Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Terra Nostra: Savoring Portuguese Cuisine & Wines

Throughout the past ten years of The Passionate Foodie, I've been an ardent advocate of Portuguese wines. They are delicious and diverse, with hundreds of indigenous grapes, often mixed together into intriguing blends. They are food-friendly, excellent for pairing with a wide range of cuisines. They also are often great values, presenting plenty of inexpensive and tasty options. I could go on and on, such as discussing the wonders of Port and Madeira, but I want to present a few recent stats to show the growth of Portuguese wines in the U.S.

In 2016, exports of Portuguese wines to the U.S. reached about 1.56 million cases, an increase of about 90,000 cases from the previous year. Between 2010 and 2015, the value of Portuguese table wine exports grew by 18.4% while volume grew by 8.2%, indicating that more higher priced wines were exported to the U.S. The best selling Portuguese wines in the U.S. are those from the Vinho Verde region, consisting of approximately 50% of all imports. There is plenty of room for growth of Portuguese wines in the U.S., and it is clear consumers need to learn more about wines from other Portuguese regions, such as the Douro, Dao, and Alentejo.

Each year at the Boston Wine Expo, I make sure to sample some Portuguese wines, always stopping by the tables of LGL Imports. LGL Imports (Luiz’s Grocery & Liquors, Inc.) is a family owned company that was established in 1977, and began importing Portuguese wines and spirits in 1979. Several years ago, I met Luis Oliveira, whose father started the company, and Luis is carrying on that business. During these past years, a number of wines from LGL Imports have ended up on my year-end Top Ten lists. Their wines have often presented some amazing values, including even some wines that cost under $10! Plus, they have some compelling wines that are higher end too.

Recently, Luis invited me down to Fall River, to taste some wines at their warehouse, and then to dine out at a local Portuguese restaurant, drinking more of their wines. It was an excellent evening, with plenty of amazing food and wine, as well as interesting company and conversation. It was plenty of fun, and if I didn't have to face an hour drive home, I might have stayed up all night drinking with them. Luis told me that Azoreans hate to end an evening, and they all would have continued drinking until the morning arrived.

I don't often get to Fall River but maybe that should change, especially because all of the Portuguese restaurants. We dined at Terra Nostra, a casual spot that has been around for nearly thirty years. The current owner is Gus Oliveira, who purchased the place about 14 years ago. I met Gus and he was very pleasant and personable. It was obvious from observing him during the course of the evening that many of the customers must be regulars as they all seemed to know and like Gus. This is clearly a popular neighborhood spot.

A great crew of guys. Gus, the owner, is the first person on the left side of the picture, and he is seated next to Luis. We didn't lack for food or wine.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I was immediately taken in by the glass-cases of wine just inside the entrance. It indicated to me that this restaurant was serious about their wine, that they wanted to showcase Portuguese wines. On the other side of the cases is a small, fully stocked bar, and there is also another set of wine shelves and shelf-displays further inside the restaurant. There is a homey and welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant.

The Wine List is primarily Portuguese, with only about 12 California wines (big names that are pricier). You'll find about 50 Red Wines (most under $30/bottle), 13 Whites ($16-$25/bottle), 10 Sparkling Wines, and 4 Rosé Wines, as well as Ports & Madeiras. They carry numerous wines from the LGL Imports portfolio. Overall, there is plenty of diversity on the wine list and the prices are extremely reasonable and affordable.

The Food Menu is equally as diverse and affordable. On the menu, you'll find: Appetizers, 11 choices from $6.95-$10.95, such as Pasteis de Bacalhau (Cod Cakes); Soup/Salad, 2 Soups & 1 Salad, all at $3.50, such as Calo Verde (Green Kale Soup); Fish, 4 choices from $11.95-$17.95, such as Filetes Dourados (Golden Fish Fillet); Seafood, 3 choices from $11.95-$16, such as Arroz de Marisco (Seafood Rice); Steaks, 7 choices from $11.95-$18.95, such as Bife a Portuguesa (Portuguese Style Steak); and Chicken, 4 choices from $10.95-$13.75, such as Alentejana de Galinha (Chicken Alentejana). Essentially, everything is under $20, making this an affordable destination for most anyone.

They also have a number of daily specials and take note of the top of the board, which states, "We serve fresh potatoes and vegetables cut daily!"

We began the evening with an Azorean Cocktail, made with Maracuja Do Ezequiel, an Azorean passion fruit liqueur, plus some fruit juices. Though it was a little sweet for my preference, I enjoyed the blend of its fruit flavors and can easily understand its popularity. I think this would also work well as a frozen cocktail.

