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Daily Glass: Portugal Still A Value Champion

April 4, 2017 1 comment

If you drink wines every day, I’m sure you can appreciate a great value. Heck, I’m sure you hunt down value as much as you can, not only appreciate it. Even at a modest $20 per bottle, the cost of this hobby/passion quickly adds up.

All of us, wine lovers, greatly appreciate good value. But – it is equally important to note – not at the expense of the taste. It is great if the bottle is reasonably priced, however, the content still has to deliver the pleasure – as this is why we really drink the wine in the first place.

So let me ask you – what is your “go to” value region? I personally have many. In the $10 – $12 range, you can often look at Georgia and Spain (even though Spain is slowly edging itself out of that category); sometimes Italy and France can surprise you too – more as an exception, though. Add a few dollars – move to the $12-$15 range, and you got Spain very reliably there, with more of French and Italian options, and even some wines from the US; South Africa might play a supporting role there as well.

But – to sneak under $10, or even get as close as possible to $5? With the wines people will drink and enjoy? Reliably? I know of only one country which delivers here – Portugal.

I visited Portugal for the first time back in 2013, and when I saw the $3 – $4 wines at the supermarket, my thought was – this is most likely not drinkable at all. And I was dead wrong – here is one example. And I was proven wrong lots and lots more times, both in Portugal and in the US (I’m talking about place of buying the wine).

What prompted this post was a quick stop at one of my favorite wine stores – Bottle King in New Jersey. I didn’t have much time, just enough to grab a few bottles. One of them was 2014 Quinta do Vale Sub-Região Serra da Estrela Dão DOP (13% ABV, $5.98, 40% Tinta Roriz, 35% Alfrocheiro, 25% Jaen) – yes, at a whopping $5.98. To be entirely honest, I opened the bottle, poured and glass and proceeded to sip directly, without paying much attention to the appearance or the nose. The very first sip delivered the “wow” reaction. The aromas jumped from the glass – fresh, supple, juicy, with crunchy young fruit, lots of aromatic herbs (sage, tarragon), clean, smooth, medium body, touch of earthiness, fresh acidity and excellent balance. There was nothing extra in that glass – just a pure indulgence.

After that first sip (and then second, third and so on), it was evident that Portugal over-delivered again – an outstanding QPR, excellent wine at more than excellent price – clearly worthy of a “case buy” recommendation.

There you have it, my friends. What was your recent “best value” experience? What is your “go to” value wines region or a country? Cheers!

Notes To Self – Portuguese Wines

May 30, 2015 5 comments

Well, yes, you got me – if I would really try to write a note for myself to remember, I could easily write it in my paper journal and keep it to myself. Thus it is pointless to pretend that these are really the “notes to self”, which are typically starting with “next time, remember that …”. Nevertheless, what I would like to stress that this post is simply an attempt to share my understanding of a few elements of the Portuguese wines, based on the trips to Portugal, drinking Portuguese wines and talking to both people who make them and people who serve them. I will not be producing the map and talking about all the Portuguese wine regions and all the styles of wines; I will not be talking about terroir, soils or climate – there are many sources for that. You can simply look at this writing as a collection of facts and thoughts about Portuguese wines, heavily slated towards the wines of Douro – some are just for fun, and some that might have a practical value.

Portuguese Wine BlendsMost of the Portuguese wines (white, red, Port) are blends. Moreover, they are not the traditional blends, but instead they are the field blends. If you will look at the bottle of Bordeaux or California wine, there is a good chance you will see the exact proportions of the different grapes in that wine – 35% Grenache, 25% Syrah, etc. What you would typically see on the bottle of Portuguese wine are the names of the grapes (Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, etc), but not the associated percentages. This is due to the fact that the different grapes are growing together in the vineyard, they are harvested together and vinified together, without any ability to identify the amount of the particular grape in the blend. In some cases even the exact grapes in the vineyard are unknown. and you might see on the label “and other local grapes”. This information is more of a fun fact – there is nothing for you to deduce about taste, quality or age-worthiness of the wine – but it is something which is “interesting to know”. Besides, nowadays people became obsessed with wine factoids, so somehow when wine consumers see that wine contains 25% of Grenache and not 35% of Grenache, they feel better. And they definitely feel a lot better  when they see a percentage of that Grenache listed instead just the name of the grape. But when it comes to the traditional Portuguese wines, those percentages are impossible to obtain, so you can simply save yourself time and just accept it for what it is.

Portuguese Reserva Wines Now, here is more practical tidbit of information for you. The word “Reserva” matters on the label of the wine from Douro. You are laughing and having a “duh  moment”? Totally fine with me, but let me proceed here anyway. I remember a very interesting experience from my previous trip to Portugal. We ordered a wine in the restaurant, and it was outstanding – deep, concentrated, absolutely delicious. I loved it so much that I even bought a few bottles for home, right there at the restaurant. I came back to exact same restaurant and ordered exact same wine a few days later – and couldn’t believe I liked it last time so much. No, it was not bad, but it was very simplistic, drinkable but quite average. Later on I realized that the only difference between the wines was the word Reserva on the label. Similar story took place in conversation with our waiter at the hotel. During the first visit, we had one of most stunning red wines ever, Casa Burmester Red from Douro (it was a #3 wine in my Top List from 2013). During the last visit, when I asked our waiter about the Casa Burmester red, he made face and pretty much asked me “why do you want to drink that? that is not a good wine”. Only after I added the word Reserva I was able to get an agreeing nod “ah, Reserva, sure”.

Yes, the word Reserva is regulated and appears on many of the wine bottles from the different regions. However, from the wines I tasted, it makes the biggest difference in the wines of Douro, by a wide margin. Talking about the same producers, Chianti Reserva would be a bit more concentrated than a regular Chianti, the same would be true for Brunello Reserva versus regular Brunello. Rioja Reserva would appear quite different from the Crianza, but typically both wines would be delicious in their own right and will share common traits. At the same time, if you will taste both regular and Reserva wines from the same producer in Douro, you would think there is no relationship between the wines whatsoever, and the regular wines will show as quite simplistic, at the best qualified as so called “BBQ reds”. The word Reserva puts those same wines on the world stage and immediately lines them up with the best of the best, usually at a fraction of a price (a $30 Reserva from Douro would easily beat lots of $100+ wines – of course I’m speaking for myself).

Whats makes such a huge difference? I don’t know (and if you do, I would greatly appreciate the comment). The only regulated difference I’m aware of between regular and Reserva wines in Douro is that Reserva wines have to spend at least 1 year in the oak. Could it be that better grapes are going into Reserva? Of course. Another interesting factor might be Douro Institute (IVDP), the governing body of the Douro wines. What is important to understand is that IVDP not only regulates the yield, the grapes, the irrigation and so on – all the wines (pay attention here – ALL the wines) are sent to and blind tasted by IVDP to approve or deny the winery designation for the particular wine. The rejection rate at IVDP is quite high at 17% – thus it is well possible that IVDP becomes a significant factor in making the Reserva wines so different. Bottom line is simple – if you can find a Reserva wine from Douro, go for it, there is a good chance you might really like it.

