It seems that people in the US continue to show more and more epic levels of stupidity. (Thanks, Jordan Keppler. Or not, it is horrifying to watch.) Meanwhile, here in Portugal, we have just celebrated the feasts of the popular saints. St. Anthony in Lisbon and St. John here in Porto.
When we first arrived, I had heard many stories about São João and the attendant epic party that overtook the city to celebrate it. I couldn´t wait to experience it, grilled sardines, fireworks, and just an epic good time to be had by all. Back in 2019, we had to be in another city on that day, so we missed it. And then the party was canceled due to the pandemic.
Enter 2022, and the party is on! And here is where the New World Order comes in. (Besides even more stupidity in the US with rampant idiocracy). Since Covid, I don´t want anything to do with people. Much less hordes of people in a packed environment. Can you say super spreader?
So, we stayed home, ate sardine salad, and had an excellent Douro wine to celebrate instead. We watched local fireworks from our balconies and saw our neighbors launch Chinese lantern balloons. It was quiet and enjoyable. And we avoided all the potential diseases we would have been exposed to due to proximity to huge numbers of people. Sad but true, my days of attending any event with lots of people are over.
And in 2019, had we been in Porto, I would not have thought twice about joining the throngs to celebrate the day of São João. A lot has changed since then. Sadly. I guess I am lucky to be older because I would rather stay at home now anyway.
Sardines are a polarizing comestible. You either like them, or you don´t. And as much as I have always liked them, they are not as good stateside as in Portugal. In Portugal, they are a national treasure. The little fishes are deliciously grilled fresh throughout the country from June through September, the best months for them.
Canned, they are a delicacy that comes in many flavors. They come with olive oil, tomato sauce, spicy olive oil or tomato sauce, or mustard sauce, to name a few. They are available at the supermarket for about a buck. And gourmet versions run about four or five euros.
We had the immense fun of touring the Pinhais sardine factory in Matosinhos. Matosinhos is just west of Porto and is famous for the fish and fish restaurants. The Pinhais sardine factory has been in operation since 1920. And they operate pretty much the same way today as they did back then. The front office and entry have remained unchanged since the 20s.
The Ajuelos tile work is beautiful. Much care went into the design of the factory. The staircase to the second floor looks like a fish when viewed from below. It is artful and ingenious.
Only the best sardines are chosen for canning by the women who work the floor. They sort and prepare the fish on long marble tables.
After canning, they are hand wrapped in colorful paper. The ladies doing the wrapping
are quick and efficient. We got to try wrapping cans ourselves, and we were slow and inefficient in comparison.
No surprise there. After taking the tour, we sampled the tinned fish, and they did not disappoint. Our sardine factory adventure ended with a glass of Vinho Verde wine and a sampling of sardines. It was the perfect mid-day snack. Who knew that canned fish could be so much fun and so delicious?
I have slept through January and most of February. When it is cold, I prefer to stay in bed and hibernate. Having followed the sun to Portugal, I have been following the sun into my bedroom as well. The rays do not hit the windows until between ten and ten-thirty AM. That is when I start to consider raising the shutters. We have added curtains and two heat and A/C units to our place. These additions have helped immensely with temperature control.
I guess I should just stop trying to be like my Portuguese neighbors and admit my failings as an American; we like things to be easy and comfortable.
And, happily, this has been the warmest and driest winter in Portugal since 2000. This is good and bad, of course. It has put the entire country into a drought situation. That pesky climate change thing again. Yesterday it was 70+ degrees in Porto. Most unusual for this time of year.
And yesterday was a milestone for us. The third anniversary of our arrival in Portugal. It is hard to believe it has been three years already. We have never looked back and are so thankful because life is so much better here.
I still have to laugh that Portugal was never on our radar as a possible place to live until it was pointed out to us. And it has turned out to be the best possible place to live! There is no comparison to the states because everything is so superior.
The quality of the food and wine alone is worth moving for. Not to mention the great weather and low cost of living. The country itself is spectacular. Covid notwithstanding, I could be content to spend the rest of my days traveling through Portugal alone. It is tiny but so packed with eye-popping beauty.
As much as I love wines from other countries, it is hard to drink anything other than the local wines. They are so good and can be had for a fraction of the price. Anything you could want can be had here. If you like Burgundy, get a Jaen (red) or Encruzado (white) from the Dão. Bordeaux? A red or white from the Douro. California? Alentejo, Tejo, or Sétubal has drops that compare. Champagne? Bairrada has you covered. Fabulous sparkling wines, in general, can be had from any wine region in Portugal.
And it does not stop there, dessert wines? Porto, Madeira, and, Sétubal all have a unique diversity of sweet wines.
The fun never stops, as I like to say.
I used to say that I could spend the rest of my life exploring Italy, another wine mecca. Now, I know that I will spend the rest of my life exploring Portugal. Hopefully, I can revisit Italy too. 😉 Meanwhile, viva Portugal! Sáude.
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!
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.
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.”
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.