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.

Great products from small producers at Comida Independente

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We fell in love with Comida Independente at first sight.  It is a new gourmet grocery store in Lisbon that has a selection of food and wines curated by its owner, Rita Santos. The shelfs of the elegant shop are filled with the best of Portugal: wines, olive oil, sausages, canned fish, salt, herbs, spices and much, much more. The store’s fitting motto is “great products from small producers.”

There are regular tastings of wines and foods that turn into exuberant gourmet parties. When we visited, Mário Sérgio from Quinta das Bageiras had everybody under the spell of his wonderful Bairrada wines. Lugrade, a famed producer of codfish, had sent their own chef to prepare tantalizing codfish cakes and other delights.

Rita hired two great collaborators: Inês Ruivo and Olavo Rosa, who graciously posed for us behind the store counter. Inês is an enologist who advises custumers on wines, food pairings and much more. Olavo has been involved in many gourmet projects in Lisbon. “I love the products we sell and the people that come to the store, we are connecting great producers with appreciative consumers,” he told us. “I am so committed to this project that I changed my name. From now on, please call me Evaristo.” This is the name of the grocery-store owner in the 1942 hit movie O Pátio das Cantigas (the courtyard of songs). The movie is about a courtyard with such a wonderful atmosphere that it creates a community. It is a fitting metaphor for Comida Independent, a grocery store destined to become a magnet for the gourmet community.

Comida independente is located at Rua Cais do Tojo 28, Lisbon, tel. 21 395 1762. To ask about upcoming events, send a message through their Facebook page located here.

 

 

A widow from Colares and her extraordinary wines

Viuva Gomes Composit

About 25 years ago, we hosted a friend who’s a great wine connoisseur for a couple of weeks in Lisbon. He tried Portuguese wines from different regions and always had something nice to say. But we noticed that his enthusiasm for these wines paled in comparison to his passion for the French wines that filled his cellar.

Towards the end of his stay, we had dinner at a small restaurant that had a rare wine on its list. “This wine is amazing!” exclaimed our friend after taking a sip. “How many more bottles do you have?,” he asked the waiter. “Two,” the waiter replied. “That is perfect. I am spending two more nights in Lisbon. Can we make dinner reservations for both nights and also reserve the two bottles?”

The wine that so impressed our oenophile friend was a 1969 Viúva Gomes. Its origin goes back to 1808, the year when José Gomes da Silva built a cellar in the village of Almoçageme to produce wines in Colares, near Sintra.

The tiny Colares region is home to two unique grape varietals: the white Malvasia and the red Ramisco. These grapes survived the onset of phylloxera in the 19th century because they are planted on clay soils covered with sand that protected the roots from the deadly bug.

After Gomes da Silva died, his widow and sons continued to produce wine which they sold under the label Viúva Gomes (viúva is the Portuguese word for widow). Their company was sold in 1920 and resold in 1931. By 1988, it was once again up for sale. It was then that José Baeta seized the opportunity to buy the vineyards, the cellar and a treasure trove of vintages going back to beginning of the 20th century.

We knocked on the door of the 1808 cellar and soon José Baeta came to greet us. Visiting this building full of old bottles and ancient wine barrels made from precious woods is a voyage into the 19th century.

José spoke with great passion about the unique character of the Viúva Gomes wines. We sampled a wonderful 2016 white Malvasia that is exuberant, with hints of salt from the Atlantic Ocean. We then tried a red Ramisco from 2009. It is an alluring, intense wine with notes of dried cherries. While most wines pale in the presence of food with bold flavors, the Viúva Gomes Ramisco holds its own and helps the meal sparkle.

Only 2,000 bottles of white and 4,000 bottles of red are produced every year. “I always run out of wine to sell before the year ends,” says José Baeta. With the help of his son Diogo, José is trying to expand his production, finding the right soils to plant more vines.

Drinking a bottle of Viúva Gomes is an extraordinary experience. These are nectars  made from the rarest vines, caressed by the Atlantic winds and guarded by millions of grains of sands.

The cellar of Viúva Gomes is located at Largo Comendador Gomes da Silva, 2 Almoçageme, Colares, tel. 219 290 903 and 967 248 345, email  info@adegaviuvagomes.com . Click here for the Viúva Gomes website.

 

 

The delights of Alkazar

Alcacer - @mariarebelophotography.com

Helena Silva was born and raised in Alcácer do Sal. As a kid, she was fascinated by the history of this ancient city and wanted to become an archeologist to find out more about its past.