Broken OpenerThe realization of the dare importance of Reserva was probably my most significant wine discovery of the last trip. I was actually planning to mention a few more things, but I’m not sure how important those are. Here is one – which is rather a curious observation. Don’t know about you, but as I live in the US, I’m used to seeing many wines, especially the simple ones, to be closed with the screw top rather than the cork. This is not the case in the Portugal, the land of the cork trees – even the simplest, 80 cents wines from the supermarket, are still closed with the nice cork. Remember that if you will get thirsty all of a sudden in Portugal, there is no such thing as “twist and pour”. This can lead to the curious moment – see the wine opener in my hotel room been broken … by the cork.

I’m almost done here, I promise – just one more note. Vintage Port is definitely a flagship of the Portuguese wine industry, and of course we would love to drink that whenever possible. As a flagship, the Vintage Port is also costs appropriately (pushing a $70/bottle boundary across many producers). What you need to remember is that Vintage Port is essentially a regular wine – fortified, yes, but still a regular wine, which didn’t go through all the barrel ageing and oxidation – therefore, you should treat it exactly as a regular bottle of wine. Slightly chill before serving, and most importantly, consume within 2-3 days. Unlike Tawny Port, which can be kept around for a month or so after opening, Vintage Port will lose all of its beauty in 2-3 days. Also, considering the price of the Vintage Port, don’t ignore the LBV, Late Bottled Vintage port – it has the same vintage designation as a Vintage port, but will cost a lot less (typically under $30), and will last a little longer once opened, compare to the Vintage Port. You can look at LBV as the second label of the Vintage Port, if you will.

And we are done here. I hope you will find my notes to self (and to you) useful. Enjoy your weekend and cheers!

Magnificent Portugal

May 24, 2015 27 comments

Douro Valley 2Two years ago I was lucky to discover the Portugal. A beautiful country with wonderful people, great wines and delicious food. This year, I had an opportunity to experience the Portugal again, and once again I want to share my experiences with you as much as possible. There will be a few posts, as there is absolutely no way to squeeze all the impressions into one (nothing is impossible, yes, but I’m sure none of you are interested in a post with a hundred+ pictures and ten thousand words), but still please prepare to be inundated with the pictures. Let’s go.

I want to start from the wonderful trip we had on Sunday. I’m subscribed to the updates from the wine travel web site called Winerist. An email I received from the Winerist about a week before my scheduled departure contained a section about wine trips in … Douro, Portugal! How could they know, huh? This was my very first time using the service, so not without trepidation I filled up booking form for the tour called “Wine Tasting & Sightseeing in the Douro Valley” (€95 per person), requesting the specific date – actually, the only free day I had during the trip. I was informed that my credit card will be charged only after the trip availability will be confirmed with the local provider. Two days later the confirmation arrived with all the tour provider information and pickup time (the pickup is arranged at any of the hotels in Porto). The day before the trip, I got a call in my hotel room from JoÃo, who informed me that the pickup will take place next day at 9:10 am in front of the hotel’s lobby.

The next day, a red minivan showed up exactly at 9:10 am (at least according to my watch), however the first thing JoÃo did after introducing himself in person, was to apologize for arriving at 9:12 instead of 9:10 – from which I figured that we will have fun in our tour. This is exactly what happened – after picking up two more people for the total of 8 passengers, off we went to immerse into the beauty of Portuguese nature, culture, food and wine. I will not give you a detailed account of everything we heard during of almost 11 hours of out trip (we were supposed to come back at 6:30 pm, but nobody was in a hurry, so we came back very close to 8 pm) – that would make it for a long and boring post. But I will do my best to give you a good idea of what we saw and experienced.

Our first stop was at a small town called Amarante. On the way there, our guide and driver had to really work hard – out of our group of 8 people, 2 of us needed all explanations in English, and the rest of the group was from Brazil, so JoÃo had to alternate between Portuguese and English – have to say he had no issues doing that for the duration of the trip. The second problem JoÃo had to deal with was … a marathon, which forced closure of many roads, so he had to find his way around. Well, that was also a non-issue, so we successfully arrived to Amarante. Our intended destination was the church of São Gonçalo (St. Gonçalo), which had an interesting story of the saint whose name is associated with male fertility. I had to admit that I missed some parts of the explanation regarding the origins of this belief, but the bottom line is very simple. Inside of the church, there is a statue of St. Gonçalo, with the hanging rope. Any male who needs help with the  fertility, have to pull that rope twice, but not more (don’t know if it would be equivalent to the Viagra overdose?). Besides, the Priest gets very unhappy when people get crazy with that rope, so all the pulling should be done quietly and without attracting unnecessary attention. I guess that same fertility power led to the appearance of so called St. Gonçalo cakes, which you will see below – I’m assuming the picture is self-explanatory. No, I didn’t try one, nor did anyone from our group, so can’t tell you how it tastes. After leaving the church, we had around 20 minutes to walk around the town, before we had to leave to our next destination.

Our next stop was the town of Lamego, which is one of the biggest in the Douro valley. As food was an essential part of our tour, first we visited a place called A Presunteca. I would probably characterize it as a food and wine store, somewhat geared towards tourists. No, “tourist trap” would be rather diminutive, as the food and wine were genuinely good and prices were absolutely on par with any other store. We had a taste few of the local sausages and cured meets, as well as cheese. We also had an opportunity to taste some of Porto and dry wines, as well as sparkling – the Peerless sparkling wine was excellent, on par with any good Cava or Cremant. I also really liked a Niepoort Dry White Port. If we wouldn’t have to spend the next half of the day in the hot car, I don’t think I would’ve left without a nice chunk of a cured meet, but oh well…

Next we got into a race with a long (very long!) line of honking old Minis, and we lost the race despite creative local street navigation by JoÃo. We still successfully arrived to our next destination – Cathedral of Santa Maria, Lady of Remedy. According to the explanations, the beautiful structure was erected as promised by the Bishop to show a gratitude for sparring the city of Lamego from the Black Plague. There are more than 600 steps which lead to the Cathedral on top of the hill, which people seeking the cure for the illnesses often concur on their knees. We walked around the cathedral and then used the steps to get down to the town level, admiring the beautiful view and exquisite architectural elements, also with the great use of traditional Portuguese painted ceramic tiles. This place needs some serious restoration work, but it is still absolutely magnificent.

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Our next stop was for lunch. The restaurant called Manjar do Douro was located very close to the bottom of the staircase we ascended from. It was somewhat resembling a big dining hall, with many groups occupying communal style tables. The bread, cheese and cold cuts were outstanding. For the entree I’ve chosen veal, as still was suffering from the fish overload from the night before (more about it in another post). This was rather a mistake, as the meat was really chewy (well, the sautéed vegetables were excellent). We had a few wines with the meal. 2014 Incantum Vinho Branco had inviting nose of a white fruit, a bit more tamed fruit on the palate, overall very enjoyable (and added another grape to my collection, Sìria). The 2013 Incantum Douro Tinto was nice, but a bit simplistic. As JoÃo learned from our conversation that I was all into wines, he showed me a few of his favorite wines, one of them you can see below in the picture (no, we didn’t try it).

Our next stop was finally a full immersion into the wine world of Douro. After about an hour driving, we arrived at Quinta do Tedo. Vincent Bouchard of the Bouchard Père & Fils fame from Burgundy, fell in love with the Quinta do Tedo vineyards (can you blame him? take a look at the pictures), located at a crossing of River Douro and River Tedo, and he bought the vineyard in the early 1990s. 1992 was the first vintage produced by the Quinta do Tedo. The vineyards, located on the hilly slopes around the picturesque River Tedo, consist of the vines of 30 to 70 years old. Quinta do Tedo makes only red wines, but they make both dry wines and number of Port styles. Winery’s logo has a picture of the bird on it – according to the local traditions, the birds would show up to eat the grapes when they are perfectly ripe, so that bird on the label signifies perfectly ripe grapes.

