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!)

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.

Coach Museum/O Prado, Take 1.

Being older helped us out with the timing of everything we did on this trip.  While the rest of the Portuguese world has lunch around 1pm or later, we were usually hungry by noon.  The same went for dinner.  We usually wanted to eat around 6pm and were the only ones in the dining room at that time.  Restaurants got busy after 7pm, which suited us just fine.

We re-visited the Pasteis de Belem at about 11am in the morning and, guess what?  There was no line!  The place is also much bigger than it looks from the outside and seats around 400.  We ordered coffee and two pasteis de nata, as they are known.  This is the Café du Monde of Lisbon.  Little custard tarts served in a parchment like pastry shell.  Not as good as beignets, but still, quite tasty.

After our “breakfast” of custard tarts and coffee, we decided to check out the Coach Museum.  Now, Joe thought, really?  A coach museum, how interesting could it be?  Boy, was he surprised!  As was I.  These were historic coaches built for royalty and they were impressive and amazing to say the least.  Having been a carriage driver in Denver for many years, I could really appreciate these mobile works of art.  They made our carriages look mighty pedestrian, I’ll say!  Well, look!

Coach.2

After being wowed by the antique coaches for royalty we found O Prado for lunch.  This little gem of a restaurant is on Rua da Junqueira, 474, 1300-341, Lisboa, and if you are ever in Lisboa (Lisbon, to us foreigners!)  you need to dine there.  We sat at the bar and were entertained by the Johnny and Christina show!  These two run the place and they are awesome, as is the food.  I had a salmon steak that was crazy good, super fresh and cooked to perfection, that is not overdone, and Joe had a pork dish which melted in the mouth.  We shared a bottle of the house red wine which was a red Vinho Verde.  Why, oh why do we not get this wine over here?!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against the white Vinho Verdes, but the red is so perfect with everything!  Beautiful dark red color, a hint of effervescence, light bodied with dark fruit flavors and nice and dry on the finish.  Yumilicious, it was.  It reminded me of the dry Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna in Italy.  I Wish I could have brought some home.  One of the many reasons we’ll just have to move there!  Seriously, I have travelled a lot, but never have I visited a country where all the food and drink is so consistently good if not great. 

Given the great fun, food and drink, we became instant friends with Christina and Johnny and said we’d be back before we left Lisbon.

O Prado house red Vinho Verde.