With the pervasive summer heat, naked is the way to go. And in the obscure grape department, Vinão is the winner for this wine drinker. As much as I love a good white from Vinho Verde, especially the Alvarinhos, I still love a chillable red wine. Vinão is one of the few red grapes from the Vinho Verde region in northern Portugal. This grape is hard to find even in Portugal but is worth seeking out. The red wines from the north are fruit juicy, delicious, and eminently chillable.
The Naked Vinhão from AB Valley wines is a white wine made from red Vinhão grapes. This wine tastes like a red. It is a bit disconcerting when you first take a sip. Tasted double-blind, I bet most tasters would say that it is red wine. Nope, it is a white wine from red grapes. It is crisp and refreshing, fruity, and grapey in a good way. It has great acidity that makes one want to have more after each sip.
Naked Vinhão is the brainchild of António Sousa, the winemaker for AB Valley Wines. The single varietal whites from the area are outstanding. Try some Avesso, Arinto and Azal on for size. These are all delicious well-made wines from the region.
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?!
Happy Porto garbage trucks. That’s right, I said happy Porto garbage trucks. The color of the city of Porto is a bright navy blue. Which is appropriate given the proximity to the river and ocean. And even the garbage trucks are painted this color. They are shiny and new-looking and have digital signs on the back with public service announcements. Use máscara. Use a mask! Obrigado. Thank you. We have lived here for a while now, and we love the city and most everything about it. When I remember the nasty-looking garbage trucks in the US, and I see the trucks here in Porto, all I can think is, happy Porto garbage trucks! The atmosphere in Portugal is happier and more relaxed than in the states, by far. And as far as the superior quality of just about everything here, I think it is a case of smaller is better. I like to say that Portugal is a lot like California only, smaller and better. No offense Cali, but it is true! Bigger and bolder are not always better.
Sundays. Remember when Sunday was a day of rest? Probably not. That concept has somehow been lost in the US. It does not matter what day it is. It’s, go, go, go, all the time. Here in Europe, Sunday is still a day of rest. Shops are closed, and the streets are quiet. It is my favorite day to go out strolling. The Portuguese say, calma! Calm down, take it easy. America has forgotten what it means to take it easy. In so many ways.
And the flowers. There is a profusion of flowers everywhere. The trumpet flowers are enormous, and the perfume from them is intoxicating. And then there are the giant multi-colored hydrangeas. They are mind-blowing.
And, once more, I have to mention the food and drink. I wish I could convey how good it all is here. You have to taste it to believe it. Again, I think it is a case of a smaller place that has superior quality. We have never loved having salads as much as we have here. And the country is a wino’s dream. There are fabulous wines to be had for less than five euros. Portugal personifies the saying as an embarrassment of riches. We are so happy and fortunate to be here to enjoy them.
Above, mustard pork Niçoise salad with shrimp, greens and bechamel stuffed bread. And this was created with leftovers! Thanks to Feito Prati for the amazing pão trança, braided stuffed bread, and the mustard pork.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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 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.
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!
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 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!