An hotel in the land of silence

Composit Colmeal

As we drove on the narrow road from Figueira do Castelo Rodrigo to Colmeal, we felt we were leaving the modern world behind. All we saw ahead of us were granite hills and fertile valleys under a sapphire blue sky. Even as we got close to the hotel, the building remained invisible. Its honeycomb shape dissolves into the landscape leaving us with a pristine view of the Marofa mountain. The same view that the Neolithic people saw when they made their paintings nearby, 3,000 years ago. The same panorama that welcomed the pilgrims who followed the ancient spring that goes by the village of Colmeal, on their way to Santiago de Compostela. This water, crystalline and pure, was a blessing to the travelers. And so was the food and hospitality offered by the population of this village that dates back to the 12th century.

The new Colmeal Countryside Hotel seeks to revive this tradition of hospitality.  In the evening we enjoyed a simple meal of watercress soup, local cheese and fruit. When we asked our waiter why the soup tasted so great, he told us that one of the secrets is the local spring water. “Anything cooked with this water is transformed,” he said.

The hotel, designed by architect Pedro Brígida, is warm and welcoming. It integrates perfectly with its the surroundings, which include a manor house and a church that once belonged to the family of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the navigator who discovered Brazil.

The environment is so peaceful that we found ourselves whispering to avoid staining the immaculate silence. We sat on the terrace on a warm Summer night bathing in star light, happy to have left the modern word behind.

Click here for the hotel’s website.

Covela’s prima donna grapes

Composit Quinta da Covela

In his novel “A Cidade e as Serras” (The city and the mountains) the great 19th-century writer Eça de Queiroz describes the life of Jacinto, a wealthy Portuguese who enjoys a glamorous life in Paris. Jacinto frequents the theater and the opera, attends scientific and artistic gatherings, reads the newest books and dresses according to the latest fashion. After an earthquake damages his ancestral mansion in the Douro valley, he decides to go home to oversee its reconstruction.  Jacinto falls in love with the simple pleasures of life in the Douro and lives there happily ever after.

Sometimes life imitates art. Tony Smith was a successful journalist who lived a glamorous life in Rio de Janeiro and New York. He used to spend vacations in the Algarve where he liked to drink a wine called Covela. By happenstance, Tony learned that the estate that produces Covela was up for sale. On a whim, he made a purchase offer. Month of negotiations ensued. After he thought all was lost, he managed to buy the property together with his business partner, Marcelo Lima. Tony imagined that producing wine would be a part time occupation. But just like Jacinto, he fell in love with the Douro valley and never left.

We sat at a stone table in the end of a brilliant afternoon admiring the granite terraces where the vines are planted. The quinta, which remounts to the 16th century, has ideal conditions to produce a young white wine known as “vinho verde” (green wine). It is primarily planted with Avesso, a prized local white varietal that has the temperament of a prima donna. Too much heat or too much rain make the grapes unhappy.

Covela produces some of the happiest Avesso in the world. Its remarkable acidity and minerality make every glass of wine an aria of aromas and flavors.

Our palates were still savoring the fantastic white wine made at Covela solely with Avesso when Tony brought out an enticing rosé produced with Touriga Nacional. The grape juice was left in contact with the red skins for a short period of time, just enough to produce a gorgeous rose color. It is a perfect Summer wine, full of joy and freshness.

Finally, Tony brought us two blends of the excitable Avesso with the even-tempered Chardonnay, the “Escolha” and the “Reserva.” The Escolha has everything: an alluring perfume, a perfect body, an irresistible elegance. The Reserva is full of confidence and aristocratic charm. It is the ideal wine to enjoy in the Winter by the fireplace with a slice of cheese from Serra da Estrela.

We thanked Tony for sharing his treasures with us. “You have to return next year,” he said. “Marcelo and I just bought Quinta da Boavista.” We were speechless. This is the legendary property that belonged to the Baron of Forester, author of the famous map of the Douro river published in 1848. “Come visit me at Boavista,” Tony said with a genial smile. We surely will!

Quinta de Covela is located at S. Tomé de Covela, Baião. Click here for the Covela website. 

A pão de ló recipe

Pão-de-Ló QG

Fernanda Pinto is an extraordinary cook who knows how to make the most from the ingredients produced at Quinta de Guimarães. Every day at breakfast she offered us either “pão de ló” or “fatias de Resende.” Both desserts have the same base, a concoction of flour, sugar and eggs. Fatias are covered with a light sugar glaze that is sinfully delicious.

Fernanda’s versions of these traditional recipes are light and elegant. We asked her whether she would give us her pão de ló recipe to share with our readers and she agreed. What makes the cake airy and light is that the egg whites are beat separately from the yolks. Here’s the recipe:

Separate the whites and yolks of 12 eggs. Beat the whites until they are firm. Mix the yolks with 250 grams of sugar. Strain 100 grams of white flour though a fine sieve and add to the yolk mixture. Fold the whites with the yolks.  Place the batter in a cake pan lined with paper. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 200 degrees Centigrade (390 Fahrenheit),

This recipe produces a great pão de ló. But it does not compare with the original version because Fernanda uses three unique ingredients: the wonderful eggs laid by the chicken that roam the farm, a large cake pan with a round clay cover, and her magic touch.

Quinta de Guimarães is located at Lugar de Miguas, Sta. Marinha do Zézere, tel. 912 915 699. Click here for the quinta’s website.

Lunch with Dirk Niepoort

Niepoort Composit_

We got in touch with Dirk Niepoort, a legendary Douro valley wine maker, through a common friend. We asked Dirk whether we could come by Quinta de Nápoles to take some photographs. “Why don’t you come for lunch?” he replied. And so we did.

