Wines of the future

Quinta da Pedra composit

Carlos Dias is a Portuguese entrepreneur who had great success making design furniture in Italy and luxury watches in Switzerland. When he decided to produce wine in Portugal, he brought with him the determination and ambition that have been key to his success. He wants to produce Portuguese Grand Crus, wines that stand head and shoulders with the famous nectars from Bordeaux and Burgundy. You might think this is a lofty goal, but the Italian magazine Spirito di Vino has already listed Principal, one of his wines, among the world’s top 10.

We drove to Monção in the north of Portugal, to visit Dias’ Quinta da Pedra. We’ve been to many wine estates and we knew what to expect. But that is not what we found. There is no emphasis on history and tradition. Instead, we saw angular buildings built in red concrete surrounded by vineyards planted with geometric precision. Everything at Quinta da Pedra is about the future.

Miguel Pinho, the firms’ Chief Commercial Officer, described the meticulous production process. The vineyards are divided into micro lots controlled by GPS to ensure that the grapes in each lot are picked only at the right moment. After picking, the fruit travels in refrigerated trucks to the winery where they are immersed in a nitrogen bath to avoid further contact with oxygen. The grapes are gently pressed over an extended period of time, a process that allows both whites and reds to age gratefully in the bottle. Pascal Chatonnet, a famous enologist, makes the wines without using enzymes or any form of chemical manipulation.

The first wine we tried was a Quinta da Pedra made with Alvarinho grapes. This varietal is often used to make young vinho verdes (green wines) that are easy to drink and even easier to forget.  We were surprised to hear that this wine, produced in 2012, aged first in wood barrels and then in the bottle. And even more surprised by its complex aroma and the way it left our mouth refreshed and enchanted.

This stunning first act was followed by a procession of amazing wines. Eminência and Royal Palmeira, two wonders made of Loureiro, another green wine varietal. Colinas, a joyous sparkling wine made in the salty limestone soils of Bairrada. A Principal rosé that staged in the bottle for five years to get ready to astonish us with its elegance and poise. Dom Bella, an impressive  Touriga Nacional wine made in the granite plateaus of the Dão region.

The atmosphere inside the beautiful building, the taste of these unique wines, and the passion and eloquence with which Miguel talked about the project made our experience feel like an initiation rite. We are part of a small sect of people who have tasted the wines of the future.

Click here for the website of Carlos Dias’ company, idealdrinks.

 

Lunch at Herdade do Esporão

composit Herdade do Esporão

We should have known that it is hard to get to paradise. We drove from Vila Viçosa to Herdade do Esporão guided by a GPS system that chose an old dirt road over the new road from Reguengos. Taking the slow road helped us understand that Esporão is an oasis. A place in the dusty interior of Alentejo where a blue lake nurtures pristine vines that produce some of Portugal’s best wines.

The road to the success of Esporão was also slow. José Roquette bought the estate in 1973 at a time when Alentejo was not a major producer of great wines. Shortly after the 1974 revolution, the estate was nationalized. It was returned to its owner only in 1984. The first wine was bottled in 1985 and released in 1987. The success of this vintage and of those that followed put Alentejo on the world wine map.

Maria Roquette, José’s daughter in law, welcomed us to the dinning room. It is a tranquil space that overlooks the lake and the vines. The walls are decorated with art that Esporão commissioned over the years to use in the labels of its reserve wine.

Maria introduced us to the chef, Pedro Pena Bastos. We did not guess that this unassuming 25-year-old was about to take us on an extraordinary culinary journey.

To prepare our senses, Pedro brought us a heavenly concoction of chick peas, seaweed, codfish eggs, and citrus caviar.  Next, came a marriage of peasant food and contemporary cuisine: pig’s feet with coriander in a red shiso gelatin. We visited the woods to taste wild mushroom beignets and a green garlic custard with truffles. We cruised rivers to enjoy crayfish and sailed seas to eat mackerel and porgy. Back on land, we had lamb from Alentejo with artichokes and apricots.

Finally, we entered the garden of delights: a green-almond ice cream, a lavender and peach tart, a gelatin of late-harvest wine, and marshmallows made of hazelnuts and chocolate.

Our traveling companions were the wonderful wines of Esporão. There were many different personalities and styles. Some, like the experimental white made from the Sardinian varietal Vermentino, were new and festive. Others, like the classic reserve red, were gracious and wise. The meal ended with fireworks provided by a wonderful tawny-style dessert wine.

If you’re visiting Portugal, travel the road to Herdade do Esporão, a place where you can taste the food and wine of paradise.

The Herdade do Esporão is located at Reguengos de Monsara, near Évora, Alentejo. Their telephone and email are 266 509 280
 and reservas@esporao.com , respectively. The Herdade’s GPS coordinates are: latitude: 38.398611 and longitude: -7.546111. Chef Pedro Pena Bastos is the fifth from the left on the photo above.

