World Wine Reality Check

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This just in from Vinepair.com, The 25 Best Rose Wines of 2021.
https://vinepair.com/buy-this-booze/25-best-rose-wines-2020

I read this one in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Big mistake. It just got me all fired up about the egregious disparities between the US and the rest of the world. Again.

12 of the “best” rosés in this lineup are American. Of those 12, 11 are from California. Biased? I am thinking so.
Then there is the subject of price. “…over half of the bottles here clock in at under $25…making them great case-buys.” Lol. Sounds expensive to me. Maybe that is because here in Portugal I can buy fabulous rosés for about $2-5 per bottle. If I want to seriously splurge, I can drop 24 euros on an outstanding single varietal Touriga Nacional rosé. I am sure it would compare favorably with the $40 Provence rosé they peg at number four on the list. In fact, I know that I would prefer the Portuguese rosé because I have had the Domaines Ott rosé. And while it is good, it is not worth $40 a bottle in my book. The Pacheca reserva rosé is more complex and satisfying in my estimation. And admittedly, in this case, I am biased.

Pacheca Reserva Rosé. Magically delicious!

So why are wines so much more expensive in the states?
Well, because of the three-tier system, a throwback to prohibition, prices are disproportionately jacked up. There is talk of revamping this auto-overpricing system. But given America’s Puritanical, capitalistic roots, I would be surprised if that actually happens.
(Just like the health insurance system, to name one of the many broken systems in the US. But I digress.)
Reading the Vinepair article, I am reminded of how oblivious people in the US are. Hell, I was one of them until about five years ago.
Back in the day, we all thought that America was the greatest country in the world. And maybe back then, it was. Sadly, not anymore. When I mention how scary and dangerous it is over there, my friends say it is not that bad. Really? When a person can be shot and killed going to the grocery store on any given day, I have to say, yes, it is. The shooting du jour has become shootings du jour. And that is the tip of the iceberg, I am afraid. But again, I digress.

To further illustrate my point, here is an article about affordable rosés that appeared in the Irish Sun.
https://www.thesun.ie/fabulous/6994586/10-presentable-bottles-rose-enjoy-ireland/
It is titled, On the Grapevine. 10 of the best perfectly presentable and very affordable bottles of Rosé wine for you to enjoy.
They run from about 6.50 to 25 euros, with one from Italy for 40 euros. And, I should point out that the 40 euro number is different because of the winemaking process and is aged for a year. That might justify the higher price. (Not just another overpriced French rosé.)
Now, Ireland is an island and, these wines all have to be shipped over. So the fact that they are so much cheaper than their American cousins, for the most part, underscores my point. Most of them are 7-12 euros. This sounds like a much better case-buy to me.

The Palmelão pictured below is a great every day rosé for about $2. I am sure that it would compare favorably to most of the $15 rosés that are available in the US. And it is not Franzia-like leftovers. It is a well crafted three-varietal rosé. For about two dollars a bottle. (Eat your heart out two buck Chuck!)

Two outstanding Rosés from Portugal. The Palmelão is from the Pamela region of Setubal, in the south. The Pacheca is from the Douro in the north.

Having spent years in the booze biz in the states, I have tasted a lot of wines. And while I can appreciate a good Provence rosé, now that I have had some of the Portuguese rosés for a fraction of the price, I can never go back. Never mind the wildly overpriced California offerings. (Sorry, Ca. And, I am from the Golden state.) Why would I want to?
And, I guess if you live in the United States, it helps to be oblivious to these kinds of disparities.

Some random observations.

Every country has unique aspects. Good and bad. Generally speaking, Portugal has overwhelmingly agreed with us.
When we first visited, I was amazed to see that most dwellings did not have heat or A/C. Our first visit was in February and March. There were space heaters in our first Airbnb, and they were all we needed to be comfortable.
I took this to mean the weather is so mild that outside climate control is more of an option than a necessity. And in general, that is the case. This depends, of course, on which part of the country you want to inhabit. It snows, and there is skiing in Serra de Estrella, and it gets wicked hot in the south and interior parts of the country.
In fact, we went almost three years with only a couple of space heaters, which were quite adequate.
This brings to mind the phrase, average temperatures. One should ask, what are the extreme temps? And gauge accordingly.
We bought a flat in Porto, and the first winter was anything but average. In December, the worst cold snap in 30 years came along. For the first time, our space heaters were not enough. We froze our asses off and racked up 350+euro electric bills. (Which usually run about 60-90 euros.) Ugh. Temporary, right? I am thinking there is some form of permanent heating in our future.
I have read that many ex-pats choose Lisbon and points south because Porto and environs can be cold and rainy in the winter. The weather is Seattle-like here in the winter and, I am ok with it. The heat is what I hate. And happily, it is very moderate in the summer.