Quinta do Tedo Vineyards

Douro Vineyards

TedoThe winery still uses all of the old traditions of winemaking – the grapes are harvested by hand, into the small baskets to prevent them crushing under its own weight. The grapes are fully destemmed, and then are crushed using the … feet, yes, exactly as you expected. Grapes are stomped over the course of a few days by the men. The juice flows into the tanks (no pumping), where it is fermented for two days (in case of port production) or longer, and from there on the wines are made according to the style. Ahh, and I need to mention that the vineyards of Quinta do Tedo are certified organic. Also note that it is illegal to irrigate vines in Douro, so you can say that all of the producers in Douro are using dry farming methods.

I love the fact that wine offers endless learning opportunities – every time you talk to someone passionate, you learn something new. Let me tell you why I’m talking about it. As you might know, all the wine production in Douro is regulated by so called Douro Institute (IVDP). This is a very powerful organization, which assess all the wines made in Douro, both Port and regular dry wines, to make sure that winery’s declaration is up to the right level. I was always under impression that it is IVDP then which declares vintage year for Port. Turns out I was wrong – it is actually up to the winery to declare a vintage year (however it would be an IVDP will confirm or reject the designation). 2010 was an excellent year, and many Port houses produced Vintage Port. Then there was 2011, which was not just good, but simply spectacular. But if you mention 2009, people raise their arms defensively – it was not a good year. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Quinta do Tedo from producing delicious 2009 Vintage Port, including their single vineyard flagship, Savedra.

The learning didn’t stop there. Our guide very simply explained concept of the so called LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage Port, which has the year designation similar to the vintage port, but typically costs a fraction of price (and something which I couldn’t figure out for a while). It appears that concept of LBV is as follows. The wine is first made with the intent of becoming a Vintage Port – 2 days fermentation which is stopped with neutral brandy, then about 2 years of aging in stainless steel or neutral oak tanks. After that the port is sent to the IVDP to get the vintage approval – and if it fails to get the approval, it is aged for another 2 years or so, and then bottled as LBV. Simple, right?

Of course it was not all talking – there was also tasting. Technically our official tasting included only two types of port, but you know how that works – once the passion starts talking, the tasting becomes “no holds barred” event.

We started with two of the dry wines. The 2011 Quinta do Tedo Tinto Douro was what can be called a “BBQ Wine” – nice fresh fruit profile, with some depth, but limited power, allowing for easy sipping. But the second wine was the whole different story. 2011 was so good that the winery simply decided to skip the Reserva level, and to make Grand Reserva only. Wine spent 22 month in French oak. The level of finesse on that 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro was unparalleled, something which you really have to experience for yourself – elegant dark fruit, spices and touch of fresh herbs on the nose (you can smell the wine for the very, very long time). On the palate, the wine is multilayered, dark, full-bodied and powerful, and it combined firm structure with silky smooth goodness. At €25, it can be only classified as a steal – or definitely a tremendous value, if you prefer that definition.

We also tasted 2010 Quinta do Tedo LBV, which was absolutely delicious, with good amount of sweetness and fresh acidity, making it perfectly balanced; Quinta do Tedo 20 Years Old Tawny had beautiful complexity with hazelnut and almonds, and dry fruit sweetness. Elegance of 2009 Quinta do Tedo 2009 Vintage was simply outstanding – fragrant nose and very balanced palate. That was one delicious tasting, that is all I can tell.

We need to round up here – and I thank you if you are still reading this. Good news is that after that tasting where I think we spent double the time versus the original plan we went back to the hotel, with one last stop to suck in the greatness of the Douro River – so no more words here, just a few pictures.

Douro Valley 4

Douro Valley

Douro valley 5

Douro Valley 2

And we are done (can you believe it?). If your travel will take you to Portugal, I would highly recommend that you will give the LivingTours a try – I think this is the best way to explore that magnificent country. Also keep in mind that Winerist offers a variety of the wine tours in many regions, so do check them out.

As for my Portugal escapades – I’m only getting warmed up. Prepare to be inundated further. Until the next time – cheers!

Port Barrels and Harvest

October 20, 2013 16 comments

There are days when everything goes wrong. And then there are days when everything goes right (hmm, which one do you prefer?). And sometimes the bad day just … changes in the middle, and becomes a great day (yes, the worst case scenario is when the best day becomes a complete disaster, but let’s not go there, okay?).

My day didn’t start all that well. During the trip to Portugal, I had one and only one free day when I could take a drive along the Douro river and visit some wineries. Before the arrival, I asked the hotel to reserve the rental car, which should be automatic (yeah, I know, it is a substantial handicap – never learned how to drive the manual) and have GPS. Hotel’s email said “no problems, all arranged as you requested”.

We arrived at the Europcar rental pretty much as planned – a little bit after 9 am. I figured we will get a car, drive for about 2 hours, and will have enough time to visit 3 wineries. For some reason, the lady at the counter took about 40 minutes to do the paperwork. Finally, we get portable GPS, and then we are doing the walk around of a small car (I’m happy – my preference in Europe is to drive the compact car, as in the end of the day you need to park the car somewhere, and small car is a lot easier to deal with). All the little scratches are noted, we get inside. I put the key in the ignition, stat the car, and … oh shit, I can’t drive it – it is a stick-shift. I’m walking back to tell the lady that this is not the car which was requested, and that I can’t drive this car (meanwhile, I’m literally swearing at myself for not asking from the beginning about type of the transmission the car has – pretty much an hour of time is wasted). The lady (to be honest with you – I had a sneaky desire to avoid her from the first minute I saw her), proudly tells me that I got the car I requested. And after I explained that I can’t drive stick-shift, and I need an automatic car, she also happily informed me that there is nothing she can do.

Luckily, the second agent is free now, and I plead my case to her (the perspective of simply spending the day aimlessly wandering around Porto somehow doesn’t excite me even for a second). She at least tells me “let me see what I can do” – I also see the face of her colleague (the first lady) clearly expressing the hope that I would just walk away, not drive away in one of their coveted automatic cars.

