Portugal …The Lisbon wine region
“Ladies and gentlemen on the right you will see the port of Lisbon, the estuary and the 25 de Abril bridge”, the captains voice came over the airwaves. So thrilling that view over the EasyJet wing. As the plane banks sharply to land on the runway it always seems like I could jump out and touch that red bridge so reminiscent of the San Francisco one.
It’s no secret that I love Portugal, am a frequent visitor and live to promote its excellent wines.
So this summer when I found myself with a reasonably free week and a burning desire to dig deeper on some of the wineries not yet visited. I took up the challenge to visit three regions with good friends Leonor and Mario, great wine ambassadors of their country and in particular of the greater Lisbon area where they live and work.
The rough plan was start in Lisbon, where the seafood is simply delicious and wine from every region can be tasted and enjoyed, then head and hour or so northeast to some new wineries, then to move down South-east to Alentejo the wild, hot heart of Portugal a region I’m falling more and more in love with. On to Algarve the Deep South to touch the bottom of Portugal and then on day four, heading back north around the Setubal region of the famed Moscadel. Finally on the last morning the Arinto zone of Lisbon, before heading for the airport.
So there was the plan and I studied the map and realized there are so many places I still want to dig deeper on. In the past I have focussed in on Douro and its glorious world-heritage-site river and terraced valley producing some of the best wines on the planet, but Portugal is blessed with so many extraordinary wine areas. A long slice of a country that juts out into the fierce Atlantic giving rise to white beaches and the best range of fresh seafood at a quality you can only dream of. What to pair it with? Well here one is really spoilt for choice…..
The crisp whites of the extreme North West Minho or vinho verde, the complex whites and robust reds of the Alentego, the mineral refreshing wines of the Lisbon zone. The fine reds from Douro and the fabulous Ports to end a meal on.
Have we yet mentioned, Dão and Beira, Alvarinho, Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Castelão, Trincadeira, Touriga franca, Tinta Roriz, Fernão Pires the more international Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, or Chardonnay made with Portuguese flair.
The sheer diversity of Portugal’s landscapes and wines is breath-taking!
Portugal is known for its sun, its 800km of coastline with blue oceans, white beaches, golf courses. Spray-washed cliffs tumbling to the sea, mountains, great walks like the Compostella of the North. Cities like Lisbon, Aveiro and Douro, steeped in History, culture and great food and wine.
Don’t like fish? Well.. No problem, have a perfectly prepared steak, or a curry with a fine red, and enjoy the famous pastries with a sparkling wine….. Have I whet your appetite yet…. Portugal never disappoints…
Strap in because you’re in for a treat.
We started our first evening in the bustling centre of Lisbon in the Mercado di Ribeira where you can select something from a range of restaurant spots representing over twenty chefs and wines from every region.. A trendy place to get a quick bite to eat or to grab a glass of wine after a long day of shopping. Our choice…. a plate of petiscos, oven baked fish and a sharp crisp vinho verde. Around us people were tucking into peri-peri chicken, steaks, hamburgers or whatever they felt like.
I was in the mood. The mere mention of the word Petiscos makes my heart skip a beat. Portugal is indeed fortunate that the world hasn’t adopted them as it has the Spanish tapas (served badly in bars all over Europe) no, thankfully, petiscos i.e. bits of delicious fish, octopus and calamari fried and served in a little basket to eat long with your chilled wine , have remained intact and un-stolen by the greater world.
