Gold from Bombarral

aguardente-sanguinhal

“In Bombarral, each generation produces brandy for the next,” explained Ana Reis, one of the heirs of Quinta do Sanguinhal, a wine estate in Bombarral that dates back to 1871. We were standing in a room full of contraptions that were used to distill brandy a century ago. After distillation, the precious liquid sleeps for decades in oak barrels before it emerges with a beautiful orange color and a bouquet of alluring aromas.

The Bombarral region has ideal conditions to produce fine brandies. Everyone there seems to have an old casket of brandy at home to share with friends on special occasions.

If you don’t have friends in Bombarral, you can buy the wonderful brandy made by Ana Reis’ family at Quinta das Cerejeiras. It has a smooth taste, full of depth and wisdom. We love drinking it in the Winter, imagining the sunshine of the ancient Summer that produced this liquid gold.

Click here for information about the wines and brandies produced at Quinta do Sanguinhal and Quinta das Cerejeiras.

Wine heritage at Sanguinhal

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The Quinta das Cerejeiras Reserva is a smooth, beguiling red wine that has enlivened many of our dinner parties. So, it was with great anticipation that we drove to Bombarral, 70 km north of Lisbon, to meet the producer of this precious nectar.

We were received by Ana Reis. She is the great-granddaughter of a wine legend: Abel Pereira da Fonseca who, early in the 20th century, owned more than 100 taverns in Lisbon. In 1926, Pereira da Fonseca bought three estates in Bombarral (Sanguinhal, Cerejeiras and São Francisco) to venture into wine production. Almost a century later, these “quintas” remain in his family, producing wines that every year earn more accolades and awards.

Bombarral is the Napa valley of Portugal, a region near the ocean with exceptional conditions for wine production. The soils have a high clay content and the Montejunto mountain joins forces with the Atlantic breezes to create a microclimate with mild summers and temperate winters.

We started our tour in the shade of an old cork tree to learn about the production of cork in Portugal. Then, we stepped into the wine cellar. The temperature was a few degrees lower and the air was perfumed with voluptuous aromas. The ancient oak barrels are full of precious brandies and fortified wines. Produced decades ago, they wait in the dark for the perfect moment to be brought to light. “This is barrel #6, we’ll later try some of its content,” promised Ana with a twinkle in her eyes.

Next, we visited the distillery, the place where the magical “aguardente” (fire water) was once produced. Grapes were crushed and distilled to make brandy (“aguardente vínica”). The stems and remnants from brandy production were then distilled to make “aguardente bagaceira,” which is what Italians call grappa. Nothing was wasted: the leftovers from this second distilling were used to fertilize the land.

We toured the vineyards near the house which are planted with muscatel grapes. There is a rose bush in every row. Roses are very sensitive to diseases like mildew, so they give advanced warning of any problems that might affect the grapes.

The quinta is full of memories of times gone by: ancient mulberry trees whose leaves were once used to make silk, a romantic 19th-century garden, old vines with varietals like carignan, brought by French peasants during the Napoleonic invasions.

Our final stop was the “adega,” the place where the wines from the three quintas were produced until 1960. It has large stone tanks and wooden presses built in 1871. We sat at a table, sampling Portuguese cheeses and sausages while listening to Ana speak with eloquence and passion about the secrets of wine making.

There was a treasure trove of wines for us to try. The feast started with Sottal, a flirtatious, light aromatic wine made with muscatel grapes. Next, we tried the Cerejeira Seleccionado Rosé, a perfect Summer companion, fruity, full bodied with a gorgeous color. Things got serious with the 1998 Quinta do Sanguinhal DOC, a wine of great depth and charm. We then fell in love with the white Quinta da Cerejeira Reserva. After a 40-year hiatus, this wine, made with chardonnay and aged in oak, was brought back into production two years ago. Its smooth, elegant flavors left our palates in a state of bliss.

After trying several other interesting wines, we tasted the content of barrel #6, a Quinta de São Francisco licoroso. It is a sweet, fortified wine with great complexity, the perfect ending to a perfect wine tasting.

The great poet Fernando Pessoa made a living as a translator. In the middle of the afternoon he would often take a break and tell his workmates he was going to see Abel. He then walked to one of Abel Pereira da Fonseca’s taverns to enjoy a glass of wine.

The wines from Sanguinhal, Cerejeiras and São Francisco inspire conversation, friendship and, if you’re lucky, immortal poetry.

Click here for information on how to book a visit or a wine tasting at Quinta do Sanguinhal. 