The girl who is trying to help us is making a quick call and then tells me that yes, she has a car – but it will cost twice as much (€140). At this point, again, we have no choice, so yes, thank you, this is wonderful, can we have that car as soon as possible? Well, not so fast, she says – the car must be washed and re-fueled. My plea that dirty car will be just fine, and that I know how to fill the car, dies in vein. “It will be only 15 minutes”, she says. Finally, one hour later, we are presented with the white behemoth. We get in, and we pretty much have to start driving immediately as we are blocking someone’s private garage entrance, and the person who is trying to get out is not very happy with that. I barely manage to get this car to move, as some genius designed the parking on/off knob to be a separate button to the left of the steering column, functionally co-located with the parking brake…

I pull to the other side of the street and try to operate GPS – you see, that winery, called a “Quinta” in Portugal (which simply means “a farm”), doesn’t have a street address. The genius of the car design definitely had its say on GPS, as in that particular GPS you can’t enter a zip code, nor you can find a POI, as it only allows you to search for the places located right around you, and not at a distance of 140 km… Anyway, while I’m about to go back and to say that I’m not driving that piece of sh.. anywhere, my friend manages to enter just the town for our destination, and he also manages to calm me down (thank you, Sumit!), so off we go…

Once we get to the highway, my mood is improving (I actually love driving). Once we get off the highway (which is about 25 miles down the road), and we hit the small road going mostly along the river, I’m in nirvana… And who will not be, when this is what you see all around:

After driving for about 2 hours, we arrived to the town of S. Joao da Pesqueira (our destination). It is really time for lunch, and we are so behind our planned schedule. We managed to find an open restaurant – on Sunday,  outside of the tourist area, food gets a little tricky. While in the restaurant, I’m desperately trying to get the Google maps on my Blackberry to work. We are asking for the directions – no such luck, as we also don’t have the detailed map of the S. Joao da Pesqueira, the town where the Quevedo, our destination, is located, and there is clear and present language barrier. I don’t really remember what I had for lunch, as I was all worried that we will not make it (yep, that little worried child inside got completely out of control).

After the lunch, based on the glimpses of GPS navigation, our waitress’ hand gestures and common sense, we continue driving forward. About 5 minutes later, we see this:

DSC_0911And the happy day didn’t stop from there on.

Here are the few pictures of what were looking at once we stepped out of the car:

As we were walking in, we were quickly greeted by Oscar, who I met during my previous visit to Porto. Oscar represents a fifth generation of the winemakers in Quevedo family, which had being making Port wines for about 300 years. Quevedo makes about 750,000 bottles of Port per year, and with Oscar’s efforts (in addition to being a winemaker, he also heads up all the export operations for Quevedo), about 97% of what they make is being exported. We also met Claudia, Oscar’s sister, who is in charge of making decisions on the final blend of the Port. You see, outside of Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage and Colheita Ports, which are all made out of the single vintage grapes, absolute majority of the Port wines are blends – and Claudia has the final say on deciding what goes into the bottle.

Actually, the day we arrived was right in a middle of the harvest, so Oscar was completely torn between talking to us, accepting incoming grapes (which requires assessment, weighting, calculating), and also taking care of the other groups of visitors ( mostly locals, if I’m guessing correctly). Nevertheless, Oscar gave us a full tour of the winery and a cellar tasting!

As it was the harvest time, we were lucky enough to see the full process of grapes being unloaded, destemmed by the machine and then going into the fermentation tank. I have the pictures for you down below, but while looking at them, you need to imagine a scent of freshly crashed grapes filling the air…

There is a lot of stainless steel at the winery. And of course they have their own bottling line.

After seeing all around the winery, we finally made it to the cellar – and this is where all the fun began.

Oscar brought 3 glasses, and we went from the barrel to the barrel, tasting the different port wines, right from the barrel! We started from 2010 Port, which Oscar said might become a LBV or Colheita – the determination will be made later on (for more on the Port classification and terminology, you can take a look at my earlier post here):

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

This 2010 Port was perfectly fresh, with blueberries and blackberries, great power, perfect acidity, and just bright and uplifting character.

Next we moved to the 2003 Colheita:

2003 Quevedo Colheita

2003 Quevedo Colheita

2003 was a very hot year, but still it was declared a vintage year by many Port houses – which means that overall quality of the grapes was very high. This Port scaled more towards mature, dried fruit, like figs and may be dried apricots, but it was very balanced and still perfectly fresh.

Next up – 1996, and I finally managed to take a picture of Oscar’s hands pouring the Port:

The best you can see in the cellar - Port is getting into YOUR glasss!

The best you can see in the cellar – Port is getting into YOUR glass!

1996 Quevedo Colheita

1996 Quevedo Colheita

This 1996 Port was outstanding, mature, with perfect medley of dried fruit, figs, raisins, and excellent supporting acidity – I would gladly drink this every day ( who wouldn’t!).

And then there were two gems. First, 1970 White Port. Many people, even in Portugal, don’t know that aged white Port exists. Meanwhile, this Port of absolutely, unquestionably spectacular:

1970 White Port

1970 White Port

Elegant, complex, somewhat reminiscent of the mature Pedro Ximenez sherry, but with the dialed back sweetness, perfectly mature fruit, hazelnuts and, believe it or not, still very refreshing and all around spectacular – this wine is definitely a candidate for the Wine of 2013. I really can’t put any “Drinkability” rating on this wine – this simply is something to be experienced.

And we finished with 1974 Colheita, which was in the final blending stages, to be bottled next year (2014)  to commemorate 40 years:

This Port will be bottled next year

This Port will be bottled next year

There will be only 700 bottles produced. This Port was absolutely spectacular, very much on par with the white port we had before – very complex, with good amount of dried fruit, that nuttiness which only well aged Port or Jerez can demonstrate, all with still very present acidity. Same as the previous wine, this was really an experience, not just a sip of wine.

That’s was the end of our amazing tasting. We went for a walk around the vineyard, soaking up the sun and beginning of the autumnal beauty, enjoying the rest of the day which started ohh so not great.

I want to thank Oscar very much for finding the time in his extremely busy day and letting us experience those incredible wines. I also waht to thank my friend Sumit for bearing with my morning craziness and finally getting us to our destination. Let’s raise the glass for any day to become a perfect day, no matter how that day started. Cheers!

[Mind Boggling] Price of Wine

October 8, 2013 15 comments

I’m again [lucky bastard] in Portugal, and get to enjoy this beautiful country. Of course one of the first places I have to visit is a supermarket, to see what’s new in the wine section (you can find some illustrations for my first encounter here). My eyes stop on the bottle of wine from the unknown region for me – Tejo. There were both red and white wines, standing next to each other, so I decided to grab both.

Protugal wines from Tejo

Let me give you description of the wines.

2012 Enóloga Antonina Barbosa Vinho Branco Tejo Vinho Regional (12.5% ABV, made from the Portuguese grape called Fernao Pires): Light yellowish color in the glass. Spectacular perfumed nose, resembling some of the best French Viognier – shows bright perfumed fruit, very elegant, not over the top. Very round and delicate on the palate, touch of apricot, peach and white apple, fresh acidity, perfectly dry and balanced. Drinkability: 8

2012 Enóloga Antonina Barbosa Vinho Tinto Tejo Vinho Regional (13% ABV, a blend of Aragonez, Castelao and Cabernet Sauvignon): Ruby red color in the glass. Fresh fruit nose, shows nice ripe concentrated fruit and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, very restrained, dry, touch of tart cherries, some earthiness and light tannins presence. Good acidity and good overall balance. Drinkability: 7

So we are looking at two good wines. Now, let me ask you a question. Based on the description above, how much these wines should cost?

I will give you a few seconds to think about.

And a few more seconds.

And a few more.

Ready? What do you think?

Okay, we can skip the drum roll, but let me know if you expected to see this number.

€1.29 each.

A whooping €1.29.

I think this is pretty impressive, that such a level of quality can be achieved at such a price of the wine. This wine is a private label, made for the Pingo Doce stores, by the Falua winery. Of course as this is the case with the private labels, no additional details can be found on the winery web site.

I also learned about relatively new designation for the Portuguese wines – Tejo Vinha Regional, which was created in 2009 to be used in the Ribatejo region. Ribatejo DOC (higher classification) is retained for some specific areas of the region.

