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?)
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.
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.)
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!
We are heading into week number 4 of lockdown here in Portugal and, I have to say that it hasn’t been too bad. The lines to get into the stores have been minimal. There has not been a shortage of much of anything so far. I am happy to report that there is plenty of TP, food, and drink. It is a far cry from the pandemonium we are hearing coming from our friends in Italy, Spain, and the US. We wish you all well! So sorry that you are the victims of so much trumpery! (Yup, it’s a word. Go ahead, look it up!)
Kudos to the Portuguese government for handling the crisis so well thus far. Thanks to the quick official response and cooperation of the people, it looks like the virus will be contained here sooner rather than later. We hope so. In any case, it is being taken a lot more seriously than in a lot of countries.
There have even been some perks. One of our favorite wineries, Quinta da Pacheca, has been offering 20% off their wines with free delivery on a case or more. We now have plenty of wine. More and more restaurants are offering take-out and delivery. That includes our favorite pizza place, Rei da Gula, here in Gaia. So, theoretically, we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all except to walk the dog! The mandate is to, “Fique em casa!” Stay home, which we are doing. We hope that you are too! Lay low and know that better times are coming! Stay strong and stay well everyone!
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.)
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!
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.
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!