Portuguese wine and spirits. Because, I love me some wine and spirits!
Wine is a deep subject. There is no end to it once you start to study it. American wines are probably the most straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they are easy by any means. Then there are French wines, Italian, German and Austrian, and Portuguese, to name a few. Each one is a study in itself and, the approachability descends with each country listed!
I have been a student of wine and spirits for over ten years, and the learning curve continues to challenge me. So, in an attempt to educate myself and hopefully shed some light on the subject, I am going to write here about Portuguese wines and the derivatives thereof. It would be a waste not to strive for expertise in the subject when I have the supreme good fortune to be living in Portugal! So, here goes! Bring on the Vinhos Portugueses!(See previous post, Got Wine?)
Portuguese wine is a world unto itself. The geography of the country makes it more isolated than most. It is easier for Portugal to keep to itself more than many countries since its only neighbors are Spain to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
As a result of its relative isolation, the wines of Portugal have traditionally stayed mostly at home. Port wine is the one exception. Britain and Portugal have had a close relationship for centuries, and Port wine is one of the reasons. The British have been port lovers since the 1700s, and this unique fortified wine comes from the Douro wine region in northern Portugal. The Douro was the first demarcated wine region in the world. The Marquis de Pombal made it so in 1756. He knew a good thing when he saw it, and real port wine can only come from Portugal. And while Port wine is one of the country’s many claims to fame, the table wines are the unsung heroes of the wine show in Portugal.
Portugal has over 250 different indigenous grape varieties. It is second only to Italy in this respect. (Italy has over 1,000 different native grape varieties!) Any self-respecting wine drinker knows the big names in Italian grapes. (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese…anyone? Anyone?) Portuguese wine grapes? Not so much.
Here’s a hint, for reds, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and, Tinto Roriz (aka Tempranillo in Spain) are big names. For whites, Alvarinho (same as Spanish Albarino, just spelled differently), Arinto, and, Antao Vaz.
Traditionally both the red and white table wines have been blends of various grapes. Single varietal wines are becoming more common as winemakers find the best grapes to vinify on their own. Touriga Nacional is the star of the red grapes, while Alvarinho is the leading white grape.
Here’s the thing, they are all so good! (To quote from the movie Bottle Shock.)
When we first arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, we were excited to try the local wines. So, the fact that 98% of the wines in the stores are local mattered not. A year later, we are still trying all local vinhos and loving them all! Even better, the Portuguese wines cost a fraction of what we were paying for wines in the states. It is fun and exciting to try so many great wines that aren’t available outside the country. All of the drink in Portugal is deserving of a much bigger place on the world stage. Now that we live here, we will continue to enjoy them and look for opportunities to spread the word about them abroad. Viva Portugal!
We are heading into week number 4 of lockdown here in Portugal and, I have to say that it hasn’t been too bad. The lines to get into the stores have been minimal. There has not been a shortage of much of anything so far. I am happy to report that there is plenty of TP, food, and drink. It is a far cry from the pandemonium we are hearing coming from our friends in Italy, Spain, and the US. We wish you all well. So sorry that you are the victims of so much trumpery. (Yup, it’s a word. Go ahead, look it up.)
Kudos to the Portuguese government for handling the crisis so well thus far. Thanks to the quick official response, and cooperation of the people, it looks like the virus will be contained here sooner rather than later. We hope so. In any case, it is being taken a lot more seriously than in a lot of countries.
There have even been some perks. One of our favorite wineries, Quinta da Pacheca, has been offering 20% off their wines with free delivery on a case or more. We now have plenty of wine. More and more restaurants are offering take-out and delivery. That includes our favorite pizza place, Rei da Gula, here in Gaia. So, theoretically, we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all except to walk the dog. The mandate is to, “Fique em casa.” Stay home, which we are doing. We hope that you are too. Lay low and know that better times are coming. Stay strong and stay well, everyone.
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 unique. Pacheca, while a larger 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 unequaled 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. email@example.com.
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. It is one of the biggest port houses and has holdings in Spain. There they also make sherry. 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 and 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, like the Sandeman icon. 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 are not your thing, the dry wines are delicious as well.) They did have a bar where you could have port cocktails after the tour. which was awesome. It had a panoramic view of the surrounding vineyards! Porto Tonico, anyone?
Porto e Tonico (dry white port and tonic water) is our new favorite cocktail. 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!
After a hapless day of traveling (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 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!
After a fabulous 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!
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!
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 handy 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 take a day trip to the Douro on a boat or by train, but we decided to rent a car and drive. 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, which 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!
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.
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!)
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 has 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!
Random is the keyword for how things work here in Portugal. I have been told by locals that how things go in the government offices largely depends upon the mood of the employee with which you’re dealing. On an international level, it seems that the “rules” can change from minute to minute. Or maybe, it’s just our interpretation of said rules.
