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.

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!)

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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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!

The Douro Valley, Part Three.

Tile work at the train station in Pinao.

We 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.)

Quinta 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.  geral@quintadojontebravo.pt.

The vineyards at Quinta do Monte Bravo.

Quinta 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.

Quinta 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.

Quinta 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?

Porto 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 summer!

In 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!

The Douro Valley, Part Two.

After a hapless day of travelling (just call us “wrong way”), we took Jiver back to the Airbnb and went out to seek internal nourishment.  We had a couple of recommendations for places to eat from a local friend in Porto and found Taberna do Jéréré to be close by and by some miracle, Google actually got us there!  Holy mother of wow!  I had the chef’s seafood special and Joe had a veal steak.  (Roast, more like!  Well, look!)  While the seafood dish was like a baked seafood surprise it was dee-licious!  Crab, shrimp and cod all baked with mashed potatoes, and vegetables in a sort of cream sauce.  Waugh!  It was all crazy good.  And chocolate Charlotte cake for dessert.   All for about 40 Euros for two with apps and wine!

After dinner we strolled back to our place and found that Jiver had eaten the entire bag of doggie downer treats!  OMG, the bag said one per day per 20 kg. of dog!  Well, we hoped they wouldn’t kill him!  The fact that they didn’t and only gave him horrendous gas tells how useless they really were!  He was fine and ready to whine the next day!

From Régua, we drove to Quinta do Pôpa, a dog friendly winery way up on a hill overlooking the river that had the most fantastic view as well as wines and port.  Quinta do Pôpa is a small winery on the way to Pinhão that has the most user-friendly website of all the wineries I looked at.  I signed us up for our visit and ordered a cheese plate for us to have while doing our tasting without having to make a phone call.  The staff was awesome as were the wines.  They asked us if they could take a picture of us with Jiver to use online to show that dogs are welcome and we said, of course.  C’mon Portugal, more places like this, please!

Quinta Do Monte Bravo signage, a few kilometers outside of Pinhao in the Douro Valley.

After a wonderful time at Quinta do Pôpa we drove toward Pinhão and our next stop, which was Quinta do Monte Bravo, a working winery that doubles as an Airbnb.  Several times we asked ourselves, is this right?!  The road was so full of turns and so deserted.  At one point we drove across what looked like someone’s driveway!  Finally, we saw the sign on the winery.  This place is way off the beaten path but is so beautiful and tranquil that it was worth the effort to get there.  Teresa greeted us and took us to our room which was lovely and spacious for an Airbnb.  The only sounds were of chirping birds.  Now, this is a vineyard retreat in the heart of the Douro valley!

Azuelos tile depiction of a vineyard on the Torto River in the city of Pinhao.

We were supposed to go to another winery that afternoon but decided to stay at Monte Bravo and walk the vineyards instead.  We were there for two nights and had dinner on site in a building where they feed the workers during harvest.  It was amazing!  Teresa cooked for us and her husband Pedro, the proprietor joined us for some pleasant conversation which was a mix of English and Portuguese.  The food and wines were outstanding.  Suffice it to say, that a good time was had by all!

The Douro Valley, Part One.

I was glad that our things arrived when they did as I was thinking of taking a trip to the Douro valley wine country before the tourist season got underway and the weather got too hot to handle.  I picked up a book on Enotourism in Portugal that runs down the best Quintas (wineries) in every region.  There are 12 wine regions in Portugal including the island of Madeira.  (Pretty much all of Portugal is a wine region!)  Guia de Enoturismo Portugal, O que provar, O que visitar by Maria João de Almeida:  Enotourism guide to Portugal, where to try and where to visit.  It is a great reference for visiting wineries in Portugal.  Good thing I’m making headway with my Portuguese because I did not find it in English!  Luckily, it’s pretty easy reading.

I spent some time poring over the Douro section and picked an assortment of wineries that sounded the most interesting.  One can do a day trip to the Douro on a boat or by train but that is for amateurs!  It is impossible to realize the scope of the area in only one day, especially when it takes 1.5-2 hours to get there from Porto.  I could spend a month in the Douro valley, but we chose to do three days, two wineries per day.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Our first mistake was bringing Jiver, our dog.  I thought, we have some doggie downers, and it’s only an hour and a half away.  Ha, ha, ha.  Remember that flight from Denver to Porto?  Oh, yeah enter the incredible shaking, panting and whining dog.  Ok, it was a bad idea.  Oh, and shedding machine of a dog too.  Of course, our not so smart rental car had a black interior.  Nice.  After half an hour it had a white dog hair interior!  The only thing worse than Jiver was my husband Joe who is also a nervous traveler and a back-seat driver.  Ugh.  Again, good thing it was a short road trip!

Google wasn’t much help either.  While the car’s GPS system got us out of Porto, it quit about 20 minutes into the trip.  And, what is it with the use of coordinates to find a place?  We missed the turn off to Villa Real which takes you to Peso de Régua, our first stop, and that cost us about 20 minutes.  When we finally arrived, we used the coordinates given to find our Airbnb.  Joe punched it in with one wrong number and we drove all over hell and gone before we ended up back where we started!  The Airbnb was right in the center of town!  Damn!  So now, we are late for our first winery tour.  Raios!

Airbnb.Regua
The view from our Airbnb in Peso de Regua with terraced vineyards and the Douro river.

 

 

Regua.Wine.City
Peso Da Regua: City of Wine!

Here is an important safety tip:  You must make an appointment to visit Quintas in Portugal.  DO NOT just show up at a winery and expect to take a tour.  These places are small and muito popular!  This is one of the first things the Guide tells you.  (Thank you, Maria!)  Our original plan was to leave Jiver at the Airbnb but since we were running so late, we just brought him with us.  Even as a service dog in uniform, he is not allowed in a lot of places.  Portugal is not super dog friendly, sadly.

Pacheca.2
Sitting area and vineyards at Quinta da Pacheca.

We arrived at Quinta da Pacheca half an hour late and were told, no dogs at first.  Then, they told us to go ahead up to the winery and they let us join the group with Jiver after all.  Whew, it was stressful getting there but once we settled down, it was beautiful!  Jiver made friends instantly with Aqua the winery dog and it was all good.  (She was cute and hey, Jiver is a handsome guy!)

Barrel.rooms.Pacheca
Wine barrel rooms in the vineyard at Quinta da Pacheca.

Quinta da Pacheca, besides being a fantastically beautiful winery with wonderful wines, has wine barrel rooms where guests can stay!  That’s right folks, for $3-$400 per night you can stay in a giant wine barrel that’s been converted into a room on the property.  While they looked cool, it was a little out of our price range.  We cheaped out on accommodations so that we could buy more wine to take home!  The wines at Pacheca were so good that we bought a mixed case of red and white wines and port.  Hey, they had free shipping within Portugal and, as Joe likes to say, why wouldn’t you?  Keep calm and drink wine.  That’s our motto!