarcia.com.)

The gardens at Aveleda.

The gardens at Aveleda

When we arrived at the train station in Penefiel we were met by the lovely and talented Marling Espejo who chauffeured us to the winery.  What a beautiful and bucolic place!  We toured the grounds for about an hour and were wowed by the natural beauty of it.  Verde was the operative word with hobbit houses strewn about throughout.  There were chickens, dogs, peacocks (and peahens, of course) and little black goats that had their own three-story hobbit house!  I felt that we might fall down a rabbit hole ala Alice in Wonderland at any moment!  Or maybe see actual hobbits!

Hobbit house for goats!

Resident wildlife!

Spirits barrel room

After seeing the barrel room where the spirits are aged we went to the main house for lunch.  OMG, this was a luncheon fit for a king or queen.  The three of us sat down to a formally clothed table and were served by a woman who was sure that we should be eating a lot more than we did!  (Which reminded me of my time in Italy.)  The food was outstanding (you seeing a theme here)?!  We started with a vegetable and cheese quiche followed by a fresh cod casserole dish in a mouthwatering sauce served with potatoes, carrots and green beans.  Yes, there were seconds all around.

Copper pot spirit still.

First run spirit fountain!

Each course was paired with a different wine and we finished with a glass of 12 year old barrel aged aguardente paired with port filled chocolates (More about those later.)  Gastronomic bliss, I tell you!  Can you say, stuffed like a Christmas goose?!  Splendiferous is a word that comes to mind.   After lunch we got to see the distilling room and were able to taste the first run spirit.  It was dangerously delicious.  One small sip per customer, please!  From the spirits room we made our way back to the parking lot and Marling returned us to the train station.  Everyone was so gracious that we can’t wait to return!  And, of course, the wines and spirits are outstanding.  If you are ever in Porto a trip to the Aveleda winery is a must!

Escher Exhibit/O Prado Take 2

The next day we wandered back down to the water.  We had noticed on our first day out that the Museum of Popular Art had an exhibit of M.C. Escher’s work.  Along with the Tower of Belem, the Museum of Pop Art is on the banks of the Tagus River.  It is a fun dichotomy that the two are almost literally down the street from each other. 16th and 20th centuries pretty much next door to each other in the enchanting city of Lisbon!

Since Joe and I are both big Escher fans we decided to check it out.  It was amazing to see the man’s work up close and personal, so to speak!  The amount of detail in his drawings is mind blowing.  There was also a fun interactive piece that let one enter the orb in the Hand with Reflecting Sphere pen and ink drawing.  It was an illusion, of course but most of this master’s work is illusion based, so totally appropriate! The entire exhibit was entertaining, informative and awe inspiring.

After the museum we had some sangria at a hotel that had a patio on the water.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery equally so.  It was interesting to note that folks were sporting winter, even fur coats in the 60ish degree weather.  Sort of the opposite of what we have in Colorado where it is common to see people in shorts and flip-flops when it is 30 degrees or colder and snowing!  I have never understood this having been taught to dress for the weather.  Kind of crazy either way, I guess!

We had dinner at one of the seafood restaurants on the way back from our sunset patio excursion.  There was a gentleman standing outside extolling the virtues of the food inside and after a couple of suggestions about the menu I said, “I’m in, let’s do it”!  Holy mother of amazing seafood!  I had horse mackerel with a Spanish sauce and Joe had a squid and shrimp skewer.  Both were outstanding, as was the white wine we had with it.  All for about 30 Euros.  A meal like that would’ve cost $100-150 stateside.

After dinner we strolled back toward our Airbnb and decided to stop back in at O Prado for a night cap.  A night cap, right.  Clearly, I had no idea who I was dealing with!  We sat at the bar again and were warmly greeted by our new BFFs, Christina and Johnny.  Boy, did we get more than we bargained for!  After a bottle of Cartuxa, an excellent Portuguese red wine, if you ever run across it, I was ready for that night cap!  So, Johnny pulled out some of their home-made hooch.  Portuguese grappa, if you will.  Now, I happen to love grappa, and this was wickedly smooth and delicious.  But wait, there was more!  Next, he pulled out a barrel aged version of the same fire water which was even more delicious than the first!  Then, of course, I had to try some of the Portuguese aguardente which literally means fire water.  Really, it was Portuguese brandy.  Thankfully, Joe is not a big grappa/brandy fan, so he only had little sips of each.  I, on the other hand, partook fully.  Being the world class enablers that our hosts were, they sent us home with little samples of the two home made liquors, cleverly disguised in recycled apple juice bottles!  Love them, mean it, they came in handy later in our trip.

I vaguely remember staggering back to our place.  Joe says it was a small miracle that we made it back in the dark after all that drink!  Yes, I was in for a world class hang over, to be sure.