So, after freaking out about having to get a certificado do bagagem from the consulate in San Francisco, translate the inventory of our things into Portuguese, (which I did) and all the other attendant forms, here’s what happened…
We were at the Arrábida shopping mall here in the Canidelo hood, about to buy a printer/copier so that we could print out and copy everything when my phone rang. It was Bongers calling to say that our shipment would be delivered next week on Tuesday or Wednesday. I replied that I was working on getting the requisite forms but, it probably wouldn’t happen that fast. (San Francisco Portuguese consulate, enough said.) He said, that’s ok never mind the forms, we can get it through customs for you for 124 Euros without any forms. At first, I didn’t believe him. It was a good thing that there was a place to sit down, so I did. Really? Says I. And then I thought, why ever didn’t you tell me that this was an option in the first place? I said, done. Where do I wire the money?
It would have cost $200 to Fedex the forms to and from the
consulate plus their fee so, 124 euros sounded like a screaming deal at this
point. Our man at Bongers said that he
would let me know what day delivery would be by the end of the week. I said, you are awesome and rang off. Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah! One bureaucratic bullet dodged.
I didn’t hear from Bongers and thought, well, they will let me know when our shipment is ready for delivery. On Monday evening, I was giving an English lesson online when the doorbell rang. It was the movers. They were outside with a truckload that contained our worldly goods. It was a good thing that we were home. I finished the lesson while Joe received the box parade.
Whoo-hoo! After nearly three months, I had forgotten what all we shipped. I was glad to have summer clothes because it is supposed to be in the eighties here on Sunday. Sadly, the only thing that was broken was Joe’s $400 office chair, the one thing he really needs, of course. And naturally, the deductible on the moving insurance for breakage is $500. Figures, ‘eh?
But all in all, we are happy to have our things and now feel like we have finally arrived. I still say that if you are moving to another country, don’t ship anything. It is not worth the brain damage nor the cost. Thank you very little, not so Transparent International and, thank you very much, Bongers International.
Admittedly, with a two week visit to Portugal, we have barely scratched the surface of places in the country where we would like to be. But between Lisbon and Porto, we really liked Porto the best. They even have a few craft breweries. They remind me of where Denver was with microbreweries 20 years ago. Cool spots, good beer, and so much potential. Nortada was our favorite. It reminded me of The Rock Bottom Brewery when it was new. Nortada is new, and if you like craft beer you should check it out if you are ever in Porto. It is located right in the center of the city and not only are the brews good, but the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. Portuenese Beer Factory is its formal name, and it is located at 210 Rua de Sa da Bandeira, 4000-427, Porto, Portugal. Their website is: https:// loja.fcpornuenese.pt.
Did I mention our criteria for a place to relocate? Great food, wine, and weather are foremost. So, we add beer, and we are there in Porto. But what about the city’s namesake drink? Port: it’s not just for after-dinner anymore! Port is a fortified wine that is amazing in its versatility. Not just a sweet after-dinner drink, it comes in many forms, and white port is one of them.
We visited Barros port house and got to sample a 30-year-old white port. Dangerously delicious is a phrase that comes to mind. A little sweet with a plethora of flavors that go on for days. Floral peach nose with flavors of caramel and lightly nutty flavors. Wow, it was so good that even though we were tasting many ports vintage and otherwise we had to drink this one.
As beverage pros, when one tastes a lot of alcohol, one spits so as not to get deliriously drunk. And Port is no slouch in the ABV (alcohol by volume) department coming in at 16-20% alcohol. It is fortified with brandy. This came about to preserve it on the long trips overseas to Britain, where it became popular in the 1700s. It is the third oldest protected wine region, after Tokai in Hungary (1730) and Chianti in Italy (1716). In 1756 the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro or Douro Wine Company was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing for consumers. The making of and history of Port is a study unto itself. Check it out on that Google thing. I hear it is catching on.
Back to the drinking part. Dry white port makes an excellent aperitif. On the rocks, with a twist, it is super refreshing in the summer. There are plenty of great port cocktails to try as well. See any good bar book for recipes.
Our VIP tour of Barros was fabulous, fun and informative. In addition to the white port, we got to try several vintages and single-vineyard ports, all of which were outstanding. Because they are fortified, a good port will age well for decades.
By the time we finished our tour, it was lunchtime. Our Uber driver had recommended Porto Cruz as an excellent option. They have a beautiful 4th floor dining room with a view of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto and is where all the port houses age their wines. Once we were seated, a server came over with a bottle and asked if we were driving? We answered no, and he poured us a glass of chilled white Port. Again, off dry and a perfect aperitif. Is there no end to the magic deliciousness? I hope not!
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 its freshness and lively flavors. Sadly, the white and some rose Vinho Verde’s are the only ones that make it to Denver. The red wines are outstanding, as are the spirits or Aguardente as they call them. (Brandy or literally fire water to us!)
Aveleda is one of the largest wine producers in Portugal. 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. This 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.
We arrived at the train station in Penafiel and 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!
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.
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 tasted 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!
The next day we wandered back down to the river. 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 an illusion, 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 delectable 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 nightcap, 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 nightcap! So, Johnny pulled out some of their homemade hooches. Portuguese grappa and brandy, 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 firewater that was even more delicious than the first! Then, of course, I had to try some of the Portuguese aguardente, which literally means firewater. 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. They were cleverly disguised in recycled apple juice bottles! Love them, mean it! Our to-to liquor 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 hangover, to be sure.