On a lighter note, here are some odd but amusing observations.
Giant mutant seagulls. Yup, they grow them big here. Apparently, the Atlantic seagull is one of the largest varieties. And they rule the coasts.
They are enormous compared to the gulls I grew up with in California.
They are also pretty bold and like to perch on cars. I do not know why, but I think it is hilarious. They are also notorious trash pickers. If you see trash strewn all over the street near a dumpster, it was probably seagulls.
I have seen them in action. One day, I almost got brained by a walnut that a seagull dropped while it was flying overhead. Retribution for closing the lid of a dumpster that they were raiding, I am guessing.

Seagull perched on a car in Porto.

The Obamas put the Portuguese water dog in the spotlight when they had one in the White House. The funny thing is, I have never seen one here. However, the Portuguese Podengo is very popular. And no one has ever heard of this breed in the states. The Podengo is a hunting hound dog that varies from small to large in size. They are adorable and intelligent. And, I am told, they are very Jack Russel-like in temperament. This means they are a handful and not for the faint of heart or dog novice.
Independent and intelligent dogs require a lot of interaction and training.

See the source image
The Portuguese Podengo. Adorable and comes in many shapes and sizes.


There are many fascinating differences between Portugal and the states. And many similarities. One could write a book about driving in Portugal and Europe in general, for example. Parking on the sidewalk is quite common. You see this in Italy as well. Lack of space explains it.

See the source image
The BMV Izetta, the original Smart car.

European cities are ancient, small, and compact. Parking is a much more recent concern.
And the Portuguese love their cars. Since I am originally from L.A., I can relate to this. I have always loved cars but, at the same time, I do not miss having one. The cost is one reason. And then there is the parking. Good luck with that. However, I am amazed at how many huge garages there are in Porto. They have small entrances, so you would not notice them at a glance. But they contain cavernous spaces that hold scores of cars. This is crafty because even parking a Smart car on the street can be a challenge. I say, forget about it and take the metro!

We made the Portuguese press!

The Portuguese dream that attracts the Americans. Visão magazine.

Visão is considered to be the Portuguese Time magazine. They say that it is the most read news magazine in the country. I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of an article on ex-pat Americans living in Portugal. This month’s cover story is titled, The Portuguese dream that attracts the Americans. The sub heading is The stories of those who have left the American dream behind to move to Portugal because of the quality of life, property investments, the wines and to escape Trump. Resident permits for US citizens have almost doubled, and golden visas have multiplied six times.

I have translated the article and share it with you here.

Joe and Lisa Graziano in front of Clérigos Tower in Porto.

Lisa Graziano, wine specialist, and teacher. From Denver.
Before moving to Porto, Lisa Graziano thought about moving to Valencia, Spain. However, when she visited Portugal, she discovered that the country had a more stable government, friendlier people, and a lower cost of living. Besides this, the North American had for years had a passion for Portuguese wines. In the Invicta (Porto), she learned a new way of being. “We were used to doing everything right now, but now we have learned to be calm.” (To live more calmly.)

The attraction of the Douro.
“The USA is a bagunça,” (mess) says Lisa Graziano, mixing English and Portuguese in the eagerness of justifying the move to Portugal. “The election of Trump was terrible. If people thought it was a good idea this man should be president, I had to go”. The only thing left was to decide where to go. Years earlier, she had come across Portugal at a wine tasting in Denver, the capital of Colorado, where she lived for more than two decades. She worked in a wine shop and was used to trying the best vintages. But she was impressed by the quality of the national wines (Portuguese), especially the whites.


“One of the reasons for leaving Denver was the extreme heat that was becoming more and more common. “This is why we decided to live in Porto because it is cooler,” she says happily. The family, and their dog, moved to the Invicta (The unconquered, Porto is known as the unconquered city, a cidade invicta.) two years ago. But it was during the pandemic that they purchased a T3 (three-bedroom) apartment in Cedofeita. (A neighborhood in central Porto.) Lisa gives lessons in English to Italians online, and her husband is a graphic designer for a company in the US.

