Legendary moments at Quinta da Boavista

Quinta da Boa Vista Composit

Some quintas in the Douro valley experienced one legendary moment. But Quinta da Boavista experienced two. The first came in May 1809 when Joseph James Forrester rented the quinta to work on his masterpiece, a detailed map of the Douro river. This map quickly became an indispensable reference for port-wine makers. It also made Forrester one of the most important figures in the port-wine trade. Forrester fought for the production of high-quality wines that reflected the unique terroir of the Douro valley. As a recognition for his service, king Dom Pedro V made him a Baron.

The second moment happened thanks to Marcelo Lima and Tony Smith, a duo of entrepreneurs who bought the quinta in 2013. They realized that the grapes from Boavista, grown in some of the Douro’s tallest terraces, are like precious stones. So they went in search of a master jeweler who could polish them. They knew that the ideal person would be Jean-Claude Berrouet, the enologist responsible for 44 vintages of Château Pétrus. But he had retired in 2007, took very few consulting jobs and had never worked in Portugal.

In July 2013, Marcelo and Tony brought Jean-Claude to Boavista. The enologist stood on the varanda of the house of the Baron of Forrester for a long time contemplating an iconic vineyard named Oratório (oratory) after its shape. When he finally broke the silence, he said “Ça c’est fort!” Marcelo and Tony smiled, they had found his jeweler. Since then, Jean-Claude has worked with Rui Cunha, the quinta’s resident enologist, to perfect the way in which wines from different parcels are blended. He also brought his profound knowledge of the Bordeaux oak barrel producers to choose the ideal barrels for aging the grapes from each vineyard.

When the first vintage of Oratório came out, Marcelo, Tony, and Jean-Claude sat on the terrace overlooking the vineyard. Jean-Claude took time to evaluate the color of the wine, appreciate its delicate aromas and to take a few sips. When he finally broke the silence, he said “C’est un grand vin!”

Click here for the website of Quinta da Boavista.

A wonderful Summer

Sunset

It’s been an unusual Summer. For the wind has been fickle, sometimes blowing hard, other times refusing to show up for work. And we tried to cook with sea water because of a vague remembrance that Marcel Pagnol said that it was the right thing to do if you lived near the sea. Sardines were thin at first but then they gained weight and we could marinate them in olive oil and vinegar with sweet August onions cut in a half-moon shape. It’s been a wonderful Summer!

The fox hole

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There are very few great restaurants in the Douro valley. This scarcity has an historical origin: most vineyard owners used to live in Oporto. When they visited the Douro during the harvest, their meals were prepared by the wife of the caretaker or by some other talented local cook. So, a tradition of eating in restaurants never developed.

We were curious when Abílio Tavares da Silva, the Quinta de Foz Torto winemaker, promised to take us to a wonderful restaurant. Abílio drove us to a small village called Ervedosa do Douro and introduced us to Dona Maria da Graça Gomes. For many years, she worked as a cook for the great families of the Douro valley. Her dream of opening a restaurant came true in 2011 with the help of her two children, Rosário who runs the dining room and shares the cooking duties, and Fernando who helps manage the restaurant and curates the wines. The people of the village of Ervedosa are known as “raposas” (foxes), so they called the restaurant A Toca da Raposa (the Fox Hole).

We liked the food so much that we kept returning to Toca da Raposa during our Douro visit. We asked Rosário to choose our meals and she filled our table with culinary delights. The “pataniscas de bacalhau” a combination of codfish, potatoes and parsley are light and flavorful, the best we ever tried. The eggs with alheira (a sausage made with bread and fowl) are delicious. We loved the satisfying taste of the fatty baby-goat rice cooked in the oven. The flavorful “salpição” rice cooked with beans and salpicão sausage made at the restaurant is a revelation.  We marveled at the quality of the codfish and at the flavor of the grilled pork butt.

