A dinner in grape country

País das Uvas

Paulo Laureano recommended that we try O País das Uvas for dinner. “Sopa de Cardo (thistle soup) is one of their specialties,” he said.

The name of the restaurant, which means The Grape Country, is a literary reference. It is the title of a book by Fialho de Almeida, a writer born in 1857 in Vila De Frades, the Vidigueira village where the restaurant is located.

The restaurant is full of ancient amphoras inscribed with messages left by patrons praising the food and the hospitality. António Honrado told us that this place has been a tavern for more than a century. He bought it 17 years ago with his wife Jacinta to turn it into a restaurant.

In the early days, Jacinta’s mother was in charge of the cooking. But she was advanced in age and the work was hard. One day, Jacinta told her mother that they had hired a new cook who had come during the night to prepare the most popular dishes on the menu. Jacinta’s mother worried that hiring a new chef would worsen the quality of the food. But upon trying the different dishes she exclaimed: “They taste exactly like my cooking! Who prepared them?” “I did,” confessed Jacinta. Since that day, Jacinta has been the chef at O País das Uvas.

We ordered the famous Thistle Soup and Cozido de Grão, a traditional chickpea stew made with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, meats, and sausages. Both dishes have bold, satisfying flavors that made our taste buds fall in love with the simple ways of Alentejo.

After dinner, António and Jacinta invited us to see their discovery. When they did some construction on the restaurant, they uncovered a cellar that is many centuries old. It has a well-preserved clay-tile floor, graceful arches and a water well. They restored the cellar and devoted it to producing amphorae wine with the help of Paulo Laureano.

We bid farewell to António and Jacinta, promising to return. Then we went out into the warm Summer night, enchanted by the honesty of the food and the warmth of the people of Alentejo.

O País das Uvas is located at Rua General Humberto Delgado, nº19, Vila De Frades, Alentejo, tel. 284 441 023.

Paulo Laureano

Paulo Lauriano

Now we know how it feels to go from purgatory to heaven. After many hours of delays in Newark, we arrived in Lisbon and drove to Vidigueira to meet with Paulo Laureano, a famous Portuguese enologist. The encounter was five years in the making because he is a busy man and our schedules never intersected.

Paul greeted us at the door of his winery with the easy smile of a man who has found his place in the world. Many harvests ago he graduated in enology in Évora. After an internship in Australia, he was invited to teach at the university. But soon he became involved with so many wineries that he left academia to practice enology full time. He bottled the first wines under his name in 1999. Since then, he has produced a steady stream of remarkable nectars.

Our visit started with a tour of the winery. “There is no technology here,” he says proudly. “Our work is all done in the vineyards. We use old vines and we harvest the grapes by hand, that is our secret.”

Paulo is passionate about the terroir of Vidigueira. He explains to us how the hard schist soils give minerality and freshness to the wines. How the winds travel from the sea to Vidigueira to bring humidity. How the slopes of the terrain create different exposures to the sun. How the varietals change when planted in this soil. And how the indigenous varietal Tinta Grossa creates wines like no others.

Since wines cannot be understood without drinking them, Paulo took us to a tasting room that overlooks the vineyards. We started with a white wine produced from old vines made from Antão Vaz, Arinto and Fernão Pires. We would have been happy continuing drinking it, but there were more wines to taste.

Paulo showed us two wonderful wines he makes for the U.S. market. When his long-time U.S. distributor visited with his little daughter, Ema, the girl asked whether she could have her own vineyard. Remembering this endearing moment, Paulo called the white and red blends Ema’s vineyard.

Next. our glasses filled with an Old Vines Private Selection white. It showcases the brilliance of the Antão Vaz from Vidigueira. “Antão Vaz can be heavy and boring but here in Vidigueira it is always interesting and elegant,” says Paulo.

It is time for two more reds. The Old Vines Private Selection is smooth and refined, an harmonious combination of Aragonês, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouchet and Touriga Nacional.  Our tasting ended with fireworks: we tried one of the 5,000 bottles of Tinta Grossa produced in 2015. It is a remarkable wine full of depth and character,

Wherever you are, if you see a bottle of Paulo Laureano’s wine grab it without hesitation. And then you too can have a taste of these heavenly wines made in the unique terroir of Vidigueira.

