Winter has arrived in Portugal. We have been lucky to have had mostly sunny days through November. But now it is cold and rainy here in Porto, as is expected this time of year. The pleasant weather is one of the things that attracted us to Portugal. And we chose to live in Porto to avoid the heat of summer that can be extreme in the southern parts of the country. Mission accomplished there. The summers have been beautiful, and in the 70s for the most part. Fall is fabulous, with warm days and cool nights through the end of October. Spring can be very hit or miss, some cold rainy days interspersed with sunny days.
Last year, we suffered through the coldest winter in 30 years here. And our electricity bill showed it. 300-350 euros for the coldest winter months. Yikes! We are used to paying 35-50 per month.
When we first visited Portugal, I noticed the lack of heating in most buildings. I thought, wow, the weather must be so mild that heating isn’t necessary. Silly human! Au contraire, mon frère. Here is what I have learned after living here for almost three years. The Portuguese are incredibly stoic when it comes to suffering through cold weather. Yup, it is winter, and it is cold. Suck it up! That is the attitude. I don’t know if it is a holdover from the Salazar dictatorship or what, but doing without heat does not seem to bother most of them.
As wussy Americans, we are not keen on freezing our keesters off for months at a time. So, this year we got a more energy-efficient space heater and ordered some heavy draperies in hopes of warding off the worst of the winter cold. If that does not help, we may have to install heating. We are crossing our fingers that window coverings will be the answer. In the meantime, we will be drinking lots of spiced wine and doing plenty of cooking and baking to keep things warmed up.
Vinhão, also known as Sezão or Sousão in Portugal, is one of the red grapes in the Minho or Vinho Verde region. It is known for its deep dark color and biting acidity and is usually blended and used for Port and table wines. As grapes go, it is a pretty rare and exotic specimen.
It produces my favorite color in a wine. Black iris. A deep, dark purple that is almost black. If you spill this grape juice, you had better have some serious cleaning agents at the ready. (Yes, we spilled it all over a white wall and thought we would have to repaint, for sure. Thanks to Neo Blanc, the wonder cleaner, for saving the day! We could not believe that it cleaned up so well you would never know it happened.)
And this brings us to the wine of the hour: São Gião (sow guy-ow) Vinhão (vin-yow. I know, Portuguese, oy!) Colheita Selecionada. https://quintasaogiao.pt/en.
This is new favorite red wine for us. It has black fruit, violet, and spice aromas with super blue and blackberry flavors. It is medium-bodied and bone dry on the finish with a killer minerality. It is unique. It is somewhat like a dry Brachetto (an almost equally obscure wine). Only Vinhão is drier, darker and, has more body. It pairs smashingly with salmon or other fatty fish and cured meats and cheeses. It is delicious with eggplant parmesan and the like. It also drinks well by itself. (Important safety tip, it does not pair well with light-colored walls or carpeting!) It is a great summer red wine and should be served with a slight chill. And check out that label. The artwork is stunning and is meant to reflect the terroir of the wine.
And now for the bad news. Good luck finding it outside of Portugal. The red wines from the Vinho Verde region are pretty rare, even in Portugal. They make up only about seven percent of the wines hailing from Vinho Verde. When reading about the region, the red wines are often not even mentioned. The recommended red grapes are Amaral/Azal tinto, Borraçal, Brancelho, Espadeiro, (which makes a mean rosé), Padreiro, Redral, Rabode Ovelha and Vinhão. There are several more that are permitted in the DOC wines of the area. Welcome to Portugal, where 250 to 350 indigenous grape varieties exist, depending on who you ask! It is a wine mecca second only to Italy. A foodie and winos paradise and a wine geeks dream. Sáude!
The US specializes in urban jungles. LA, New York, and Chicago all personify types of urban jungles. They all have areas that are asphalt jungles. Full of hard surfaces and danger. Los Angeles, especially since they concreted over most of the city in the first half of the 20th century. All three specialize in plenty of urban violence, which is epidemic throughout the states.
Here in Portugal, we have entirely different types of urban jungle. There are oases of greenery everywhere if you know where to look. And then there is the wildlife. Avian wildlife predominates. Followed closely by cats and dogs coming in a distant third. (We are talking urban wildlife here. The number one spot, of course, goes to the humans. Far and away the most dangerous of the lot!)
I have mentioned the Atlantic seagulls before. They really are kings of the coasts. As near as I can tell, man is their only predator. The Portuguese Atlantic gulls can be vicious pigeon killers. It is actually pretty scary to witness. And with so many pigeons, the gulls will never go hungry. I wonder if pigeons are a delicacy to them since they mostly eat fish. It is pretty horrifying to hear the screams of the city rats when the seagulls go after them. I have seen them feed their chicks with fresh rock dove meat. Yum. It gives one new respect for the seagoing warrior gulls. And the screaming of the sea pterodactyls is near-constant in the cities near the coast.
On a lighter note, we have what seems like a flock of parrots in the neighborhood. They fly by so quickly, it is hard to tell if that is what they are. Given their screeching and small green bodies, we guess they must be renegade parrots. Songbirds are very popular as pets here and, you know they must escape from time to time.
When it comes to screeching, there is nothing like a peacock. The peafowl really makes the most Jurassic park sounding noise. Several parks have them in abundance and, they tool around like house pets in various parts of town. It is entertaining to see.
We hear about the shootings du jour in the US, and we think, wow, it just seems to keep getting worse in the not-so United States. We are happy to have traded the concrete jungle for a peaceful urban oasis.
Que Se Foda. A wine whose time has come. It means what the f*%# in Portuguese. More of an art piece, really. Wine as art, if you will. Or art as wine. The perpetrator of this bit of fun is Francisco Eduardo. An artist based in Lisbon. Here is the message on the bottle: “The message behind the coarse expression used in this work of art is a message of hope and a synonym of faith. When we are in doubt, often our fears win over our dreams, and it is at that time that it is necessary to say, (WTF.) Que se foda?!”
WTF indeed! Side effects of the pandemic include political insanity and random increased violence, especially in the US and on airplanes, it seems. Wow. Just when we thought it could not get any worse in the weirdness department. And I love that this artist is selling his Que se Foda wines online with great success. The red sold out before we even knew about it. (Sounds like a great wine, I will have to seek it out from the winemaker.) I was lucky to score a bottle of the white Vinho Verde before it sold out. Hopefully, Mr. Eduardo will keep them coming.
The TTB (Alcohol and Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau) would throw a fit if someone tried to sell wine with such profanity for a name on the label in the states. Puritanical mo-fos. I am pretty sure that the acronym would not be approved unless it stood for something else altogether. Much less spelling it out as it is on this fine Portuguese wine. And look at me, unwilling to even spell the word out myself. This from a lifetime of conditioning and fear of offending anyone. WTF?!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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. 😉
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 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 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 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 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.)
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.