Bussaco’s mystical wines

Buçaco Branco

Karl Baedeker, the famous guidebook writer, recommended a visit to Bussaco in his “Spain and Portugal, a Handbook for Travelers,” published in 1908. Here’s what he wrote:

“The royal domain of Bussaco vies with Sintra in natural beauty. In variety of trees and shrubs, the woods are without a rival in Europe and the views ranging from the Atlantic to the Estrela mountain are as picturesque as they are extensive. […] The woods […] include not only trees indigenous to Portugal but also a large number of exotic varieties, some brought home by the Portuguese navigators as early as the 16th century.”

Baedeker arrived too early to appreciate one of the great pleasures of Bussaco, which is the wine produced by the Bussaco Palace Hotel. The first bottles date back to 1917.

The Palace Hotel owns no vineyards, it buys its grapes from the Bairrada and Dão region. The quality of the wine comes from the careful grape selection and the meticulous traditional methods used in production. Bussaco wines taste great when they are young and taste even better when they lived for some decades. Both whites and reds are famous for their longevity.

These wines are difficult to buy, the easiest way to try them is to stay at the magnificent Palace Hotel. The cellar of the palace stores thousands of bottles going back to the 1920s. Trying these old Bussacos can be a mystical experience. The cellar walls are used to hearing visitors say words like divine, blessed, and sacred. These words would have delighted Friar João Batista, the Carmelite monk who started making wine in Bussaco in the 17th century.

Click here, for the Bussaco Palace web site.

Liquid inspiration

Ginginha

“Com elas ou sem elas?” with or without, asked the waiter as we got to the front of the line at “A Ginjinha,” a small bar in Lisbon’s Largo of São Domingos. “With” we answered. He nodded with approval, picking up a bottle with a cherry infusion to pour the liquid into a small glass, deftly lifting a wood stopper to let a single cherry go by.

The bar’s specialty is a delicious liqueur called “ginjinha” made of sour cherries. It is produced in the nearby village of Arruda dos Vinhos and bottled under the brand Espinheira. The name is a tribute to Francisco Espinheira, the monk who, according to legend, had the brilliant idea of macerating sour cherries (ginjas) in brandy, sugar, and cinnamon.

A Galician entrepreneur opened the bar in 1840 to serve ginjinha to the public. Five generations later, the bar still belongs to his family.

Fernando Pessoa, the great poet, was a regular customer at A Ginjinha.  What a privilege it is to drink from the same source of inspiration!

A Ginjinha is located on Largo de São Domingos, 8, Lisbon.

 

 

Quinta do Vallado

Quinta do Valado Composit

We wonder whether god created the Douro as a test. It gave the region poor soils and a mountainous terrain, scorching Summers and freezing Winters. But if humans persevered and made a living in this land, they would be rewarded with magnificent wines.

The soil, composed of schist and granite, forces the vines to struggle and produce small grapes that are full of flavor. No one believed more in these grapes than Dona Antónia Ferreira. She made a fortune producing port wine in the beginning of the 18th century and reinvested it all in the Douro, owning at one point 37 vineyards.

This Summer we had the privilege of visiting one of these vineyards, the Quinta do Vallado,  which dates back to 1716. We toured the cellars and tasted some of the quinta’s great table wines.

At the end of our visit, we drank some wonderful old tawny port. With our glasses full of this golden nectar, we toasted the people of the Douro and their magnificent wines.

Quinta do Vallado is located in Vilarinho dos Freires, Peso da Régua, tel. 254 323 147. Click here for their web site.

Ruby, Vintage or Tawny?

2 Port winesPeople in the Douro valley say that babies and port wines are often born at night. Port producers let the grape juice ferment for about three days. They choose the perfect moment to add a neutral grape spirit (aguardente) that stops the fermentation before the yeast eats all the grape sugar. This moment often comes in the middle of the third night.

Most of the Douro grapes are used to produce ruby ports. These inexpensive ports are first stored in cement or stainless steel vats to prevent oxidation and then bottled. The result is a wine that retains a dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.

When the quality of the grapes is exceptional, port-wine producers declare a vintage year. These ports are stored in wood casks for one or two years and then bottled. With little exposure to air, the wine is dark red. Aging brings out complex flavors, such as notes of vanilla, chocolate, and blackberry.

The best grapes are also used to produce tawnies. These ports are aged for many years in casks made of Portuguese chestnut and oak. This aging process creates complex flavors and gives the wine a silky mouthfeel. The small amount of air that circulates through the tiny pores of the wood oxidizes the wine slightly, changing its color from red to amber.

It is wonderful to share a glass of ruby port with new friends. But there’s nothing like drinking old vintages and tawnies with old friends.

The past and future of Portuguese wine

AmphorasCrato

The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo.  The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.

Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.