Paulo Laureano’s winery is located in Monte Novo da Lisboa, Vidigueira, tel. 284-437-060.

 

 

Every cup of coffee is a voyage

Sr. Adelino Delta

It was with anticipation that we drove to Campo Maior to meet Adelino Cardoso. For 41 years he has tasted, tested and roasted the coffees made by Delta, a renowned Portuguese coffee brand.

When Adelino joined Delta, he first had to prove his worth by roasting humble ingredients like barley and chicory. It was only then that Comendador Nabeiro, the legendary founder of Delta, took Adelino under his wing and started introducing him to the secrets of coffee production.

Adelino speaks about coffee with great  passion. “Every cup of coffee is a voyage,” he tells us. “To places like Brazil, Kenya and Vietnam where the coffee is cultivated. Every day containers arrive from faraway lands.  We take samples that are visually inspected and analyzed in the laboratory. If these tests are satisfactory, we roast the beans, grind them and brew coffee. We taste the coffee in a quiet room where nothing distracts us from the appreciation of the aromas and flavors. When the coffee does not meet Delta’s rigorous standards, the container is returned to the seller. We stand by quality, we want our clients to love our coffee. Comendador Nabeiro’s motto is that every client is a friend.”

“What is the secret of producing a great blend?” we ask. Adelino hesitates because this is a naive question, one that takes a life-time of experience to answer. He finally tells us that “It is complex. At a basic level, the Arabica beans lend aroma and acidity and robusta beans lend the viscosity that we often call body or intensity. But there are many other important elements. At what altitude was the coffee produced, how and when was it harvested, how was it processed after the harvest. Then there is the roasting. How long did the roasting last, how quickly did the temperature rise, how high did the temperature get.  The coffee beans have to be ground in a way that is appropriate to the method used to brew the coffee. The amount of coffee used has to be exact. The coffee cups have to be heated before the coffee is served. All these factors determine the quality of the coffee. A good espresso has a thick hazelnut cream that protects the delicate coffee aromas. As it comes out of the machine, the last drop should be white.”

“I would like to invite you for a cup of coffee.” Adelino says.  We walk with him to the lab and watch the meticulous preparations. The way he measures the coffee and drains hot water from the machine before brewing. The way he heats the cups. Finally, the coffee comes out of the machine. “For me, the ideal espresso has 35 ml of coffee, not too short, not too long,” he says stopping the machine at the right moment. “You should not drink the coffee right after it is brewed. The coffee pours out of the machine like a wave crashing on the shore. We have to wait until it settles down.”

The coffee has a gorgeous hazelnut cream adorned by a white drop. We wait for a moment and then take a sip.  It is fantastic. We enjoy it slowly aware of the length of the journey, the depth of the knowledge, and the strength of the passion that produced this perfect cup of coffee.

You can visit Delta’s Center for Coffee Science at Herdade das Argamassas in Campo Maior, tel. 268 009 630, email geral@centrocienciacafe.com. It is a great place to learn about coffee and to enjoy a perfect cup of espresso.

 

 

Provesende, a fairy tale village

ProvesendeIn the first half of the 18th century the production of port wine was in dire straits. Inferior wines were often mixed with sugar, spices and elderberry juice to be sold off as port wine. In 1756, the Marquis of Pombal, the autocratic prime minister of King Dom José, created the Royal Company to regulate the production of port wine in order to protect its authenticity.

Pombal sent officials to define the boundaries of the Douro region and classify all its vineyards, creating one of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions. Vineyards classified as “vinho de ramo” could only produce wine for domestic consumption. Vineyards classified as “vinho de feitoria” could export their wine. These classifications had an enormous impact on property values.

The officials charged with classifying the vineyards and regulating the port-wine trade settled in a small village called Provesende. Over the following decades, the village experienced a construction boom. Large land owners built imposing manor houses so they could spend time in Provesende and rub shoulders with government officials.

The memories of the parties hosted in these mansions have faded in time. What we have left is a charming village that belongs in a fairy tale.