 

 

Finding truffles in Bombarral

composit D. José

Bombarral’s rolling hills offer their vines daily to the sun. In return, the star ripens the grapes so they can make intense, aromatic wines. The region is full of small wineries and traditional restaurants waiting to be discovered.

Our latest find is a restaurant called Dom José. It is named after José Louro who in 1992 left his job in London to open a restaurant in his hometown. His son Nelson told us that “My father used the honorary prefix Dom to name the restaurant, but we don’t have royal blood.”

Nelson was working in London in the real estate industry when, in 2012, his father announced he was selling the restaurant. Nelson quit his job and came to Bombarral to run Dom José. “I have no regrets,” he said. “I like the idea of building on what my father did and making the restaurant better every day.”

The menu offers traditional food prepared with great care using the wonderful ingredients that the region offers. Our meal began with clams bulhão Pato. The clams were succulent and their sauce was a poem to the brilliant simplicity of Portuguese gastronomy. Next, Nelson brought out his version of “fish and chips.” The fish was moist and the batter crisp. The chips were replaced by a hearty bean and spinach rice. The last dish was a wonderful “feijoada” (stewed beans and cabbage) made with black pork. It is so popular that it always on the menu.

We told Nelson that we were too full to venture into dessert territory. “But I saved the best for last,” he said as he placed on the table a plate of chocolate truffles. They melted in our mouths filling our palates with caramel, lime, and chocolate sensations. “Where do you get these magnificent truffles?” we asked. “After I started running the restaurant, my sister Carla left her banking job in London to study with William Curley, a famous British chocolatier. Then, she joined me at the restaurant. Her truffles are a great success. They’re already sold in many gourmet shops and we are starting to export them to England.”

We left the restaurant inspired by the nobility of what Carla and Nelson are doing. And certain that, somewhere in their ancestry, there is royal blood.

Dom José is located at Rua Dr Alberto Martins dos Santos 4, in Bombarral, tel. 262 604 384.

Why the British don’t eat salted cod

CodfishCarpaccioF

Some British guidebooks tell their readers that eating salted cod is a strange Portuguese custom that they should avoid. There’s an historical reason for this point of view.  When Henry V married Catherine de Valois in 1420, England was in the midst of the One Hundred Years’ War. Perhaps for this reason, the royal couple had a frugal wedding feast. The 600 guests ate boiled salted cod served on slices of stale bread. The meal was so bad that the British have avoided salted cod ever since.

Portuguese restaurants offer many codfish preparations. If you’re a salted cod neophyte, we suggest that you start with something simple: codfish carpaccio. The codfish is sliced razor thin and combined with an infusion of garlic and olive oil.

You can taste a great version of this preparation at Mãe d’Água, a wonderful restaurant in Bombarral near Lisbon. Imagine how different British cuisine would be if Mãe d’Água had catered Henry V’s wedding.

Mãe d’Água is in Sobral do Parelhão, Bombarral, Rua 13 de Maio 26, 2540-467 Carvalhal, tel.262 605 408, email geral@restaurantemaedagua.com. Click here for their website and here for our post on the restaurant.

Mãe d’ Água

There is so much about this restaurant that is out of a fairy tale: two brothers, an ancient spring, a magical landscape, food and wine fit for a king.

In 2004 the brothers Artur and Carlos Lopes found a late 19th century barn in Sobral do Parelhão, a small village near Bombarral, 70 km north of Lisbon. There, they built a restaurant perfectly in tune with its surroundings. They called it Mãe d’Água (water source) because water from a nearby spring runs through the building.

They cut the ancient brick walls to open large windows that frame the handsome landscape of Estremadura. They filled elegant wood cabinets with wines from the region. They chose a menu full of delicacies, briny shrimp in garlic sauce, fragrant lingueirão rice, tender lamb chops, and so much more. Mãe d’Água is a fairy tale come true.

Sobral do Parelhão, Bombarral, Rua 13 de Maio 26, 2540-467 Carvalhal, tel.262 605 408, email geral@restaurantemaedagua.com, click here for their website.

The Bombarral wine fair

Cistercians monks started producing wine in the Bombarral region in 1153. The Bombarral wine fair, which takes place in early August, celebrates this ancient wine-making tradition.

You’ll find few tourists there. It is an event designed for the locals, which makes it a lot more fun. You can buy a glass for a nominal amount (about 3 Euros) and use it to try the wines of many producers, including one of our favorites, Quinta do Sanguinhal.

You can meet the famous D. Amélia, maker of an incredible pear cake and many other delicacies. And eat outdoors underneath the foliage of ancient oak trees at the Zélia restaurant stand. They serve an astonishing grilled rabbit and a lot of other great fare. Mark your calendars!