So on Friday we woke to the kind of weather Lisbon is famed for - glorious hot sunshine and a good fresh breeze blowing off the sea. We were heading north to an area I have come to know and love just 40 mins outside Lisbon and home to five star golf courses woven between vineyards - Torras Vedras . We had a visit to make to Santos e Santos a family company , established in 1977 a large producer and exporter with vineyards in the Lisbon and Alentejo regions. Santos produces wine for the local and export markets under more than 30 labels from bulk boxed wine to prestige aged red wines. We did a winery tour of the modern bottling facility and I saw the largest stainless steel tanks I’ve ever seen, which had to be assembled outside and on site as they are huge. This Lisbon (formerly Estremadura region) location is the hub where they produce and bottle 8,5 million litres of wine which is sent all over the world and also consumed locally. Their estate and winery in the Alentejo region is one of the largest near Evora. So after the winery tour headed up by winemaker Antonio Fonseca we tasted Quinta da Cidadoura 2013 wine, a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Castelão which had good aging potential with firm tannins and a blackberry cassis lingering finish. The wine was awarded by IWSC 2012, Decanter and won double gold at the China Wine and Spirts Comp. While there we were invited to stop at the Santos estate the following morning in Alentejo where thirty Alentejano local reds would be judged and rated by a team of winemakers and wine-judges from all over Alentego which we would judge too, followed by Lunch. Super! A new Estate to visit… but more of that later in the Alentejo post.
We popped into the resort Camp Real now rebranded Dolce Resorts to say hello to the team and have some fish and chips and curry for lunch by the sparkling blue pool, washed down with the very drinkable Cerejeras white wine of my dear friends the Fonseca-Reis family who make excellent wines in the Lisbon area at Bombarral. The outdoor restaurant overlooks the five-star golf course the gentle vineyard-covered hills and the private villas owned by the wealthy of Europe.
We had an appointment at the winery an hour north east in the village of Vilar- Cadarval. Quinta do Gradil has existed since the 18th century as the home of the Marquis of Pombal recently brought back to life by its owner Luis Viera who acquired it in 1999. The estate now boasts a lovely boutique restaurant and tasting room in the old granary building which is overseen by Chef Luis Rato, and a state of the art tasting room with amazing views where we tasted some of the wines produced on the 200 hectare estate. In particular the whites were Fresh and well-structured I liked the Arinto, Sauvignon Blanc blend we tasted along with the Sparkling brut - very refreshing. The reserve white and the rose made from Syrah and Touriga Nacional we tasted were interesting as was the red blend. The estate also produces single varietal wines such as Petit verdot, Verdelho and Viognier. I took home an Obidos DOC wine Gaeiras from the Old vines. Quinta do Gradil Mula Velha red wines and their late harvest wine were awarded in the IWSC 2015. The estate runs a harvest experience for those lucky enough to be on the list who return each year to help with the harvest.
The winery website for visits is http://www.quintadogradil.pt/en/4/restaurant.
To end the day we now had to drive to the other side of the peninsula near Cascais to an international wine competition held this year in a town called Oeiras part of the greater Lisbon area.
Held in the royal palace grounds-a national monument, another home of the illustrious Marquis of Pombal portfolio ( he certainly had his pick) with some glorious formal gardens named Poets park and an orangery, was this prestigious European wine competition featuring prize winning wines from every corner of Portugal. Also included were some Italian, German and Austrian wines. The wine stalls and local food stalls were all set out on the lawns on a gorgeous summer evening, if there’s a better way to end the day then I don’t know what that is.
We got our tasting glasses with the smell of Petiscos and roasted pork filling the air and started our way round. By chance since all the judges were having a press moment we happened upon the gold medal winners table, where we camped out with the late harvest wines some from Alto Adige Italy small production and worth their weight in gold, some organic too. Oeiras is in the Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares Controlled Wine region so we tasted some fine Carcavelos, and some Great ports and other dessert wines. Around the grounds there were wines from every region. We met some old friends like Quinta Ameal from Ponte de Lima with Loureiro, and even the legendary, powerful Vinhao.
We tasted from Douro and Alentejo, Dão and some truly fabulous Ports from Douro. Leonor, Ed and I followed no order just tasted to our hearts delight, after a long day. The smell of the food drew us over and we feasted at the wooden tables on freshly cooked petiscos, juicy calamari and roast pig sandwiches followed by little pies, all washed down with 20 year old port while watching locals dressed in beautiful traditional costumes perform a harvest dance. It was heaven basically, and I hope to have many more such evenings before I die.
We strolled along the beach at Praia da Torre near the fort at sunset after coffee and I can’t remember ever being so satisfied as I fell into bed in Lisbon.
Next.. Alentejo to Algave