That’s all I have for you for now. There were many other great wines, food and very special experiences, like Port barrel tasting all the way  to the 1970 – this all hopefully will be shared in this blog in the orderly fashion.

So, can you top my quality/price ratio? I will let you think about it. Cheers!

Study of Port: Epilogue

May 19, 2013 6 comments

What starts with prologue, should end with epilogue, right? What was supposed to be may be one or two posts, became a whole series. In case you missed any of the posts, here is a full list for the study of Port series:

Prologue

First Experiences

Food and Wine Tidbits

Great Restaurants

Finally, let’s talk about Port!

What else can I tell you? We had a great week in Portugal. Very short conclusion can be “great people, great food, great wines, great scenery, great time”.

All people we came across were very nice and helpful. Language barrier was never an issue (I also have to mention that a lot of people speak very good English) – one way or the other we were always able to understand each other. Hotel, restaurants, port houses, stores, our numerous walking tours will only stay in memory with great people encounters.

The food? Very good quality, very reasonably priced. Memorable moments? Bacalhau, Francesinha, lots of fresh fish and shellfish of all kinds. Tuna fish spread is served in almost all restaurants with the bread (you need to ask for butter). Port is available at the buffet breakfast in the hotel, next to the orange juice. Below is the best representation for you (sorry if I make you hungry):

Portuguese Seafood

Portuguese Seafood

But probably the most important part about the food in Portugal is the fact that Portugal practically doesn’t import any agricultural products – everything is either produced, caught or raised locally, and you can taste it.

When it comes to wines, the story becomes interesting. First, there are about 80 grape varieties growing in Portugal, most of them are indigenous grapes. Here is a glimpse for you, as captured in the picture below:

Portuguese Grape Varieties

Portuguese Grape Varieties

By the way, these unique grapes are a great find for all aspiring Wine Centurions – I personally added 5 new grapes to my list – here they are:

Codega do Larinho – 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro

Rabigato – 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro

Moscatel Galego Branco – 2012 Portal Colheita Branco Douro DOC

Antão Vaz – 2010 Herdade Dos Grous Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano

Donzelinho – 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco

Outside of Port, very few of the Portuguese wines make it to US, and out of those few, there is even lesser number of wines of notice. Meanwhile, if you will make it to Portugal, you will be literally astonished by the availability of very inexpensive and absolutely delicious wines, both in the stores and in the restaurants. I already gave you my account of great wine encounters in the previous posts (Quinta do Cardo, Niepoort Tiara, Quevedo Vintage Port), but I actually saved the best for last – 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Roriz) was an absolute highlight of the red wines I tasted during the Porto trip.

DSC_0414 Casa Burmester

I don’t want to even describe this wine in terms of berries, chocolate, coffee, spices – it had everything, but the major thing about this wine was an absolute balance of fruit, structure, power, acidity, tannins – all the elements which make you go “wow” after the first sip where perfectly there. I can’t give you one to one analogy for the way this wine tasted, but to give you an idea of how impressed I was, I would safely put it in one line with 2000 Chateau Margaux, Vega Sicilia Unico and Vintage Krug Champagne. In case you are curious about my rating, this wine gets Drinkability: 9.

I believe I sufficiently inundated you with the pictures of the beautiful scenery, but let me still add a few more:

All roads lead to Port...

All roads lead to Port…

Awakening and Anticipation ...

Awakening and Anticipation …

Vila Nova de Gaia

Vila Nova de Gaia

DSC_0215 Calem view from above

Port caves – view from above

Douro River view

Douro River view

Time to finally conclude the series. I don’t know what you think, but I really enjoyed writing all these posts. I also saw a lot of happy comments, including those where people said that they will definitely go and visit Portugal (which will be very smart, if you ask me). If you will actually travel to Porto, I hope you will find some useful information here. And in any case, thanks for reading and cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, World Sherry Day, How To Start You Wine Book Project, Wine Blog Awards?

May 15, 2013 3 comments

It is Meritage Time, and Meritage posts are back!

Let’s start from the answer to the wine quiz #56, What is it? In the quiz, you had a picture of wine-related object, and you were supposed to identify what is it and how it should be used. Here is the picture which was presented to you:

DSC_0441

And here is the answer, in the form of another picture:

Port Thongs display at Sandeman

Port Tongs Display at Sandeman

The object is called port tongs, and they are used to open a bottle of vintage port or any old wine without fighting with the cork. The way to use it is this: you heat up the tongs until red hot, put it around the neck of the bottle underneath of the cork, hold it for some time, then remove and use cube of ice to go around the heated up circle – the glass cracks cleanly and can be removed now.

I really wanted to have such a device, ever since I read the post about old Rioja wines in PJ Wine blog – and now I do. I’m not sure how often or even when am I going to use this device, but – now I can if I want to (freedom is everything, right?)

I’m glad to say that we have two winners – both waywardwine and thedrunkencyclist correctly identified Port tongs in the picture, and the drunkencyclist provided perfect description for how port tonging is done. Congratulations to our winners – both of them get unlimited bragging rights.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the web. First, the World Sherry Day will start on Monday. This is going to be one long day, as it starts on May 20th and lasts through May 26th, but hey, that means that you can drink more sherry during one day. Find the place near you to celebrate, or just grab a bottle and indulge on the beverage which might be easily hundreds years old, and still affordable at the same time. If you need a crash course in Sherry, here is the link to one of my posts (I also plan to talk about sherry in more details at some point in the near future).

Dreaming of writing the wine book, you think you got something to say and you think you can convince people to share your vision? Then take a look at this post by Wink Lorch, where she is talking about her successful fundraising project on Kickstarter for her Jura wine book.

Last interesting note for you  – if you remember, a while ago, many of us, wine bloggers, asked for your nomination for the Wine Blog Awards 2013 – and many of us got nominations, for which we profusely thank you, our readers. The interesting part is that the week of May 10 – 17 was designated as voting week for the public, after jury selects 5 finalist blogs for each category – here is the link to the rules for you. Today is May 15th, and it doesn’t look like finalist blogs had been selected and that public can vote on them. Oh well…

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty. Until the next time – cheers!

Study of Port: Finally, Let’s Talk About Port!

May 14, 2013 23 comments

Finally, we’re arriving to the culmination point of our Study of Port cycle (here are the links to the previous four posts – post 1, post 2, post 3 and post 4). You probably noticed that while the cycle is called “study of port”, we talked very little about Port wines themselves.

Port Transporter, called Rabelos, now only used to carry around the tourists

Port Transporter, called Rabelos, now only used to carry around the tourists

For me, Port is one of the most difficult subjects in wine (of course Burgundy classification and German wines are the crown jewels of “difficult wine subjects”). There are many different styles of wine, overall still collectively called Port. There are Ruby, Tawny, non-vintage, Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, 10-, 20-, 30-, 40- years old ports, all available in the wide pricing range. On top of everything, Port is considered to be a dessert wine, and at a certain point in life, the brain just starts either outright protesting or at least behave extremely cautiously around anything related to the word “sugar”.

