Discovering the Beira Interior wine region

Quinta dos termos 2

It was a week full of discoveries. We met Manuel Malfeito, a wonderful enologist with a gift for explaining the mysteries of wine. Manuel told us about Beira Interior, “a wine region around the Estrela Mountain that has a great future.” He introduced us to João and Lurdes Carvalho, the owners of Quinta dos Termos and off we went in search of new vinic sensations. At Quinta dos Termos we learned about two indigenous varietals that produce elegant, aromatic wines, the white Fonte de Cal and the red Rufete.

Both João and Lurdes come from agricultural families but their careers took them in a different direction. After studying engineering, they started a very successful textile business.

João inherited a farm called Quinta dos Termos with a few hectares of vines planted in 1931. His father had bought the farm in 1945 to produce wine for the local taverns. João hired someone to oversee the vineyard and sell the grapes to the local cooperative.

In 2001 Virgílio Loureiro, a well-known enologist, came for a visit. He told João and Lurdes that the farm had ideal conditions to produce great wine, some of the best in Portugal, perhaps some of the best in the world. The region is blessed with high altitude. The dry climate and the steady breeze keep the grapes free of fungi. And the large thermic amplitude during Spring and Summer produce natural acidity that allows the wines to age gracefully and gain complexity. João told the enologist that his textile business was very demanding and left him no time to devote to wine production.

A week later, Virgilio Loureiro called with a request: “Can I buy a few tons of grapes to produce some wine as an experiment?” “Where will you produce the wine?” João asked. “I could produce it at the local cooperative, but the ideal would be to buy some basic equipment and produce it right on the farm. I can send you a list of what we would need,” the enologist suggested. João ordered the equipment. Virgilio Loureiro produced the wine and staged it in oak until October 2002.

Once the wine was bottled, João took a few bottles to a favorite local restaurant. The next day, the restaurant owner called back and ordered 20 cases. A few days later, another restaurant owner called. He had tried the new wine and he also wanted 20 cases. In February 2003 the wine received a glowing review from a wine magazine.

João and Lurdes were hooked. They planted 56 hectares of vines and Lurdes started working full time at the winery. Now Pedro, one of the couple’s sons has joined her. Their goal is to showcase the excellence of the grapes with nothing added or subtracted. The cultivation and production process adhere strictly to organic principles. The harvest is manual with the grapes are loaded in small cases to avoid crushing the fruit.

One of the ironies of history is that this region far from the sea is the birth place of great navigators like Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil. The bottles of local wine these navigators took with them survived the long ocean voyages and were greatly appreciated. Five centuries later, it is our turn to discover the wines from this place that can produce great wine, some of the best in Portugal, perhaps some of the best in the world.

Click here for the website of Quinta dos Termos.

 

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Café Garrett

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Every day, thousands of tourists go by the iconic Rossio train station and the Dona Maria II theater. In the lobby of the theater, hiding in plain sight, is Café Garret, one of the most interesting restaurants in Lisbon.

The owner, Leopoldo Calhau, is an architect who became a chef. The restaurant reflects his personality: it offers delicious food and gracious service in an elegant setting. The menu is seasonal and the wine list features small, original producers.

Leopold knows where to find great products and how to showcase them in his cooking. His fillets of sardine with grilled peppers on toast are succulent. The “cabidela,” a chicken rice prepared according to an old family recipe is unforgettable. The soup of bouillabaisse with a river fish called “achegã” is a revelation. The ice cream made with Serra cheese is a sweet surprise.

We like asking Leopoldo to choose what he’s going to serve us. We then seat back and relax, ready to enjoy a culinary feast.

Café Garrett is located inside the Dona Maria II theater at Praça D. João da Câmara, Lisbon, tel. 21 193 3532.

Worshiping the sun in Belém

MAAT Composit

If you’re visiting Lisbon, we recommend spending an afternoon in the Belém neighborhood. We like to start by sitting at one of the tables of the old Confeitaria de Belém to enjoy an espresso with a warm pastel de Belém. We eat the pastry slowly, taking small bites while the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla surround us and the taste of cream, eggs and sugar melts in our mouth.

