Mesa de Lemos

Composit Quinta de Lemos

The most elegant place to dine in the Beira region is called Mesa de Lemos. Located near the village of Canas de Senhorim, the building is ensconced in the ancient granite boulders and looks like an integral part of the landscape. It was built three years ago by Celso de Lemos to showcase the wonderful wines he produces in the winery that also bears his name.

The restaurant tables overlook the surrounding vineyards, making us feel as if we are dining in the middle of the vines. There’s a fixed menu with optional, but indispensable, wine pairings. The delicious food is created by chef Diogo Rocha who was born in Canas de Senhorim. He draws inspirations from local traditional recipes to produce food that is elegant and satisfying.

Our meal started with a joyous sparkling wine called Geraldine in honor of Celso’s daughter. It has very fine bubbles and an elegant brioche aroma that combines perfectly with Diogo Rocha’s appetizers, a set of preparations reminiscent of a picnic in the countryside.

Next came Dona Santana, a complex red made from the four emblematic varietals cultivated in the Dão region: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Afrocheiro. It paired perfectly with the braised bízaro pork. The last entrée was codfish adorned with an ethereal parsley foam and paired with an elegant red wine made from a single varietal, Afrocheiro.

The dessert feast started with an interesting experimental fortified wine produced by the quinta. It continued with a cherry pudding and a salty ice cream made from requeijão, a pastry filled with a sweet bean paste and a chestnut-shaped concoction made from egg yolks.

The wines of Quinta de Lemos are diamonds that sparkle anywhere. But at Mesa de Lemos they have their perfect setting.

Click here for the Mesa de Lemos web site. The restaurant is located at Quinta de Lemos, Passos de Silgueiros, near Viseu, tel 961 158 503.

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Discovering the Beira Interior wine region

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It was a week full of discoveries. We met Manuel Malfeito, a wonderful enologist with a gift for explaining the mysteries of wine. Manuel told us about Beira Interior, “a wine region around the Estrela Mountain that has a great future.” He introduced us to João and Lurdes Carvalho, the owners of Quinta dos Termos and off we went in search of new vinic sensations. At Quinta dos Termos we learned about two indigenous varietals that produce elegant, aromatic wines, the white Fonte de Cal and the red Rufete.

Both João and Lurdes come from agricultural families but their careers took them in a different direction. After studying engineering, they started a very successful textile business.

João inherited a farm called Quinta dos Termos with a few hectares of vines planted in 1931. His father had bought the farm in 1945 to produce wine for the local taverns. João hired someone to oversee the vineyard and sell the grapes to the local cooperative.

In 2001 Virgílio Loureiro, a well-known enologist, came for a visit. He told João and Lurdes that the farm had ideal conditions to produce great wine, some of the best in Portugal, perhaps some of the best in the world. The region is blessed with high altitude. The dry climate and the steady breeze keep the grapes free of fungi. And the large thermic amplitude during Spring and Summer produce natural acidity that allows the wines to age gracefully and gain complexity. João told the enologist that his textile business was very demanding and left him no time to devote to wine production.

A week later, Virgilio Loureiro called with a request: “Can I buy a few tons of grapes to produce some wine as an experiment?” “Where will you produce the wine?” João asked. “I could produce it at the local cooperative, but the ideal would be to buy some basic equipment and produce it right on the farm. I can send you a list of what we would need,” the enologist suggested. João ordered the equipment. Virgilio Loureiro produced the wine and staged it in oak until October 2002.

Once the wine was bottled, João took a few bottles to a favorite local restaurant. The next day, the restaurant owner called back and ordered 20 cases. A few days later, another restaurant owner called. He had tried the new wine and he also wanted 20 cases. In February 2003 the wine received a glowing review from a wine magazine.

João and Lurdes were hooked. They planted 56 hectares of vines and Lurdes started working full time at the winery. Now Pedro, one of the couple’s sons has joined her. Their goal is to showcase the excellence of the grapes with nothing added or subtracted. The cultivation and production process adhere strictly to organic principles. The harvest is manual with the grapes are loaded in small cases to avoid crushing the fruit.

One of the ironies of history is that this region far from the sea is the birth place of great navigators like Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil. The bottles of local wine these navigators took with them survived the long ocean voyages and were greatly appreciated. Five centuries later, it is our turn to discover the wines from this place that can produce great wine, some of the best in Portugal, perhaps some of the best in the world.

Click here for the website of Quinta dos Termos.