For dessert, Rosário brought us slices of cheese with an assortment of delicate jams made of strawberries, white grapes, quince, blackberries, orange, and zucchini.

Ervedosa is surrounded by vineyards that produce some of the best wine in the Douro valley. And at Toca da Raposa, it has food that is as great as the wine.

Toca da Raposa is located at Rua da Praça in Ervedosa do Douro, tel. 254 423 466.

 

Silk drawings

Scarves FL

When Fernanda Lamelas travels, she tends to disappear. We’ll find her in a quiet corner seeing beauty that often goes unnoticed. Trained as an architect, Lamelas became an avid watercolorist who carries her paints everywhere. Her brushes dance on white paper, making the paints flow with precision and grace. It looks easy, but it takes a lifetime of observation to choose which lines to draw, which contours to omit.

Fernanda accumulated a large collection of sketchbooks filled with drawings from her travels. But they lied in a quiet corner gathering dust. Seeking to infuse life into these sketchbooks, Fernanda used the drawing of an architectural motif from the Carmo Convent in Lisbon to make a silk scarf. The scarf received so much praise that Fernanda felt encouraged to produce more designs. And so details from Rossio in Lisbon, the Serralves Foundation in Oporto, the Pena Palace in Sintra and from many other places came alive on canvases made of silk.

If you’re looking for a memento of a blissful vacation in Portugal, it’s hard to find anything more elegant than a Lamelas scarf.

Click here for the website of Fernanda Lamelas Arts.

Mário Sérgio, a Portuguese vigneron

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The people of Epernay, a town at the heart of the Champagne region, know more about sparkling wine than almost anyone in the world. So it is remarkable that Mario Sérgio, a producer from Bairrada, found a market for his sparkling wines in Epernay.

This success has been more than a century in the making–Mário is a 4th generation wine maker. His 81-old father still labors 10 hours a day tending to the vineyards.

Mário’s family used to sell their grapes to the famed Caves São João. In 1989, at age of 23, Mário decided to reserve the grapes to make his own wines under the label Quinta das Bágeiras. From the beginning, he paid no attention to what is most fashionable or profitable. Instead, he focused on making great wines in Bairrada.

One of the first hints that Mário was on the path to greatness came in 2001 when, in a blind tasting organized in France, the judges selected two wines: a very expensive Château Haut-Brion and a modestly-priced Quinta das Bágeiras garrafeira.

Mário shuns everything that is artificial. He uses no yeasts, no filtering, no stabilization techniques. Reds are made with old wine presses using the notoriously difficult baga varietal. Sparkling wines are all Natural Brut, an exacting style that requires that there be no residual sugar in the wine.

Just like the French vignerons, Mário buys no grapes. All his wines are produced from grapes hand picked in his properties.  He knows every parcel and plants vines only in soils that can produce excellent results. “I am often offered grapes from properties adjacent to mine. But many times, the soil and sun exposure are completely different from those of the parcels I own.”

Mário is particularly proud of the vineyard that produces the grapes for Pai Abel, a wine named after his father. He makes 2,000 bottles a year. Using a practice that is rare in Portugal, he sells 80 percent “en primeur” to lucky subscribers who buy the wine at a discount two years before it is ready for delivery.

A profound believer in the aging potential of Bairrada whites, he stored his 1994 white wine for 12 years before releasing it for sale. When he brought home a bottle to share with his wife, she told him: “There’s no market for aged white wine, you’ll never sell a single bottle.” When by the end of the meal the bottle was empty, she conceded that “maybe you’ll sell some of this wine.” Mário sent a couple of bottles to his friend Dirk Niepoort. In return, he received the biggest compliment a wine maker can give to another: Dirk asked to buy all the stock of Quinta das Bágeiras 1994 white!

Every Saturday, Mário Sérgio opens the door of his winery to visitors. If you’re a wine lover, it is hard to find a more enjoyable way to spend a Saturday than to pay a visit to Quinta das Bageiras.