Instead, Helena opened a gourmet store called Alkazar (the Arab name for Alcácer do Sal) on the city’s main street, overlooking the Sado river. With the patience of an archeologist, she gathered the best products from the region.

Alcácer is known for the production of salt, pine nuts and rice, so these products have pride of place in Helena’s store. But there are also interesting wines, artisanal honey, appetizing canned fish, regional sweets, and much more.

Our favorite discovery was “pinhoada,” a highly-addictive nougat made with local pine nuts and honey. There’re many good reasons to visit the wonderful town of Alcacer do Sal. But the taste of the pinhoada alone justifies a visit.

Helena Silva’s store, Alkazar Gourmet is located on Rua Machado dos Santos n º4, 7580-162 Alcácer do Sal, Tel. 265088739.

A belly full of fish

Barrigada Restaurant

Right on the Lagos harbor there’s an old shack that houses a restaurant called A Barrigada (a full belly). It is a simple place that serves grilled fish, cataplanas and other seafood delights. Outside the restaurant, you see the fish nets and octopus traps used by some of the fishermen that supply the restaurant.

The wine list is surprisingly good. Our waiter recommended a white wine called Invisivel produced by Ervideira. It is made from the red grape Aragonês and paired perfectly with the fish feast that followed: douradas, carapau and cavalas all perfectly grilled and seasoned. The fish comes with simple accompaniments: boiled potatoes seasoned with garlic and oregano and a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onion.

The waiters look like friendly pirates. Are they descendants of Sir Francis Drake the buccaneer who made Sagres his home base in 1587? All we know is that Barrigada is always full of people from all ages and nationalities enjoying a bounty of fish.

A Barrigada is located at Estrada de São Roque, Cais Sul, MeiaPraia, in Lagos, tel. 282 792 453, email abarrigada@hotmail.com. Click here for the restaurant’s website,  

Modern luxury at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon

Ritz

António Salazar, the man who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968, detested extravagance so he resisted the idea of building a Ritz hotel in Lisbon. But a group of entrepreneurs convinced him to support the project. Salazar visited the hotel before the inauguration and disliked what he saw. He exited through the back door and never came back. Despite Salazar’s disapproval, the Lisbon Ritz was a huge success.

The entrepreneurs tapped Porfirio Pardal Monteiro to be the architect. It was an inspired choice. Monteiro used the Parthenon and the Erechtheum to guide his search for the ideal location. But he avoided the temptation to build a hotel that imitates the past. Instead, he drew inspiration from Le Corbusier to design a modern building with beautiful proportions.

Monteiro was friends with the great painter Almada Negreiros. He engaged Almada and other artists to produce works of art for the new hotel. The result is a stunning art collection that creates unique interior spaces. Almada designed exuberant tapestries with centaurs and etched agricultural motifs into black granite using gold leaf. His wife Sarah Afonso produced a joyous allegory of the seasons. Querubim Lapa, Martins Correia, Carlos Botelho and many others contributed to the collection of roughly 600 works of art.

The hotel has 4 elevators for the guests and 12 elevators for the staff. When it opened in 1959, it had 330 rooms and 400 employees. Even though the ratio is no longer the same, the service is still flawless. Run by the Four Reasons group, the hotel has been regularly renovated to continue to offer outstanding comfort. The elegant breakfast room is the perfect place to start your morning in Lisbon. The rooftop was converted into a modern gym with a running track that offers expansive views of the city.

The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz is one of Europe’s grand hotels, a unique combination of architecture, art, comfort, and hospitality that creates an unforgettable experience.

The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon is located at Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 88, tel. (21) 381-1400. Click here for the hotel website. 

 

 

Quinta do Crasto

Composit Quinta do Crasto

In ancient times, the Romans built on the Douro valley a “castrum,” which means fort in Latin. The fort was surrounded by steep hills descending towards the Douro river with perfect exposure to the sun. Even though it was hard work to plant vines in this treacherous terrain, the Romans embraced the challenge. They knew that the vines would please Bacchus, the god of wine, and that he would reward them with great vintages.

There is no record of the quality of the wines made by the Romans on these hills. But we know that by 1615 the estate, called Quinta do Crasto in honor of the old Roman fort, was producing superior wines.

The Quinta is situated on the right bank of the Douro river between Régua and Pinhão. The views are spectacular and so are the table and port wines which regularly receive high accolades from wine critics. We think Bacchus would be pleased.

Click here for the Quinta do Crasto website.