 

Mister Baga

Luis Pato Composit

Bairrada is a region in the center of Portugal with unique conditions for wine production. Close to the Atlantic Ocean, it has sandy soils like those of Bordeaux and chalky soils like those of Burgundy. The vineyards are surrounded by pine trees and eucalyptuses that infuse the grapes with delicate flavors.

The queen varietal of the Bairrada region is the indigenous baga and the king of the baga is Luís Pato. The heir to a line of Bairrada wine makers that can be traced back to 1860, he rebelled against the idea of planting foreign varietals. “Mister Baga,” as people like to call him, has been proved right: today his baga wines are served in many of the world’s great restaurants.

On our first visit, we were received by his daughter Maria Pato. She talks about her father’s wines as if they are part of the family. Her green eyes shined when she opened two bottles of wine from a vineyard called Vinha Formal. The first was a sparkling wine with an enticing brioche aroma. The second was an elegant white made only with bical, a local white varietal.

Next, we tried a 2000 Quinta dos Moínhos, a captivating red wine made with baga. It tastes to red fruit but the tannins have been tamed by the aging process, giving the wine an aristocratic feel.

We sampled a very interesting fortified wine. Luís Pato stopped fermentation before the yeast converted all the sugar into alcohol by freezing the grape must instead of following the traditional process of adding alcohol to kill the yeast.

On our second visit, Luís Pato took us to the cellar to sample some Pé Franco wines made from ungrafted vines that predate the onset of phylloxera. They are complex and have a wonderful acidity that will help them age gracefully.

Pato talked about how much he has learned over the years. “People in Bairrada used to say that baga wines are good in only two years out of ten. When it rained before the harvest, the grapes gained a watery taste which together with rot ruined the wine.” He had the idea of pruning the grapes early in the season and use the pruned grapes to make sparkling wine. “Pruning gives the grapes more space to breathe, preventing rot and allowing me to make good wines in years with rainy Summers.”

Some of Pato’s new projects, like his 19th century-style wines, are inspired by tradition. Others, like his sweet white wine made with from red grapes using hyper-oxygenation, defy tradition.

We asked him about his daughter Filipa Pato, who is also a wine maker. “Our wines are quite different, but we share a lot of information. In New York they know me better for being Luisa’s father than for my wines.” he said with pride.

Both wine makers are experimenting with sercealinho, a grape varietal that only exists in their properties. These vines have to be watched closely because they are highly susceptible to disease. Luís’s father kept a plot of sercealinho alive that shows great potential.

Pato told us that “As a wine maker I cannot stop, I have to continue to evolve and accept new challenges. I want to make wines that my grandchildren will drink in 30 years and say, wow this wine is great.”

Every time we try Luís Pato’s brilliant, original wines we wonder: is Bairrada the best wine region in Portugal and one of the best in the world?  If you’re a wine lover, visit Luís Pato’s winery to find out.

Click here for information on how to schedule a visit to Luís Pato. 

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.

Making Alenquer a food destination

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In the 19th century, Alenquer was one of Portugal’s premier wine regions. Its fortunes waned for much of the 20th century. But the tide turned and Alenquer rightly regained its status as a prized wine destination. A young chef called João Simões wants to help Alenquer become a food destination as well.

João apprenticed at the Ritz and worked in many posh hotels and restaurants. Three years ago, he decided to return to his roots to recover and renew the culinary traditions of the region where he was born. He uses local products like quails and Rocha pears and works with farmers on projects like producing goat cheese in the Montejunto mountain. His restaurant is called Casta 85. Casta means varietal, a reference to the region’s wine tradition. The number 85 refers to the chef’s birth year.

The dining room is decorated with furniture procured in the chef’s village. It is a pleasant space that overlooks the Alenquer river. This tributary of the Tagus flows proudly through town, reveling from the praise it received in Luis Vaz de Camões’ epic poem, the Lusíadas.

Casta 85’s service is relaxed and attentive. Ana Santana, our genial server, met the chef when they both played in a brass band. The chef’s old instrument is now part of the decoration and some of the band’s brashness inspires the intense, harmonious food.

We tried appetizing alheira croquettes with apple sauce and crisp green bean tempura with garlic mayonnaise. Next, came a delicious quail Brás style served with a quail egg, fried onion and cassava chips. Our meal ended with a luscious duck leg served over a risotto of mushrooms and asparagus.

We returned from Alenquer through a scenic road that took us though countless vineyards. We can’t wait to go back to visit the wine quintas and have another great lunch at Casta 85!

Casta 85 is located at Largo do Espírito Santo, 31 in Alenquer, tel. 915 761 911.

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.