Quinta das Bágeiras is located at Rua Principal nº598, Fogueira in Sangalhos (N 40º 29.109′ ; W 8º 29.969′), tel. 234 742 102, email mariosergio@quintadasbageiras.pt. Click here for their website.

 

 

Red gold from the Douro valley

Abílio Tavares da Silva

“God gave Douro precious wines so that people would come and find all the other treasures,” says Abílio Tavares da Silva. He is a successful software engineer who fell under the spell of the Douro valley. After going back to school to study enology at the famed UTAD in Vila Real, he uprooted his family from Lisbon to the Douro. Abílio bought Foz Torto, an estate with perfect sun exposure, and began producing wonderful wines. It was only then that he found the other treasures.

One day, someone brought local heirloom tomatoes to a gathering of wine producers. “I had never tasted tomatoes like those, so I decided to plant some tomatoes at Foz Torto. In July and August, the Douro is very hot and this heat produces extraordinary results. The plants struggle, their roots are forced to go deep in search of the last few drops of water. That is why the tomatoes are not watery; they are firm and full of flavor.”

As soon as we sat down for lunch, a beautiful plate of heirloom tomatoes arrived. Abílio had picked them in the morning to make sure they were perfectly ripe. They had a luscious red color, an intense flavor, and the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. These heirloom tomatoes are as good as fine wine.

Abílio smiled, pleased with our reaction. “It is not just the heat that produces these results,” he explained. “The soil in the Douro valley comes from sedimentary rock that was at the bottom of the ocean millions of years ago. When the rock disaggregated, it became home to a lush microbiological ecosystem that made the soil rich in micronutrients. These micronutrients make all the difference in the production of fruits and vegetables.”

After lunch, we drove to Foz Torto. In the vineyard, Abílio explained how the design of the beautiful Douro terraces evolved in response to the shortage of labor and the need to avoid soil drainage. He then showed us his fruit trees and vegetable garden. The figs, peaches and strawberries were dripping with sweetness. They are more satisfying than the most sumptuous desserts.

“In the old days, the Douro farms were self sufficient, they had wonderful orchards and great vegetable gardens. When the train came to the Douro, the farms started buying fruit and vegetables from the rest of the country and focused on the production of port wine. The tradition of growing fruits and vegetables was lost. But there’s a group of wine producers that is bringing back those old crops.”

Together with Celeste Pereira from the event company alldouro.com  and journalist Edgardo Pacheco, Abílio organizes an annual competition for the best heirloom tomato in the Douro valley. The tomatoes are tasted blind by a panel of chefs, enologist and food writers. Wine makers from many quintas participate in the event.

This year, the competition takes place at Quinta do Vallado on August 24. On August 25 there’s an agricultural market where people can taste heirloom tomatos, olive oil, fleur de sel, Douro wines, and traditional local food. If you’re on the Douro valley, do not miss the opportunity to participate in these unique gastronomical events. And if you go, please cheer for Abílio Tavares da Silva, we hope that his extraordinary heirloom tomatoes win the first prize!

To participate in the heirloom tomato competition events please email   greengrape@greengrape.pt.The events are free.

The story of Portugal

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Travel is like so much else; we get what we put into it.  You’ll enjoy a trip to Portugal much more if you learn a little about the rich history of this small corner of the world.

But what should you read?  Travel guidebooks reduce centuries of history to a few lines, leaving us with little more than a boring list of names and dates. History books, on the other hand, are often so dense with scholarship that it is easy to get lost.

Luckily, John dos Passos, a great American writer whose father was from the island of Madeira, produced a highly readable account of Portugal’s age of discovery. His book introduces us to the main protagonists that shaped this golden era. Through their triumphs and defeats, their joys and tears, we learn the story of Portugal.

John Dos Passos, The Portugal Story: Three Centuries of Exploration and Discovery, Doubleday, 1995.