The North American feels very much that “the United States is not a country for older people.” To start with, “the health system is a joke,” she says. “We are close to retirement age, and we have access to the national health system that costs a small fraction of the cost in the US and has much better quality. That is important to us,” she admits. Besides social protection, safety has been surrendered in the country. “The US is no longer a safe place. There is always a shooting du jour, and we did not feel safe,” she laments. “Those who live in the US think that everything is better there, but that is a lie. It is a good illusion when you cannot leave, but here (in Portugal), everything is much better,” she believes.


Lisa would like to become a type of ambassador for Portuguese wines, and for this reason, she is writing a book. She has the objective of visiting all of the wine regions in the country. The Douro was the first region that she got to know, “one of the most beautiful in the world.”
Also, the adventures told in the blog The Road to Portugal, about the move to and life here in Portugal will be published.
What’s more, that digital showcase has already given origin to various contacts from north Americans asking for more information about the country.

Although now, “there is an adult as president,” the couple does not plan to return to the USA.” For this reason, the response to the question about how long do you think you will live in Portugal is unequivocal, “Forever.”

This just in…

Macieira Royal Spirit Brandy.

We got one! Ok, another one. Macieira Royal Spirit brandy.
It is another reasonably priced and magically delicious spirit from Portugal. In the odd facts department, Macieira means apple tree or apple in Portuguese. There are no apples in this brandy Macieira was the founder’s name. It is made from Portuguese grapes, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Touriga Franca, Arinto, and Fernão Pires. Created in 1865, it comes from the Estremadura region. Lisbon is located there, in what I like to call the nose of Portugal. And what a nose. Chocolate orange comes to mind.

This lovely spirit goes for about eighteen dollars a bottle and goes down in a smooth and enticing manner.
The thing about Portuguese spirits is this, they tend to be soft and elegant and a little bit sweeter than many other spirits. This drink personifies the difference between Portugal and the US. Bigger, bolder, stronger, is the battle cry in the states. Here on the Iberian Peninsula, softer, smoother, refined, and elegant are the key elements. This is part of why I like living here so much. As much as I can appreciate a good 100 proof spirit, I take issue with the in your face, always gotta be off the charts, mentality. Being extreme all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. I think that current events will attest to that. But I digress.

Back to the Macieira. It has a deep amber color with aromas of orange and caramel. There are rich flavors of caramel and chocolate with hints of orange on the finish, which is silky smooth. In a word, yumilicious! It is my new favorite winter warmer. And it clocks in at only 36% abv. Yes please, may I have another. 😉

So many great wines, so little time.

I have been a wine lover, professional and otherwise, for as long as I can remember. I have been a serious student of wine and spirits for the past twelve plus years.

When I was working in the wine and spirits retail business in Denver, I attended a lot of trade tastings. Little did I know back in 2014 that one of them would be a big preview of my then-unknown future.

Wines of Portugal is a collective put together in 2010 to help promote Portuguese wines internationally. I went to the day-long event they put on in Denver and was blown away by the quality and diversity of the wines. And now I live in what I consider to be one of the wine meccas of the world, Portugal. What are the odds? Pretty good in this case, as it turns out. 

Any type of wine you can think of exists in Portugal. Red, white, rose, light-bodied to full-bodied, dry to sweet, and sparkling in every possible form. I have had reds that could pass for Bordeaux or Barolo. Espumantes that could be mistaken for Champagne, and reds and whites that are every bit as good as any Burgundy. It is amazing. The world of wine lives in Portugal. And at the same time, they are totally unique. There are over 250 indigenous grapes grown here that are only grown here. And blends are king. If you like California red blends, you have got to love almost any of the Portuguese reds.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Pacheca Grande Reserva Touriga Nacional 2015.

Pacheca is an epic Douro winery that makes equally epic wines. They are all good. From the whites to the roses, along with the reds and ports, I have never met one that I did not like. The Touriga Nacional Grande Reserve pictured is a powerhouse equal to any great California Cab but with the elegance of a left bank Bordeaux. (No Cabernet necessary.) 

The Pedra do Gato from Vinhas da Passarella is a Dão blend that is reminiscent of Barolo. Light in color, it delivers dynamic power in the flavors, with firm tannins and great acidity. It hails from the Serra da Estrela sub-region, which is famous for its cheese. Together, they are a match made in heaven.

Cabriz Brut Bubbly.

Cabriz is another producer from the Dão region whose wines are all delicious. The sparkling brut is about as refreshing as they come. It has fine bubbles, citrine color, and fruit flavors of green apple and citrus. In a word, delightful.

Even though I am not currently in the wine trade, I plan to keep on tasting and learning about this unusual world of Portuguese wine and writing about it. This could take a while. Luckily, I have plenty of time.

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.)

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!

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.   

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.