January 26, 2014 § 1 Comment
The Dão is one of the oldest Portuguese wine regions. It is a place where granitic soils force vines to work hard for their sustenance, producing small grapes that are full of flavor. We heard wonders about Julia Kemper, a new Dão producer, and we finally got a chance to try her wines.
We first opened a bottle of red wine made with Touriga Nacional, the queen varietal of the Dão region. The taste took us back to hot Summer days in the Dão valleys, when the sky is indescribably blue and everything is at peace.
We then opened a bottle of white made with Encruzado, another emblematic Dão varietal, and Malvasia Fina. The taste reminded us of cool nights in the Dão plateaus, when all the stars come out to worship the beauty of the Estrela mountain.
What a privilege it is to drink wines that take us on a journey to their terroir!
November 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
If you keep a list of ideas for fun activities, we would like to suggest a new entry: visiting a port-wine cellar.
Port wine is made in the Douro region where Summers can be very hot. So, the wine is shipped to Vila Nova de Gaia, a town adjacent to Oporto, to be stored away from the heat. There, the wine is kept in dark, cool cellars until it trades the brashness of youth for the refinement that comes with maturity.
Most port-wine houses offer tours of their cellars. The tour guides teach you to distinguish between tawny, ruby, late-bottled vintage, and vintage port. They also regale you with interesting stories and facts about port-wine production. You’ll learn, for example, that the “share of the angels” is the fraction of the wine stored that is lost to evaporation. At the end of the tour you are invited to a port-wine tasting, so you’ll also get a share of this precious nectar.
July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
Madeira is a fortified wine produced in the island of Madeira. Brandy is added during fermentation to kill the yeast and prevent it from converting all the sugar into alcohol. The result is a sweet wine that can endure the changes in temperature that used to occur during shipping.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson kept their cellars well stocked with Madeira. So did John Adams, who said that a few glasses of Madeira made anyone feel capable of being president. Perhaps for this reason, both the signing of the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were celebrated with Madeira.
There are several different types of Madeira, depending on the varietals used in their production. The most popular varietal, Malvasia or Malmsey, produces a sweet, smooth wine. Sercial makes an excellent dry aperitif. Verdelho makes an elegant semi-dry wine. Bual produces a dark amber semi-sweet wine.
They’re all irresistible, which is why, in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Falstaff is accused of selling his soul to the devil for a glass of Madeira.
May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
You cannot judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a wine by its cork. Low-quality wines use plastic corks or other cork substitutes that do not allow the wine to breathe. The next step up in the quality ladder are wines that use stoppers made of agglomerate cork. Better wines have solid corks, and the very best wines have beautiful waxed corks with the winery’s name carefully imprinted. So, when a wine critic is not available, use the cork as your guide!
April 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
Symposium is a Greek word that means drinking together. It refers to parties in which people sat around, drinking wine and talking about life. One of these parties, attended by Socrates, was immortalized by Plato in his writings.
You can easily recreate a symposium atmosphere in Portugal. First, invite some great friends. Second, procure three great ingredients: rustic bread, Azeitão cheese and Piriquita wine.
Azeitão is produced with sheep milk in small farms in the Arrábida mountain with the same techniques used to make Serra cheese in the Estrela mountain. But different pastures make different cheese, so Azeitão has a taste all of its own. Piriquita is a wine from the nearby Palmela region, produced with a grape varietal known as Castelão or Piriquita.
This wine and cheese are a heavenly pairing. So, you’ll have a good time, even if no philosophers show up. But, if you’re lucky, the conversation will be so brilliant that people will still talk about your party in 2500 years.
The Azeitão cheese produced by Fernando & Simões in Quinta do Anjo is one of our favorites.
January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
During the Napoleonic wars, the Duke of Wellington stationed his troops in the Bucelas region, north of Lisbon. There, he drank a white wine made with Arinto, an indigenous varietal. He enjoyed it so much that, after the war, he imported large quantities back to England. Wellington offered some bottles of Bucelas to King George III, who claimed that they cured him of a troublesome kidney disease. The wine continued to gather fame during the Victorian era. German Rieslings were known in England as “Hock,” so London wine merchants called Bucelas “Portuguese Hock.”