Finding perfect codfish cakes

Bacalhoaria composite

When people ask us what to eat in Lisbon, we recommend they try one of the city’s culinary triumphs: the humble, sublime codfish cake. You can order it in many eateries, from simple “tascas” to fancy restaurants. But, unfortunately, codfish cakes vary greatly in the quality of their ingredients and the care used in their preparation.

Luckily, there is a restaurant in Lisbon called Bacalhoaria Moderna (the modern codfish eatery) that serves perfect codfish cakes.  It is headed by Ana Moura, a talented young chef who cooks with intensity and flair. She uses superb codfish, captured in the pristine waters of Iceland and expertly dried and salted by Portuguese fishermen.

As soon as you seat at Bacalhoaria, the waiter brings one gorgeous codfish cake per guest, together with a plate of irresistible brandade. These appetizers are a culinary lesson. A chance to compare a Portuguese and a French codfish recipe. The brandade is elegant and delicious–the best we ever tried. The codfish cakes are light, crisp, warm and flavorful—little pieces of culinary magic.

After this heady start, we can choose from a plethora of other codfish preparations as well as many great alternatives like octopus, roasted pork, and vegetarian options.

An intriguing culinary question is: where will a new classic codfish recipe be created and by whom? Our answer is: at Bacalhoaria Moderna by Ana Moura.

Bacalhoaria Moderna is located at Rua São Sebastião da Pedreira, 150, Lisbon, tel. 21 605 3208, 

Ancient wheat, dancing in the wind

Adolfo Henriques

Another wondrous lunch with Adolfo Henriques at Maçussa. A taste of another recipe that almost got lost: “manja,” a combination of bread, potatoes, garlic and olive oil that goes great with grilled sardines.

The meal started with Adolfo’s legendary goat cheeses served with bread made from barbela wheat and a baked mixture of cornbread and olive oil called gaspiada. “I call this one cabrabert,” says Afonso, pointing to a round cheese, proud of his play on the Portuguese word for goat (cabra) and the word camembert. The cheese was followed by a variety of wonderful sausages, codfish liver, gravlax, and figs.

After lunch, Adolfo took us to a field planted with barbela wheat. Barbela is an ancient Egyptian variety abandoned after World War I in favor of wheats that offer larger yields in exchange for less taste and nutrition. “People often choose quantity over quality,” laments Adolfo.  It took him several years to harvest enough wheat to make bread. He grinds his crop in windmills that only process traditional grains, like Valentim da Silva’s Moinho do Boneco at Moita dos Ferreiros and Miguel Nobre’s Moinho de Avis in the Montejunto mountain. The result is the type of flour used a century ago. It that makes a rustic, delicious, nutritious bread.

Adolfo does not use fertilizers or pesticides. After each crop, he lets the field rest for a year so that the soil can recover. Standing in the middle of a field planted with his prized crop, Adolfo smiles and says: “Look at how the wheat dances in the wind.”

Adolfo Henriques’ company, Granja dos Moinhos, is located on Rua do Moinhos 3, Maçussa, Azambuja, tel 919 474 476, email granjadosmoinhos@sapo.pt. 

 

The perfect wine party

Goliardos

A group of wine connoisseurs called “Os Goliardos” turned their love of wine into a business–they distribute interesting artisanal wines, made with passion and respect for the land.

Every year in July, the Goliardos invite a group of their favorite wineries to showcase their wines at an event called Vinho ao Vivo (Wine Live). The setting is À Margem, an esplanade by the Tagus river with a view to the tower of Belém on one side and the monument to the discoveries on the other.

Portuguese wineries share the stage with producers from France, Spain, Germany and Italy.  There are musicians serenading our ears and food producers filling our bellies with black-pork prosciutto, sausages, oysters, cheese and much more. It is the perfect wine party. If you missed it this year, mark your calendar for next year.  And get a few bottles from the Goliardos’ wine list, they’ll make the wait seem much shorter.

You can find Os Goliardos at Rua General Taborda, nº91, in Lisbon’s Campolide neighborhood. They can be reached by phone (213 462 156) or email info@osgoliardos.com. Click here for their website.