Thus I was determined to use my Porto trip as a learning opportunity and do my best to acquire an understanding of the subject of Port directly from the source (I hope that clarifies the overall name of the theme chosen for this series of posts). Before I arrived to Porto, I sent out a few e-mails and twitter messages to he various Port houses, explaining that I’m a blogger and I would like to learn about Port and taste some of the older vintages. The only person who actually responded to me was Oscar Quevedo from the Quevedo Port house. After a bit of back and force we settled on the date and time.

DSC_0144 Quevedo Entrance

Once I arrived at the Quevedo Port house… Well, I will not inundate you with the long story, and the short story was that Oscar was not there (but he was very kind to stop by the hotel in the afternoon of the same day and undergo my very intense questioning for 30 minutes). Rachel and Manuel were “running the shop”, and while I was there at the Port house, I read a lot of useful information along the walls (I guess it can be called a self-guided tour), but that still didn’t answer all my questions (like why Vintage port should be consumed within 1 to 3 days from the opening of a bottle, and Late Bottled Vintage (LBV for short) does not. I started asking Rachel and Manuel all of my questions, and I think I drove them both a bit insane – I have to thank them both for their patience with me, especially Rachel, as she really did her best trying to figure out all the differences and details together with me.

I also tried young vintage port, 2010 Quevedo Vintage Port – and it made me happy.

DSC_0132 Quevedo Vintage 2010

The vintage port is supposed to be filtered when it is poured in the glass, which was performed using the jigger and special metal mesh filter.

Every aspect of this wine was simply exciting. The color – I don’t know if the picture truly conveys the color, but it was deeply concentrated, dark ruby red. The nose – ahh, all the fresh berries you can imagine, … And the palate – texturally present, dense, heavy, lots of fresh fruit. Yes, the was sweetness there, but oh so balanced with acidity, tannins and overall power. So far I was refraining from rating of the wines in this series of posts, but this wine was definitely a 9 and I’m sure it will be a part of my “2013 top dozen”.

DSC_0133 Quevedo Vintage Glass

When I met with Oscar in the afternoon, I used the opportunity to bombard him with the questions in my effort to understand the wine called Port. And now I want to share my newly found understanding with you, so for what it worth, below is my attempt so dissect and summarize the world of Port.

First, here are some interesting facts about Port.

  1. As with any other wines, the truth is in the eye of the beholder – and in our case, “beholder” will be a winemaker. Effectively, winemaker knows his vineyards, and winemaker knows what vines are capable of producing specific kinds of ports – Tawny, Ruby, Vintage, non-vintage and so on. But when it comes to Port, that winemaker’s knowledge is also verified before it can be put in the bottle and on the label – by the governing organization called IVDP.
  2. Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, or IVDP for short, is a top authority regulating production of all Port wines. When winemaker wants to declare a vintage, the sample is sent to IVDP, where it is assessed ( in the blind format) for all the quality of the vintage port, starting from the color, and then vintage designation is either granted or declined. According to Oscar, IVDP knows everything about each and every port producer – how much of what kind of port is in the barrels, how many bottles were sold, how many bottles are still remaining with the Port house and so on – IVDP owns and processes all the information related to the production of Port.
  3. Less than 1% percent of the total port production is designated as Vintage port.
  4. Most of the red port wines are made out of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Francisca and Tinta Cão grapes.
  5. Port is typically fermented for 3-5 days, after which fermentation is stopped with addition of neutral spirit (grape brandy). The addition of the spirit is also a reason behind port’s classification as “fortified wine”.  The resulting port wine usually has ABV in the 18% – 21% range.
  6. Treading, the process of pressing grapes with the feet, is still in use today, but by a very small number of producers and only for the very special wines. The pressing by the feet creates just the right amount of pressure which doesn’t break the seeds – which helps to reduce the bitterness of the wine.
  7. Vintage port is the only port which continues aging in the bottle. Vintage port should be treated as regular wine in terms of handling and storage, and consumed during 24-72 hours after opening of the bottle.
  8. New oak barrels are never used in the production of the port. The barrels have to be used a few times for producing the regular wines, only then they become suitable for the production of the Port.

Now, let’s look at the classification of the Port wines. As you know, I like using mind maps, so here is Port’s classification in the form of the mind map:

Port

Port classification

Now let’s add some details:

  • Rose Port 
    • the latest addition to the world of Port, had being produced only for a few years. Very short contact with the skin after pressing. Personal note – I tried a few, and had not been impressed so far.
  • White Port
    • 3 years aging in stainless steel or neutral oak, then blended, filtered and bottled. Will not age in the bottle and ready to be consumed when you bought it. After a bottle is opened, it should be stored in the fridge and consumed relatively quickly. Personal note – the white port from Sandeman was an eye opening experience – you should really try it.
  • Tawny – ages in the small oak barrels with controlled oxidation. All ports in this group don’t age in the bottle and ready to drink when you buy them. Also, all ports will last for many weeks after the bottle is opened.
    • Single Vintage
      • Colheita
        • Grapes from the single vintage. At least 7 years of aging in the oak barrel (can be longer), then blended, filtered and bottled.
    • Blend of vintages
      • Tawny
        • 4 years in oak barrel, blended, filtered, bottled
      • Tawny Reserve
        • 8 years in oak barrel, blended, filtered, bottled
      • Age-designated Tawny
        • 10 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old – all of these ports are blends of ports of various ages. The blend is composed by winemaker’s discretion – for instance, a 40 years old can be a blend of 30 years old and 100 years old.
        • Tawny More Than 40 years old (not an allowed designation in US)
  • Ruby
    • Ruby
      • 3 years of aging in the stainless steel/neutral oak, then blended, filtered and bottled. After opening, the bottle should be consumed within a few days, and best to be refrigerated.
    • Ruby Reserve
      • 6 years of aging in the stainless steel/neutral oak , then blended, filtered and bottled. After opening, the bottle should be consumed within a few days, and best to be refrigerated.
    • Vintage
      • about 2 years in stainless steel, can be some time in oak barrels, bottled unfiltered, continues aging in the bottle. After opening, consume within 24-48 hours.
    • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
      • 4 – 6 years in the oak barrel (I’m sure about the age, not sure about oak barrel versus stainless steel)
    • Single Quinta Vintage
      • Somewhat complicated. It designates that grapes are coming from the single vineyard, but age/blending/bottling etc. is not very clear. But for all intents and purposes, should be treated as Vintage port.

I think I told you everything I know at the moment about Port – but I will keep adding and refining to this post just to make sure I got it all correctly. Before we part, here are couple of pictures for you:

Ruby and White Port age in this huge barrels. One barrel holds 80,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons)

Ruby and White Port age in this huge barrels. One barrel holds 80,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons)

Tawny port ages in the small oak barrels

Tawny port ages in the small oak barrels

Do you remember where the cork tree grows? Yes, in Portugal!

Do you remember where the cork tree grows? Yes, in Portugal!

That’s all I have for you, folks. Comments and corrections are most welcome. Cheers!

Study of Port: Great Restaurants

May 10, 2013 12 comments

You know, I’m continuing this series about great experiences in Portugal (here are part 1, part 2 and part 3), and there is this annoying little voice inside which says “stop talking about it… Keep it for yourself… Once people will find out, they will all start going there, and all the great and inexpensive food and wine will become expensive and inaccessible… Keep it a secret…”. Never mind, the inner voice lost, and one can’t keep great experiences secrets anyway, so let’s proceed, shall we?

Today I want to present to you three restaurants, all three different, but literally one better than the other.