Dirk welcomed us to the dining room and started opening a few wine bottles. There were 20 people getting seated around the table. A few were Summer interns who came from afar to apprentice with Dirk. Others were people related to the wine business, enologists, producers, sommeliers of starred Michelin restaurants.

There were no speeches, Dirk circulated around the table sitting in different places so that he could talk to everybody. His demeanor is shy but his charisma is obvious. When he talks to someone, he makes them feel like they are the only people in the room.

The table was set with pataniscas (fried cod) and pasteis de massa tenra (turnovers) made with a sausage called alheira.  Dirk poured everybody some Redoma Reserva, his brilliant white wine made from 80-year old vines. Plates steaming with a hearty country soup were passed around. Soon our glasses were filled with an experimental “vinho verde” (green wine). We were still savoring its bright, lightly sparkling taste when another star white wine from the Niepoort stable arrived: the luxurious Coche.

When Dirk sat in our table corner, we asked him to explain his wine-making philosophy. Discussing wine with Dirk Niepoort is like playing chess with Gary Kasparov. Both are so many moves ahead that they are playing a different game. Most of the world is producing bolder wines with higher alcohol, more taste, deeper color. Dirk is doing the opposite. He wants to produce wines that are fresher, more aromatic, with less alcohol, less extraction and concentration. “Once we start drinking these lighter wines, we might find the old styles boring,” he says.

Dirk created a new project called Nat’cool to promote some of these new wines. He generously invited a few young wine makers to join this project. One of these wine makers, Luís Cândido Silva, was with us at lunch. Luis served his Primata, a wine that is easy to drink with bright acidity and only 9 percent alcohol.

Terrines of savory octopus rice filled the table as Dirk poured Blah, Blah, Blais a wine that is a testament to his generosity. Dirk gave Frederick Blais, a regular Summer intern from Canada, the opportunity to make this wine with old vines from one of the Niepoort’s estates!

A serra cheese started to circulate, accompanied by a wine with a tong-in-cheek name: Clos de Crappe. “It’s a technical disaster that worked out great,” Dirk said grinning.

Local pastries were served with an ice wine made by Dirk’s young daughter. She floated around the table like a fairy, serving her wine and enchanting everybody.

Finally, we tried two Niepoort port wines from 2005, a Late Bottled Vintage and a Colheita. These twin wines have different personalities but both share the richness and depth that only the Douro can produce.

It was time to say goodbye. We thanked Dirk for his generosity and walked towards the parking lot with the other guests. We have different professions, backgrounds and nationalities. But we all felt the same: we were descending from the mount Olympus of wine, where we had tasted nectars made for the gods.

Click here for the Niepoort wines website.

The painter arrived!

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Between March and July the grapes wear bright green colors. But, once August comes, some grapes trade their green garments for red clothes, others change into bright yellow hues. When this makeover occurs, wine makers say that the “painter arrived,” as if some celestial artist came to color the grapes one by one.

After the painter arrives, the period of maturation begins. A few weeks later, it is time for the harvest, the culmination of all the work done by man, women and nature in the vineyard.

In Portugal, the painter has arrived everywhere and in some areas of the Douro valley and Alentejo the harvest is well under way. All we can do is wait until the colorful grapes turn into memorable wines we can share with friends.

Wine & Soul

Wine & SoulJorge Serôdio is an enologist who belongs to the 5th generation of a family of Douro wine makers. In 2001, he married Sandra Tavares da Silva, a fellow enologist. The new couple decided to celebrate their wedding by making a wine together. They called their project Wine & Soul.

Jorge and Sandra found the perfect vineyard in the Douro valley. Its vines were planted about 85 years ago on a steep incline at high altitude in schist soil that makes the vines struggle to produce small grapes full of flavor. The owner of the vineyard used to sell his grapes to port wine producers, but he was charmed by the young couple and agreed to sell the grapes to them.

The two enologists watched carefully every step of the production process from harvest to bottle. They made the wine with traditional methods, treading the grapes by foot in granite tanks to avoid breaking the pits.

Jorge and Sandra liked their wine so much that they decided to make a purchase offer to the vineyard owner. Perhaps thinking that the offer price was inflated by the couple’s youthful enthusiasm, the owner accepted it.

In a gesture of irreverence, the two enologists named the wine after their dog, Pintas. Soon after it was released in 2003, Pintas became a symbol of a new era for the Douro valley. An era in which young wine makers produce superb table wines from grapes traditionally reserved for port production.

Another dog, Guru, provided the name for a brilliant white wine first released in 2004.  It is inspired by the great whites of Burgundy. But, like Pintas, it is made only with indigenous varietals (Códega do Larinho, Gouveio, Rabigato, and Viosinho) that give the wine a distinct flavor and aroma.

In 2008, Jorge inherited Quinta da Manoella, a wine estate established in 1838. It has been hard work to improve the quality of these old vines. The steep terrain makes mechanization impossible so, like in Roman times, the work is manual and the land is tilled by horse-drawn ploughs. But the results are extraordinary, every time these wines grace our table, our meals turn into a celebration.

In 2014, Wine Spectator awarded Pintas’ 2011 vintage 98 points. It is a score rarely given, the highest ever awarded by the magazine to a Portuguese table wine. This success doesn’t surprise us because Jorge and Sandra make their wines with two unique ingredients: love and the grapes of the Douro valley.

A visit to Wine & Soul is a wonderful way to experience the beauty of the Douro Valley. Click here for more information about how to book a visit.

 

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.