Heavenly delights

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During the cold months of the year, banquets in heaven include slices of a white soft cheese served with pumpkin jam, toasted almonds, and a whiff of cinnamon. It has a silky texture and a smooth, milky taste, just what you’d  expect from heavenly food.

“What do you call this celestial cheese?,” newcomers ask the angels. “Requeijão” they answer. “It is made with sheep and goat milk by shepherds who live nearby, in Portugal’s Estrela mountain. Requeijão is great all year round. But it is exceptional in the Fall and Winter, when we always include it on our menus.”

One of the surprises of heaven is that some of its delights come from earth.

Wine lessons

Adega Mãe Composit

If you’d like to learn more about wine, we have the perfect plan. Adega Mãe, a new winery in the Lisbon region, organizes one-day courses on wine appreciation that are seriously fun.

The morning is devoted to the theoretical aspects of wine making and wine tasting. After a coffee break, the practice begins. Guided by an experienced enologist, you taste Portuguese wines made with different varietals and compare them with foreign wines.

Once your palate is trained, lunch is served in the beautiful dining room that overlooks the vineyards. Wines produced with grapes from these vineyards are carefully matched with each different dish.

After lunch, there is opportunity to ask more questions and taste more wine. Don’t leave before trying Adega Mãe’s elegant Alvarinho white wine!

Adega Mãe is located near the town of Torres Vedras. Click here for their website. To ask about their wine appreciation courses email enoturismo@adegamae.pt

The king of Portugal’s favorite fish

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A noble mullet, pencil on paper, Rui Barreiros Duarte, 2014.

King John II, who reigned in Portugal in the late 15th century, liked to say that “a nation is like an ocean. There are many types of fish in the ocean. The sardine tastes good and it is abundant, so it is cheap. The mullet also tastes good, but it is rare, so it is expensive. I prefer the sardine.”

Historians debate whether this aphorism, in which the mullet represents the nobility and the sardine the people, was good court politics. But it is good advice to those going to the fish market.

Adega Mayor

Adega Mayor

If you’re a wine lover traveling in Alentejo, don’t miss the chance to visit a wonderful winery called Adega Mayor. It is located in Campo Maior, a region on Portugal’s border with Spain that was once the stage of fierce battles between the two countries.

Adega Mayor was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect who received the Pritzker prize. He is famous for his ability to create buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings. At Adega Mayor, he succeeded brilliantly. The winery is a subtle white accent on the Alentejo landscape, toped by a terrace with amazing vistas. It is extraordinary to sit on the terrace at sunset and watch the Alentejo sky painted with colors others skies can only dream of.

The wines of Adega Mayor are produced with immense skill and care. But they offer much more than technical perfection. They carry in them the soul of Alentejo.

We left Adega Mayor with a warm feeling of optimism. We saw ancient battle fields turned into peaceful vineyards that produce extraordinary wines.

Click here for Adega Mayor’s website.

Portuguese melon


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One of the pleasures of the Portuguese Summer is eating melon. But melons are like lottery tickets. You can win the grand prize, a perfectly ripe melon bursting with sweetness, or strike out and get a tasteless specimen. There’s a coloquial expression that reflects this uncertainty. We say “que melão,”  which means “what a melon,” when we suffer a minor disappointment.

Melon sellers have some curious idiosyncrasies. They like to boast that their melons come from Almeirim, a region that is famous for its melon but has a small production volume.  They also take pride in being able to pick a ripe melon, even though their track record is often spotty.

Restaurant waiters talk about melon with great diplomacy. When they say: “The melon is usually great but I didn’t try it today,” it means that the melon is a dud.

There are restaurants that always serve good melon. No one seems to know how they do it. Perhaps they buy many melons and throw away the bad ones.

According to an old proverb, “por cima de melão, vinho de tostão,” which means “after melon, drink wine that costs a penny.” Since a penny was a lot of money in old times, the proverb recommends drinking good wine after eating melon.

So, here’s our advice. Ask a melon seller to pick a ripe melon from Almeirim for you. If the melon is lousy, just say “que melão” and move on. If the melon is great, celebrate with a great bottle of wine!

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

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The name of this wine estate near Lisbon means golden hill farm. It is a fitting designation because this is a place where grapes are treated like gold and wines are made with a jeweler’s precision.

The soil of the farm is similar to that of Côtes du Rhône, so José Bento dos Santos, the farm’s owner, planted the same grape varieties that thrive in that French region: Syrah and Viognier.

Graça Gonçalves, the estate’s enologist, talks about each parcel of the farm as if they are old friends. She knows their qualities and shortcomings and choses cultivation methods that help each of them thrive. We ask which is her favorite parcel and quickly realize it is an impolite question. Graça does not answer, but when she talks about parcel 24 her eyes shine more than usual. This parcel is planted with Syrah grapes that came from old vines in Côtes du Rhône. Each plant is different and it is this variety that creates the quinta’s top wines, such as the aptly named Syrah 24.

When harvest time approaches, Graça walks through the vines, taking samples to analyze in the lab, tasting the grapes, imagining the wines that will be produced. When the time is right, the grapes are picked by hand and carefully selected. There are then numerous decision to make, such as how to press the grapes and whether to stage the wine in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats. Why such meticulous care? Graça explains: “Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion.” It is impossible not to feel this emotion when you open a bottle of Quinta do Monte d’Oiro wine.

Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.