Let’s start with the place called bbGourmet. Actually, bbGourmet is a group of restaurants, and the specific one we visited is called bbGourmet Bull&Bear. The restaurant has good rating on Trip Advisor, but when I walked by the restaurant, it looked modern and not very inviting from outside, so at first I thought we can skip it. But then people on Trip Advisor probably know a thing or two about food, and the place was relatively close, so why not give it a try, right?

Restaurant indeed looked very modern inside, but with the nice ambiance. The menu had tasting option for €35 for four dishes. For another €15 you could add a wine pairing to all the dishes. Yes, you don’t need any hard guesses – of course this is what we did.

To give you a brief summary: perfect dishes + outstanding wines + very good pairing = great experience. I’m an engineer, remember? Of course it is fun to think in math terms, right? Okay, just ignore. Moving along…

First dish: Scallop with risotto. Perfectly gentle array of flavors, with sweetness of scallop complemented by mild tartness and zest of risotto.

Pairing: 2011 Prova Regia Arinto Vinho Regional Lisboa – 100% Arinto grape, bright acidity, some grapefruit notes, very similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – worked perfectly together with the dish.

Second dish: Sea Bass with black quinoa and fennel puree – that puree was particularlyoutstanding, overall an excellent dish

Pairing: 2012 Portal Colheita Branco Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Vinsinho, 20% Moscatel Galego Branco, 20% Malvasia Fino and 15% Rabigato. A bit drier than the previous white, more saddle and herbaceous flavors. Paired very well with the dish.

Third dish: Stuffed calamari. May be the best, definitely one of the best calamari dishes I ever had – perfect texture, perfect balance of flavors with the creamy sauce.

Pairing: 2011 Niepoort Redoma Rosé Douro DOC – a blend of 30%Tinta Amarela, 20%Touriga Franca and 50% others. A bit austere, needed a touch more fruit in my opinion. This was probably least successful pairing.

Fourth dish: Roasted veal. I’m not big on veal in general, but this was perfectly succulent dish. Those “potato chips” you see in the picture? They are not chips at all! They look like chips, but they soft literally like soft taco shells. Delicious!

Pairing: 2010 Portal Colheita Douro DOC Vinho Tinto – a blend of 60% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca – very nice overall, good amount of dark fruit, soft and approachable, good oiverall balance.

And then – liquid desert! Secret Spot 40 years old Moscatel do Douro – I would guess, this is how winemakers play in Portugal – while they make the port all the time, every once in a while they make something for themselves – that is possibly the story behind this Moscatel (well, you will have hard time proving me wrong…). The wine was heavenly, with enough acidity to prevent it from becoming a syrup, and lots of complexity which can be rather expected considering the age. That was a perfect finish for a great meal.

40 years old Moscatel

40 years old Moscatel

The next restaurant was called ShiS (at the time of writing, the #21 out of 376 on the TripAdvisor’s list of restaurants in Porto). The first thing to mention about this restaurant is its location. It is located right by the wall which protects Douro river from the ocean, and the views are just exceptional. Before we talk about food and wine, here are couple of pictures I managed to snap right by the restaurant:

DSC_0924 view from ShiS

DSC_0981 sunset

ShiS offers lots of choices of sushi and sashimi. This was our dinner in the making:

DSC_0001 Sushi

And this was my dish (chef’s selection sushi and sashimi combination):

DSC_0057 Sushi Plate

Here is also a sea bass dish:

DSC_0055 Sea Bass

We had few of the very good wines. For the white we had 2012 Quinta do Crasto Douro Branco (a blend of Gouveio, Roupeiro and Rabigato) – somewhat on a fruity side, but overall dry, with good acidity and good balance. Quinta do Crasto produces some of the best wines in Portugal, especially when it comes to red, and these wines should be available in US.

DSC_0960 Quinta do Crasto White

The red wine was 2010 Quinta do Vale do Meandro Meão Meandro Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 13% Tinta Roriz, 5% Sousão, 4% Tinta Barroca, and 3% Tinto Cão. Good dark fruit on the nose and on the palate, soft tannins, overall well balanced. It should be available in US and worth seeking.

DSC_0964 Meandro douro

Dessert – Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce and of course, Port! Taylor’s 20 years old Tawny was very good, with dried fruit and nutty notes, quite light and balanced (we finished the only two bottles the restaurant had, unfortunately).

DSC_0067 Dessert

Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce

DSC_0101 20 Years Old Taylor

20 years old tawny – always appropriate

By the way, the wine list at ShiS has one interesting detail – it lists ABV for all the wines – I think this is pretty neat and I would be glad to see that in restaurants in the US:

DSC_0061 wine list

Wine list at ShiS – note ABV ratings for all the wines

Click to add a blog post for Shis on Zomato

And now last, but not the least experience I want to share with you – Cometa Restaurante.

DSC_0400 Cometa Restaurant

At the moment of this writing, it is #16 out of 376 on the Trip Advisor restaurant list in Porto. Very small restaurant, may be 8 or 10 tables, located on a top of a very long and steep set of stairs leading to the river. We had a very interesting experience at the restaurant with the set of small setbacks getting in the way, but not preventing us from having a great time overall.

The first issue was with wine – the restaurant had pretty small wine list, and even out of that small wine list, our first and then next choice were not available. Finally we settled on the white wine which restaurant had available. Then food became an issue too – most of us quickly set our minds on having a grilled squid – and it appeared that the restaurant only had one portion available for the five of us, so we had to come up with the other choices. The menu also had roasted chestnut soup with pomegranate seeds – but in reality, it was not available (sigh).

As the bottle of wine finally arrived at the table, things started to turn for the better (wine can fix all the problems in the world, right?). Then some appetizers arrived, and it was time to get another bottle of wine – only the same wine was not available anymore. Truth to be told, it was unfortunate that restaurant didn’t get the delivery of the wines they were supposed to get, so that was the reason for the shortcomings with the inventory. Okay, we went through the exercise of selecting the bottle of wine again, I would say, quite successfully – we picked 2010 Herdade Dos Grous Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano, a blend of  Antão Vaz,  Arinto and Roupeiro (typical for Alntejano white wines) – a medium to full bodied white, with good amount of white stone fruit, very round, good acidity and good finish.

DSC_0406 Grous white wine

Herdade dos Grous branco

Next – our entrees arrived. I ordered the dish called “Portuguese sausage”, which was effectively a collection of poultry pieces, served with the sweet sauce. By the way, take a look at the china – I love those plates… Real food served on real plates – wow, what a concept! But it feels so unique nowadays, when even in the best restaurant you might get paper napkins instead of a real cloth… This Portuguese sausage was delicious – I’m not sure if it was a duck egg or not on top of it, but the whole dish tasted perfectly.

DSC_0404 Portugese sausage

Considering all the troubles we had with our food and wine selection, the restaurant decided to compensate for that a little bit, and offered us complementary bottle of Sparkling wine, which didn’t encounter much enthusiasm on our side, as we were mostly done with the food. Seeing our reaction, we were offered a bottle of 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco (at €34, it is one of the most expensive wines on the list) – and all of a sudden, all our troubles seemed well worth having.