When the British publisher Henry Vizetelly arrived in Portugal in 1877 to work on a book about wine, his first stop was Bucelas. He writes that the young wine is “remarkably fresh in flavor,” and the older wines are “rounder and more aromatic” with a “soft, almondy after taste.” He concludes that: “Certainly purer wines than these are not easily met with.”
Bucelas was enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dicken, but its fame dwindled over time. If you’re in Portugal, make sure to try this inexpensive, wonderful wine. Wine fashions come and go, but the remarkable freshness of Bucelas is here to stay.
November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Eça de Queirós (pronounced essa de kaeroz) is a great 19th century writer whose novels cast a critical eye on Portuguese society. Eça loved wine from the Colares region, and so do his characters. Here are the words of Teodoro, the protagonist of Eça’s novel, The Mandarin:
“What a day! I dined in selfish solitude in a private room at Hotel Central with the table full of bottles of wine from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Rhine, as well as liqueurs from every conceivable religious community, as if I were trying to quench a thirty-year-old thirst. But the only wine I drank, until I was satiated, was from Colares.”
Colares wine is made with a unique varietal called Ramisco. Farmers plant this vine on sand, digging a deep hole until they find a layer of clay to attach the roots. All this hard work paid off during the phylloxera epidemic because Ramisco was one of the few varietals to survive the disease.
If you’re in Sintra and you’re interested in wine, visit the nearby town of Colares to drink a glass of Ramisco at the local cooperative. It’s not everyday that you can taste a wine unscathed by both the phylloxera plague and the criticism of Eça de Queirós.
July 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
The excellence of the wine region near Lisbon remains a closely guarded secret. This area has perfect soil, gracious slopes, a climate blessed by the Atlantic breeze, producers that learned the secrets of the vine from their forefathers, and a new generation of enologists that can turn great grapes into unique wines.
One of the top producers of the Lisbon region is Quinta de Chocapalha, which is owned and operated by the family of star enologist Sandra Tavares da Silva.
If you are interested in wine, drive to Quinta de Chocapalha for a wine tasting. You’ll see beautiful wine country and enjoy the rare privilege of learning about wine from the people who produce it. You’ll come away with a new appreciation for the different varietals, styles, cultivation methods, and production techniques. But, most of all, you’ll learn that it takes great passion to produce great wine.
Quinta de Chocapalha is located in Aldeia Galega in the region of Alenquer, 50 km from Lisbon. You can schedule a wine tasting by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
There is a Portuguese saying, “muita parra, pouca uva,” (leafs are many but grapes are few) that applies to Touriga nacional. This varietal has very small grapes. But they burst with flavor through a thick skin that gives the wine an intense red color. Touriga has been planted for centuries in the Dão region but has little name recognition outside of Portugal.
If you are a wine lover, it is worthwhile to learn how to say Touriga nacional (toereega nacional), because this grape is destined for stardom. So, when the Touriga frenzy takes over the world, you’ll be able to say: I drank those fantastic Touriga wines when they were great buys because almost no one outside Portugal knew about them.
April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
Even though Douro is the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, it is not know for its table wines. Douro winemakers produced port wine in part because of climatic conditions. The weather can be very hot during the harvest season, raising wine fermentation temperatures and killing the yeast that converts sugar into alcohol. When Fernando Nicolau de Almeida produced the first Barca Velha, in 1952, he famously carted blocks of ice at great expense to control the fermentation temperature.
The combination of modern wine-making technology and the Douro’s unique grapes is heralding a new era for the region. One example of this new beginning is Chryseia, a wonderfully elegant table wine made with grapes traditionally reserved for the great vintage Ports. It is produced by Bruno Prats, the famous wine maker from Bordeaux, and the Symington family, renowned for their port wines.
Chryseia means golden in Greek. The name is a reference to the Douro region (Douro means “made of gold” in Portuguese). But it is also a sign that, when two great wine names get together, they’ll settle for nothing less than brilliant.