Ruby, Vintage or Tawny?

2 Port winesPeople in the Douro valley say that babies and port wines are often born at night. Port producers let the grape juice ferment for about three days. They choose the perfect moment to add a neutral grape spirit (aguardente) that stops the fermentation before the yeast eats all the grape sugar. This moment often comes in the middle of the third night.

Most of the Douro grapes are used to produce ruby ports. These inexpensive ports are first stored in cement or stainless steel vats to prevent oxidation and then bottled. The result is a wine that retains a dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.

When the quality of the grapes is exceptional, port-wine producers declare a vintage year. These ports are stored in wood casks for one or two years and then bottled. With little exposure to air, the wine is dark red. Aging brings out complex flavors, such as notes of vanilla, chocolate, and blackberry.

The best grapes are also used to produce tawnies. These ports are aged for many years in casks made of Portuguese chestnut and oak. This aging process creates complex flavors and gives the wine a silky mouthfeel. The small amount of air that circulates through the tiny pores of the wood oxidizes the wine slightly, changing its color from red to amber.

It is wonderful to share a glass of ruby port with new friends. But there’s nothing like drinking old vintages and tawnies with old friends.

A monarchic cake

Dona AméliaIn 1901, the Portuguese royal family embarked on a visit to the island of Madeira and Azores. The event was a great honor for the local populations but presented them with a difficult problem: how do you choose a gift for monarchs who have everything?

The Azores Terceira island offered queen Dona Amélia a new cake made with local ingredients: corn flower, raisins, sugar cane molasses, and cinnamon. The queen enjoyed it so much that the new creation became known as the Dona Amélia cake.

More than a century later, the cake continues to be popular in the Terceira island and for a good reason. We loved the Donas Amélias we tried at O Forno, a great pastry store in downtown Angra do Heroism.

The ability of royalty to inspire the delicious Donas Amélias makes us wonder whether we should restore the monarchy.

O Forno is located on Rua São João in Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores, tel. 295 213 729.

Memorable pastries from Vila Real

Crista de GaloMore than a century ago, a baker from Vila Real was given four secret recipes from the local Santa Clara convent. The pastries she made with these recipes were so extraordinary that she decided to turn her bakery into a pastry store.

Today, her great grandchildren continue to use the same prized recipes at Casa Lapão, a pastry store in Vila Real. Their most popular pastry is called “Crista de Galo,” which means rooster comb.  We recommend that you try them with your eyes closed so you can better appreciate the heavenly combination of the flaky dough with the egg and almond filling.

If you’re near Vila Real, a stop at Casa Lapão can turn an ordinary day into a memorable one.

Casa Lapão is located at Rua da Misericórdia 53/55, Vila Real, tel 259 324 146, email Click here for their website. 

We hope it rains in August


When friends who visit Portugal tell us they tasted some amazing mushrooms, we always worry they are mistaken. During hard times, Portuguese cooks found ways to make tasty dishes out of many animal parts to make sure nothing went to waste. So those delicious “mushrooms” were probably pig ears in coriander sauce or sautéed veal kidneys.

But Portugal does have amazing wild mushrooms. They’re called “míscaros” (pronounced “meescaros”) and grow in the pine forests of the Beira region.  You can stew them, cook them with meat, or combine them with rice. Míscaros are one of the crown jewels of Portuguese cuisine.

One of our grandfathers loved eating míscaros. He was always happy when it rained in August because that meant that míscaros would be abundant in the Fall. We remember him very fondly for many things, big and small. And we always like it when it rains in August.

You can often find míscaros in the Fall at Salsa & Coentros, one of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon. Click here for more information about the restaurant.

The past and future of Portuguese wine


The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo.  The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.

Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.

Chocolate tastes new again


Isabel Landeau is a designer who, as a hobby, baked chocolate cakes to share with her friends. She loved so much the oohs and aahs that her cakes inspired, that she became obsessed with perfecting her recipe. For nine months, she experimented with different chocolates and cocoas. The result is a master piece, a cake that is deliciously light but layered with exquisite chocolate flavors.

When Landeau opened a store to share her creation with the world, she was surprised at the praise lavished by the international press (the New York Times called her cake “devilishly good”). Her store has become an obligatory place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers.

Landeau makes chocolate taste as exciting as when it was brought to Europe in the 16th century, as exotic as when it was used by Aztecs in religious cerimonies. Try a slice of Landeau cake and you’ll see.

Landeau is located on Rua das Flores, N. 70, 911-810-801. Click here for their website.

Europe’s most western vineyards

DCIM103GOPRO Baron Bodo Von Bruemmer, born in Tsarist Russia in 11/11/1911, made a fortune working as a banker in Switzerland. Then, at age 51, he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told he had two years to live. He decided to look for a place where, after his passing, his wife could live without worrying about money.

Von Bruemmer came to Portugal and fell in love with the country. He bought Casal de Santa Maria, a farm in Colares near Sintra. There, he spent his days breeding Arabian horses and planting roses. The airs of Colares nursed the baron back to health and today, at 104 years of age, he continues to thrive.

In 2007, shortly after his 96th birthday, Von Bruemmer felt the urge to plant a vineyard. He knew nothing about wine making, but was eager to learn. Since then, he has become a legend. With the help of a talented team of enologists, he planted the most western vineyard in continental Europe. Close to the sea, cooled by the Atlantic winds, its unique terroir produces amazing wines, salty, aromatic, and with great minerality.

The baron continues to plant new vines and supervise new projects. He makes his decisions using a small brass pendulum. If the pendulum rotates clockwise the answer is yes. Otherwise, it is no.

Every day, Von Bruemmer drinks a glass of champagne. But soon, he will drink instead the sparkling wine that, with the help of his pendulum, he decided to produce.

Casal de Santa Maria is a magical place, where vineyards surrounded by roses produce some the world’s most interesting wines.

Casal de Santa Maria is located on Rua Principal Casas Novas, n. 18/20, Colares, tel 219-292-117, email