Missing Portugal

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When we’re away from Portugal, we miss the taste of the fruits of our land and sea.

We miss the golden light that guilds castles and palaces, valleys and hills.

We miss the touch of the breeze, the perfume of the ocean, the sound of the waves rehearsing their steps on the seashore.

Our solace is a glass of port wine shared with friends. Every sip is a reminder of the sweetness of Portugal.

The gift of friendship

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We have a friend who’s always there for us when we need wise advice, a word of encouragement or someone to intercede for us. As if these prodigious gifts were not enough, every time he visits us, he brings wonderful wines. His latest present was a bottle of Syrah 24.

The wine is produced by José Bento dos Santos in a magical 17th century farm near Lisbon called Quinta do Monte d’Oiro (golden hill farm). The wine is a result of the friendship between Bento dos Santos and famed Rhone Valley producer Michel Chapoutier.

Chapoutier offered Bento dos Santos an extraordinary gift: a large collection of cuttings from Chapoutier’s old Syrah vines in Hermitage. These precious vines were planted in parcel 24 at Quinta do Monte d’Oiro.

In an estate that produces noble wines with meticulous care, the Syrah made with the fruit from parcel 24 is treated like royalty. And it shows. Syrah 24 is a graceful, elegant wine, perfect to celebrate the gift friendship.

Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.

In vino veritas

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In Roman times, wine making was a simple affair. The grapes were crushed and stored in large clay amphoras where the fermentation occurred naturally. The skins, seeds, and stems were stirred. Then, the pomace fell to the bottom of the amphora, acting as a filter so that the wine, extracted through a spigot, ran clear.

Wine makers in Alentejo are using old amphoras, too large to be made in modern ovens, to revive these ancient ways of making wine.

We’ve been looking forward to trying these wines. After our recent visit to Esporão, we finally got our chance—we brought home a bottle of their amphora-made Moreto wine.

Drinking it was a grand occasion. After all, this was the kind of wine with which Caesar celebrated the conquest of Gaul, the wines with which Mark Anthony wooed Cleopatra. We closed our eyes and sipped the precious liquid. It tasted pure and clean. Suddenly, the Romans adage ‘in vino veritas,’ in wine truth, had a new meaning.

Gold from Bombarral

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“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.

Tasting moscatel in Setúbal

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No one knows for sure how moscatel, a white grape from Egypt, arrived in the Setúbal peninsula, near Lisbon. What we know is that moscatel took to the region, producing wines that are perfect to start or end a meal. Over the years, the grape mutated into a new varietal—purple moscatel—that only exists in Setúbal. It is sweeter and more aromatic than its white cousin.

Moscatel wines are produced in the same way as port wine. The grapes are fermented for 4 or 5 days. The fermentation is then arrested before the yeast turns all the sugar into alcohol by adding “aguardente vínica” (brandy) to kill the yeast. The result is a fortified wine that is sweet and has 17 to 18 degrees of alcohol.

A great way to learn about moscatel is to visit José Maria da Fonseca’s winery in Azeitão. Founded in 1834 by a mathematician turned wine maker, it is one of the oldest wine companies in Portugal.

After one of his moscatel wines won a prestigious prize in Paris in 1855, Fonseca decided to export his wines to Brazil. A ship loaded with barrels of moscatel crossed the Atlantic. But the wine did not sell in Brazil and the ship returned with most of its original cargo. The sea voyage did wonders for the wine: in nine months the wine seemed to have aged 15 years, gaining complexity and depth. This moscatel, known as “torna viagem” (round trip), continues to be produced today with barrels carried by Sagres, a beautiful sailboat owned by the Portuguese navy.

José Maria da Fonseca ’s moscatel cellar contains bottles from every vintage since 1880 except for 1936-37 and 1939-40 when production was disrupted by the Spanish civil war and the Second World War, respectively.

It is great fun to do a blind tasting of moscatel wines at José Maria da Fonseca’s. Everybody has preconceptions about which wine will be their favorite. Some are sure they will favor the rarer purple moscatel or the older vintages. Others think that they will prefer the newer wines. Surprises abound. You will learn a lot about moscatel and a little about yourself.

Click here for information about visits to José Maria da Fonseca’s winery.

 

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. 

 

 

Wines of the future

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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.