We are then ready to stroll by the river to the Belém tower. Before the 1755 earthquake, the tower was close to the middle of the river. It was equipped with cannons meant to protect the city from pirates. But instead of scaring marauders, the beautiful tower made Lisbon more alluring and desirable.

Our next stop is the Monument to the Discoveries. It marks the point of departure of the caravels that sailed into the unknown seas to discover new lands.  From there, we cross the garden surrounded by olive trees to visit the Jerónimos Monastery. It is a majestic monument that celebrates the age of discovery in a gothic style that makes exuberant use of maritime motifs.

After spending much of the afternoon visiting the past, it’s time to look at the future. We like to arrive 45 minutes before sunset to the next destination: the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, known as MAAT. Designed by British architect Amanda Levet, the sensuous building looks like a ship that could sail into space. Its roof has become a favorite destination for sun worshipers. Standing there, we see the Tagus river change into orange vests to praise the star that divides night and day while the white museum glows in the golden light. Five centuries after the construction of the Belém tower the MAAT makes Lisbon feel young and desirable again.

The MAAT is located at Av. Brasília, Central Tejo in Belém, Lisbon. Click here for the MAAT’s website. 

 

 

Santa Maria do Bouro in the light of eternity

Composit Amares, exposição

The granite walls of the Santa Maria do Bouro Pousada belong to a Cistercian monastery built in 1162 by the first king of Portugal. They aged perfumed by incense and lulled by religious chants.

The monks enjoyed their meals sitting around an imposing stone table. The kitchen had two fountains that supplied water, several wood-fire stoves and a fireplace used for roasting. A large chimney released the appetizing food aromas to the skies above. Perhaps the monks wanted to advertise their talents, in case there were opportunities for good cooks in heaven.

This golden age gave way to an era of slow decline. Eventually, the monks moved out. Wild animals and vegetation moved in.

Just when the old monastery had gotten used to oblivion, a small group came for a visit. They wanted to turn the ruins into an historical hotel.  Among them was a quiet man who stared in silence at the granite walls. He is an architect called Eduardo Souto de Moura who would one day win the Pritzker prize.

In his reconstruction plan, Souto Moura left the walls exposed to showcase their beauty. He avoided imitating the old, so he complemented the granite with new materials. The ivy that embraced windows and columns was allowed to stay and a green roof was built to welcome the vegetation back to the building.

Everything in this beautiful hotel breathes harmony and tranquility. The rooms have expansive views of the surrounding mountains.  And there are many spaces, indoors and outdoors where we can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

The kitchen was transformed into an elegant dining room and the large chimney became a skylight. The ancient stone table is still there, covered with irresistible desserts that would make the old monks proud.

Today, the walls of Santa Maria do Bouro stand with the confidence they will be beautiful in the light of eternity. And we think they’re right.

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.

Mister Baga

Luis Pato Composit

Bairrada is a region in the center of Portugal with unique conditions for wine production. Close to the Atlantic Ocean, it has sandy soils like those of Bordeaux and chalky soils like those of Burgundy. The vineyards are surrounded by pine trees and eucalyptuses that infuse the grapes with delicate flavors.

The queen varietal of the Bairrada region is the indigenous baga and the king of the baga is Luís Pato. The heir to a line of Bairrada wine makers that can be traced back to 1860, he rebelled against the idea of planting foreign varietals. “Mister Baga,” as people like to call him, has been proved right: today his baga wines are served in many of the world’s great restaurants.

On our first visit, we were received by his daughter Maria Pato. She talks about her father’s wines as if they are part of the family. Her green eyes shined when she opened two bottles of wine from a vineyard called Vinha Formal. The first was a sparkling wine with an enticing brioche aroma. The second was an elegant white made only with bical, a local white varietal.

Next, we tried a 2000 Quinta dos Moínhos, a captivating red wine made with baga. It tastes to red fruit but the tannins have been tamed by the aging process, giving the wine an aristocratic feel.

