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.

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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

New World Order

How about that Covid-19 virus?! 

This means you!

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading in the news from the states:  38% of Americans are avoiding Corona Mexican beer because of the name!  Also, people are avoiding Chinese food because of the connection between the virus and its country of origin.  WOW! 

Some of the things I’ve been seeing online have only reinforced the contention that the level of stupidity has gone off the charts stateside.  Here are a couple more headlines out there right now: Why America’s Virus Response Looks Like a Patchwork, this from the New York Times, mind you.  Well, Captain Obvious, could it be that America is a patchwork of states that all have different rules?  And if you don’t know this you might want to go back and study your American history.  Just saying. 

Also, Infected People Without Symptoms Might be Driving the Spread of the Corona Virus.  This one from CNN.  Yup, you heard right.  Now, I am not a science type by any stretch of the imagination but, if I was a betting person, I would bet big that people who are infected and not showing symptoms are driving the spread of this new virus. 

Think about your basic cold viruses, just from personal experience I know that when I start coming down with a common cold, I am in denial about it.  Oh, I’m just tired…   Meanwhile, I’m out and about probably infecting every other person with which I come into contact.  I guess only time will tell if this is the case and the big CV is transmitted in a similar manner. 

In the meantime, people are reacting like the dumb, panicky, dangerous animals that they are, buying out basics at the grocery store so that people who might really need said basics can’t get them.  Amazing and sad but true to form, people are reacting with a panicked herd mentality. 

Important Safety Tip!

But enough of CV-19 and the blatant stupidity that is a rampant contagion worse than the virus.  It is funny how ahead of the curve we are, already working from home.  We’ve been home workers for over a year now and have become used to our own company for the most part.  We still have to walk the dog but now taking walks is our main form of entertainment outside of the house.  It’s not so bad really.  It helps if you have a hermit kind of mentality to begin with, I guess, which I do. 

Wisteria Blooming in Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia.

It is almost spring and all of the trees are blooming here in the Porto area and the air is redolent of the white Jasmine that grows in the area.  Nature says, silly humans, life goes on.  And so should we, albeit with the utmost caution. Stay well everyone!

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!

Y’all Ready for This?!

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 that 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 truck load 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?

Our favorite Portuguese bubbly to celebrate having fully arrived in Portugal!

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!

Back to Lisboa and the US.

After almost a week in Porto we returned to Lisbon for a couple of days before heading back to BFE USA via Dublin and Toronto.  This time we stayed in the Alfama neighborhood which is famed for places to hear the traditional Portuguese Fado music.  Luckily, the first place we stayed in Porto had lots of Fado CDs, which we listened to.  As much as I wanted to hear some Fado music live none of the bars that hosted the music commenced the festivities until 9pm.  When you are as old as we are that is late!  It is usually lights out by 10pm for us.

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Alfama, Lisbon.

Alfama reminded me of Venice, Italy without the water.  The streets are hilly and impossibly narrow.  One of the Uber drivers we hired had a mini van and the car literally scraped the wall on one side going down the street!  It is so charming that once there you understand why it is a must-see part of Lisbon.  One of best restaurants of our entire time in Portugal is there:  Alfama Cellar.  They specialize in cooking with individual cast iron pots and the dishes there will set you free!  The best was drunk rabbit; marinated in grappa and served with roasted vegetables that conveyed flavors beyond description.  We enjoyed the food here so much that we ate there our last two nights in Lisbon.  The staff was professional and fun, and the service was outstanding.  Alfama Cellar is located at Rua dos Remedios 127-131, 1100-451 Lisboa.  Www.alfamacellar.pt.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon.

Sadly, it was quite rainy and stormy our last two days in Lisbon, so we did not wander far from our Airbnb which was about 30 paces from our new favorite restaurant.  We strolled around a little and got to visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge on our last day which was an amazing piece of history and architecture.  Our Airbnb was tiny but efficient and the craziest thing about the building was the stairs up to an apartment above.  Well, look…

Crazy Stairs in Alfama!

If one was drunk, they would be downright dangerous, methinks!

Needless to say, we were sad to have to leave Portugal.  But now, we had a mission:  figure out how to move there!

On the way back, we once again spent a day in Dublin, Ireland.  This time we were lucky to dodge an historic snow storm that dumped 13 inches of snow on the city shutting everything down two days before we arrived.  We watched as 13 truck loads of the white stuff was removed from the tarmac before we could deplane.  We got to our Airbnb and headed for the nearest pub.  Severe disappointment ensued; there was no Guinness to be had!  Fresh out.  While the city was immobilized for two days, everyone was at the pubs and drank the city dry!  That’s an historic event:  no Guinness in the pubs in Dublin!  Crazy, but true.  Happily, we got to have one more pint of Guinness at the airport before we left.

We arrived at Dublin airport around nine am. After getting through security we went through the duty-free store and found that they were having a series of gin and whiskey tastings!  Ireland, what a country!  Of course, we felt duty bound to try the local spirits.  Ireland is having a distilling renaissance and the whiskies and gins are first rate.  We brought home some Tyrconnell 12 year old Madeira cask single malt whiskey.  Mmm, good!

We made it home with minimal delays and after thinking about it we realized that the only thing we missed while we were away:  our dog Jiva (aka Bubba).  Looks like there’s a transatlantic trip in your future little buddy!

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!