DSC_0409 Tiara White

2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco

This wine is a blend of Codega, Rabigato, Donzelinho, Boal, Cercial and other grapes. Bright and full bodied, excellent acidity, very uplifting. This wine has great textural presence, you really feel it in you your mouth, you can roll it around – but it is so balanced, the fruit, the acidity, the whole package is perfectly together. Reminds me of the great Pigato wines I experienced at the Gambero Rosso event. One of the very best white wines I ever had (yeah, my list of “very best” might be a bit too long…).

And then the dinner conclusion with dessert – I’m clearly abusing the “very best” here, but this was one of the very best apple desserts I ever had – apple tart with the scoop of ice cream:

DSC_0410 Apple tart

Apple tart

The apples were not visible, but very noticeable – big, juicy apples which say “bite me”. If you like apples – this was an outstanding dessert.

One parting note regarding Cometa Restaurante – the restaurant doesn’t accept international credit cards, so you should have cash on hand with you (well, there is an ATM near by, but it is always unpleasant when you can’t pay for your meal on the spot). By the way, care to guess how much this dinner cost us? We can skip the drum roll, but – it was only €35 per person!

And we are finally done! Every time I promise to myself  to write short little posts, easy going for quick consumption – and I still end up with multi-page monstrosities with tons of pictures. Well, I hope I conveyed my main message – there are many great restaurants in Porto and I’m sure in the Portugal overall and they are still reasonably priced, so if you are thinking about going to Europe… No, I’m not encouraging you. Cheers!

Study of Port: Food and Wine Tidbits

May 5, 2013 24 comments

Here I’m, continuing to report on my food and wine adventures in Portugal (here are the first and second posts from the series). Well, I guess “adventures” is really too much of a word for simply excellent food and wine experiences, but “adventures” put the things in the right prospective, isn’t it? Never mind, let’s just talk about food and wine.

On the first night we ended up at the small place called Restaurante Nova Europa. The place looked very authentic in the sense that they had a hard time to find an English menu, and our server spoke practically no English –  that didn’t prevent us from having a very good dinner. Most of the people at the table ordered some version of the local fish called Bacalhau, which is a cod. It was offered in different variations – mine had a lot of potatoes:

Bacalhau

Bacalhau

And as I often ignore food and wine pairing rules, the wine was red:

DSC_0724 Evel Tinto Douro

2010 Evel Tinto Douro

As most of the wines from Douro, this 2010 Evel Tinto Douro, this wine is made from the “classic set” of Portuguese grapes – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz a Tinta Barroca. The same grapes are also used as a foundation for most of the Port wines, which are made in exact same Douro region. Good body, good depth, not necessarily spectacular but easy to drink and pleasant.

Now I would like to mention two of the very local products. First one is beer. I’m not sure how many different beers are produced in Portugal (I’m positive though that US microbrewery revolution didn’t take any roots in Portugal so far). The beer is called Super Bock, it comes in lager, stout and few other versions, and it is produced in the area just outside of Porto – according to Wikipedia. I only tried the stout, which was dark, rich, smooth and creamy. I have to mention though that it is somewhat dangerous to rely on my opinion about beer – for the most of the time I prefer dark beer and on contrary to many of my friends, I don’t find Guinness bitter. And here is the picture for you – the picture was taken by my friend Kfir, not by me – but he was using my camera, so I guess I have some rights to it…

Super Bock stout

Super Bock stout, as captured by Kfir

Next item to bring to your attention is a local sandwich (supposedly it is Porto’s specialty) called Francesinha. This sandwich is made out of two slices of crust-less bread with various meats (or even veggies) in between – we saw it on the menu in most of the restaurants in Porto, and it can come with steak, white meat, various ham cuts and so on. The sandwich is completely covered by melted cheese (top and all sides), and it is served with the secret sauce which is supposed to be some combination of tomato sauce and beer. I had a steak version and it was very tasty. Believe it or not, but I’m not always carrying my camera to the restaurant, so Francesinha is probably the only dish I regret not taking my picture of – but someone thankfully did on Wikipedia, so below is the picture for you, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

And then there was Cufra. Pardon my little drama here, and let me explain. We saw the restaurant while walking by, checked it out on the web, and it looked appealing enough. Service staff spoke not too much of English, but the menu was possible to understand, so we all ended up with decent food – but the wine was more memorable. For the white we had 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro, a blend of Codega do Larinho, Rabigato and Viosinho – very typical blend for Douro white wine, all indigenous grapes (Wine Centurions, take note!). The wine was very nice, with good acidity and somewhat similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, only with less of grapefruit.

Castello D'Alba Douro White

Castello D’Alba Douro White

Then we had a bootle of 2009 Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo Beiras DOC, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, produced by Quinta do Cardo. The wine was nothing short of being spectacular  – with the exception of vintage port, during the whole week I only had one other red wine which was on the same level or may be even a touch higher – but I will talk about it in another post. Dense and concentrated, with dark fruit, plums and blueberries on the palate, all very round with the hint of smokiness. The wine was so good for the money (€14, in a restaurant!) that I even got two bottles right in the restaurant to take them back home.

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

When we went to the same restaurant second time, about a week later, the menu was quite different, and the wine were too. But – one of the reasons for the second visit was the desire to try the crab dish we saw someone ordering during the first time. Considering that Porto is located right on the cross of ocean and the Douro river, it is rather expected that fish and seafood should be very good – and this dish didn’t disappoint (hope you will find the below picture being enough of the proof):

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

I can’t say the same about wines – there was different 2009 Quinta do Cardo wine on the list (about €4 cheaper), and while it was not bad, it was not anywhere as good as the first one. All in all, if you are in Porto and if you will be in the area, Cufra is well worth visiting.

Last place I want to mention (but not least by all means) is a restaurant called Rabelos. Just to give you some prospective, Rabelos are actually flat bottom boats which were used to transport barrels of Port from the wineries to the Port house cellars for aging. Nowadays the wine is transported by the tanker trucks, and Rabelos are only used to move tourists around.

Rabelos Restaurante

Rabelos Restaurante

Anyway, the restaurant is actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town which houses all the port cellars across the river from Porto. It is located very close to the bridge which connects Porto and Gaia, right along the boardwalk in a place which in general should be considered a tourist trap. But it was no tourist trap at all. The service was outstanding, and we got great recommendations and had great experience overall.

One of the starters was local feta cheese, dusted with Parmesan and slightly roasted with olive oil (take a note – I think it should be as easy to make it at home as it is delicious, and as a very least I’m going to try it…).

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Then we had beef carpaccio and shrimp salad – the pictures don’t do justice to those dishes, but both were delicious

beef carpaccio

beef carpaccio

shrimp salad

shrimp salad

Next we had two dishes made from Bacalhau in different styles – one was baked with cheese sauce and one was grilled – both were outstanding:

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

Again ignoring the pairing rules, we went with the red wine called 2010 Borges Quinta da Soalheira Douro Red, a blend of classic Douro red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão, made by Vinhos Borges. The wine had medium body, good acidity, nice red fruit on the palate, well balanced – perfect for every day drinking, considering you can find it.

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

For the desert, we had lemon cake (paired with white Port) and chocolate cake paired with simple tawny. Below are a few pictures – the first one is taken by me ( boring, sigh), and then two others taken by Kfir – I will need to learn how to really use my own camera…

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

And of course nobody can leave the restaurant without coffee, right?

Espresso!

Espresso!

That’s all, we are done for today folks. Sorry for all the pictures, hope you found them at least moderately entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

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