We sampled a very interesting fortified wine. Luís Pato stopped fermentation before the yeast converted all the sugar into alcohol by freezing the grape must instead of following the traditional process of adding alcohol to kill the yeast.

On our second visit, Luís Pato took us to the cellar to sample some Pé Franco wines made from ungrafted vines that predate the onset of phylloxera. They are complex and have a wonderful acidity that will help them age gracefully.

Pato talked about how much he has learned over the years. “People in Bairrada used to say that baga wines are good in only two years out of ten. When it rained before the harvest, the grapes gained a watery taste which together with rot ruined the wine.” He had the idea of pruning the grapes early in the season and use the pruned grapes to make sparkling wine. “Pruning gives the grapes more space to breathe, preventing rot and allowing me to make good wines in years with rainy Summers.”

Some of Pato’s new projects, like his 19th century-style wines, are inspired by tradition. Others, like his sweet white wine made with from red grapes using hyper-oxygenation, defy tradition.

We asked him about his daughter Filipa Pato, who is also a wine maker. “Our wines are quite different, but we share a lot of information. In New York they know me better for being Luisa’s father than for my wines.” he said with pride.

Both wine makers are experimenting with sercealinho, a grape varietal that only exists in their properties. These vines have to be watched closely because they are highly susceptible to disease. Luís’s father kept a plot of sercealinho alive that shows great potential.

Pato told us that “As a wine maker I cannot stop, I have to continue to evolve and accept new challenges. I want to make wines that my grandchildren will drink in 30 years and say, wow this wine is great.”

Every time we try Luís Pato’s brilliant, original wines we wonder: is Bairrada the best wine region in Portugal and one of the best in the world?  If you’re a wine lover, visit Luís Pato’s winery to find out.

Click here for information on how to schedule a visit to Luís Pato. 

A pão de ló recipe

Pão-de-Ló QG

Fernanda Pinto is an extraordinary cook who knows how to make the most from the ingredients produced at Quinta de Guimarães. Every day at breakfast she offered us either “pão de ló” or “fatias de Resende.” Both desserts have the same base, a concoction of flour, sugar and eggs. Fatias are covered with a light sugar glaze that is sinfully delicious.

Fernanda’s versions of these traditional recipes are light and elegant. We asked her whether she would give us her pão de ló recipe to share with our readers and she agreed. What makes the cake airy and light is that the egg whites are beat separately from the yolks. Here’s the recipe:

Separate the whites and yolks of 12 eggs. Beat the whites until they are firm. Mix the yolks with 250 grams of sugar. Strain 100 grams of white flour though a fine sieve and add to the yolk mixture. Fold the whites with the yolks.  Place the batter in a cake pan lined with paper. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 200 degrees Centigrade (390 Fahrenheit),

This recipe produces a great pão de ló. But it does not compare with the original version because Fernanda uses three unique ingredients: the wonderful eggs laid by the chicken that roam the farm, a large cake pan with a round clay cover, and her magic touch.

Quinta de Guimarães is located at Lugar de Miguas, Sta. Marinha do Zézere, tel. 912 915 699. Click here for the quinta’s website.

Tranquility at Quinta de Guimarães

Quinta de Guimarães

The best way to experience the magic of the Douro valley is to sojourn at a local farm. It was this possibility that attracted us to Quinta de Guimarães, an estate that dates back to the year 1720. It offers rooms in an ancient manor house and in two beautifully restored country homes surrounded by vineyards.

We loved the tranquility of the quinta and the sumptuous meals that Fernanda Pinto, the property caretaker, prepares with produce from the farm. Breakfast includes country breads, homemade sausages and prociuttos, eggs from happy chicken, and traditional desserts. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner composed of spinach soup, baby goat with roasted potatoes, followed by the farm’s luscious fruit. The meal was accompanied by a bright “vinho verde” (slightly sparkling white wine) produced on the property under the label Cazas Novas.

A visit to Quinta de Guimarães is a journey to a place where time has stopped because it found perfection.

Quinta de Guimarães is located at Lugar de Miguas, Sta. Marinha do Zézere, tel. 912 915 699. Click here for the quinta’s website.