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.

 

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 seen 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 similarly. 

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 have been homeworkers 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 entertainment outside 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 Pinhão.

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.  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. 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!

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, 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?

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.

It’ a Miracle!

Well, it only took four months from the application date, but we finally got word that our resident visa to live in Portugal has been approved.  Holy mother of the wait from Hell!  I am in shock, and it seems so surreal that we will actually be leaving in about three weeks!  So much to do it is staggering because so many things hinged on getting visa approval.  It is a little over a year since we set out on our first trip to Portugal last February.  I still can’t believe how long and trying a journey it has been, and we are just getting started!  We are still on the road to Portugal, but soon we can rename the blog Adventures in Portugal.  Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah! 

It is strange how some things have come so easily: selling the harp, getting NIF numbers and a decent place to live in the Porto area.  And how long and painful a wait it was for visa approval.  I was so desperate that I was about to agree to pay two grand to an immigration attorney in Lisbon to try and help us speed up the process.  (haha, never use the word speed when talking about government of any kind!)  I had just texted Joe about the cost when he got the email from the consulate that our visas had been approved. (Whew, that was close!)  This, the day after the consulate received the letter I sent with a cashier’s check for the visa application fee, which was not collected from us at the time of application. I can only assume because their systems were down. Hmmm.  Coincidence?  You decide.  Anyone who tells you that it’s easy to move to ANY other country is full of it and/or selling something!

Yup, with no plan B, failure is not an option!
We are all in. Vamos!

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.  Tally ho, and away we go!

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.  It 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 live Fado music, 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.

Lisboa.Alfama
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 minivan, 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 the 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 the drunken 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 visited the Castelo de Sao Jorge on our last day, which was an impressive piece of history and architecture.  Our Airbnb was tiny but efficient. 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 a historic snow storm that dumped 13 inches of snow on the city, shutting everything down two days before we arrived.  We watched as 13 truckloads of the white stuff were 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 a 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 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.

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!

Hobbit house for goats!
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 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!

On to Porto.

After four days in Lisbon we took the train to Porto.  We did have a little miscommunication with our cab driver, who thought we wanted to go to the aeroPORTO.  When we realized that we were almost to said airport, we told him that we wanted to take the train, trem, trem!  To Porto, muito obrigada. (Thank you very much.)

This was one of my first blunders with the language. Train, as in train station, is estação de comboio. Trem, is another word for a train.  Little did I know.

No biggie, only about 15 minutes lost there.  We stopped for um café (a coffee.  Must have coffee in the AM!) and made our way to the gate for the train to Porto.  It is about a three-hour trip on the express train which is very pleasant and comfortable.  Plenty of time for a good read, some study or, a snooze.  They serve coffee on the train, we soon found out, and it was quite good and a screaming deal for one Euro.

What is that chick doing in the Porto sculpture?

By the time we arrived in Porto, we were hungry.  So, after we checked into our Airbnb, we took off to tour the town on foot.  Our hostess gave us a map with a list of the best places to eat, and we were off to seek delicious internal nourishment.

Porto is quite hilly and reminded me a lot of San Francisco.  Oh, and beautiful, beautiful, wish I was still there.  I had done a little research myself (Thank you, Rick Steves.) and, we set off to find Casa Guedes, famous for its pork sliders.  It was a bit of a hike, but we found it, and of course, there was a line out the door.  We were tired and hungry and almost blew it off to go elsewhere, but there were only four or five others ahead of us, so I insisted, we’ve gotta suck it up and try these.  After about ten minutes, we reached the counter to order.

The place is TINY, and when you get to the register, you had better know what you want.  This is what you want: pork slider with cheese and a glass or bottle of the house sparkling rose, which was not on the menu, as near as I could tell.

We sat at the three-seat bar and waited for our food.  Behind the bar was a man with a giant side of pork swimming in roast pork juicy deliciousness.  We were getting high on the fumes.  This was going to be good.

Magically delicious!  Casa Guedes pernil sande with Serra cheese.

Holy mother of the best pork sandwich you have ever had!  And the rose wine with it, heaven.  There were only about three or four small tables inside.  Most of the seating was outside on the patio.  It was a little chilly, but we sat outside and enjoyed our gastronomic bliss.  Joe had a Super Bock beer, which was good with the world’s best roast pork sandwiches that melted in our mouths, but the sparkling rose really was the perfect pairing.  This was one of the best meals that we had on our entire trip.  A simple, taste treat sensation and all for about 17 Euros for the two of us.  This is what I’m talking about.  Welcome to Porto!   When do we move in?