The meal began with a delicious Pate, creamy and flavorful, earthy and spicy. We had a basket of fresh rolls, and I smeared the pate atop the bread, making for a tasty start to the dinner. We also had a Fresh White Cheese ($4), a home-made cow cheese, that was also creamy, with a nice, clean flavor.

Our first wine was the 2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde, a blend of 70% Alvarinho and 30% Trajadura. Bright, clean and crisp, with pleasing notes of lemon, citrus, and mineral hints. An excellent aperitif wine and a perfect summer sipper, it also pairs well with seafood and cheese.

The next course was the Chouriço a Bombeiro ($6.95), a Flamed Chouriço, and you can see the hint of blue flames below the sausage. The Chouriço, with a nice char, was tender and moist, smoky and spicy. I could have made a meal of just a couple Chouriço. Highly recommended!

The Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato ($9.95) was a dish of Little Necks steamed in white wine, garlic, and olive oil. Tender clams in a compelling broth. One of my favorite parts of this type of dish is the broth, hoping for something delicious in which I can dip a crusty bread. This dish didn't disappoint in that regard, presenting a flavorful broth with plenty of garlic. Also highly recommended.

One of the Specials was a Cow's Leg Stew ($12), which might not sound appealing but you really need to taste it. The savory stew had plenty of veggies and fatty pieces, bones and marrow of the cow.    A bit chewy, the fatty pieces still possessed plenty of flavor, probably sopping up some of the gravy. It is a hearty dish and you just need to be a little adventurous.

Another Special was the Lapas Grelhadas ($14), grilled Limpets, which are a type of sea snail with a single shell. They are a speciality in the Azores and Madeira, and I've never tasted them before, and don't recall ever seeing them on a menu either. They almost look like a slice of sausage, roughly circular, and were a little chewy, with a briny taste. Definitely the bounty of the sea, enhanced by some lemon and I believe some garlic too. A very interesting dish and I would order them again.

Our next wine was the 2015 Adega De Borba White, a blend of 70% Arinto, 15% Alvarinho, and 15% Verdelho. With an alluring aroma, the palate presents with delicious flavors of apple, citrus and even a little tropical fruit and a hint of oaky spice. Good acidity, a pleasing finish, and a nice balance make this a very good wine.

The Bacalhau na Brasa ($17.95) is a charbroiled Cod sautéed in onions, garlic and red pepper and served with olives, boiled potatoes and broccoli. The Cod was superb, flaky, tender and flavorful, with a nice light sauce and fresh veggies.

The next wine, pictured on the left, was the 2013 Caves Velha Serradayres Reserva, a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional, and Castelao. It is smooth, with restrained tannins, and plenty of black fruit flavors, with a hint of cherry. It also has some mild spice notes and would be best served with a hearty dish or meat, from a burger to grilled ribs.

The Bife a Sao Miguel ($11.95) is St. Michael's Steak, a top round steak with a wine sauce, fresh garlic, pepper, French fries and an egg. Cooked medium, the steak was good, enhanced by the egg yolk and a side of hot sauce. The Fries were crisp and fluffy inside, a nice addition to the plate.

Maybe my favorite dish of the evening was another of the Specials, the Roasted Rabbit ($14), which was tender and moist, flavorful and with a crisp coating. The sauce enhanced the rabbit and I could have consumed the entire dish on my own. I love rabbit and this certainly was one of the best rabbit dishes I've had in some time.

The 2013 Adega Borba Reserva is a favorite wine of mine, one I've tasted on multiple times. A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet, the wine spends about 12 months in French oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. As I've said before, "this is a delicious, complex wine and an excellent value. Though it is a powerful wine in some respects, that power is restrained within a velvet glove, presenting a silky smooth taste. There are lush black fruit flavors, plenty of intriguing spice notes, and some exotic herbal accents. This is another wine which would benefit from pairing with meat dishes. It is an impressive wine and one I highly recommend."

Our final savory dish was the Lombinhos Na Brasas ($11.95), a Grilled Pork Tenderloin with a mushroom sauce. Delicious and tender pork, with an earthy sauce.

The 2012 Montes Claros Garrafeira is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonêz, and Tinta Caiada, and spent a year in the barrel and then 30 months in the bottle. It is a deep and bold red wine, with rich black fruit flavors and a prominent streak of chocolate. The tannins are restrained, presenting a silky mouthfeel as well as a lengthy, satisfying finish.

The final wine was the 2013 Vallegre Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial, a blend of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Tinta Francisca, from 60+ year old vines. It had been decanted that evening and presented as deep and dark, complex and smooth, spicy and tannic. Concentrated flavors of Rich ripe plum and flavors, with hints of chocolate and leather. So much going on in this wine, it is sure to impress. Highly recommended.

For dessert, we ended with Grilled Pineapple, which was soaked in Port, Passion fruit liqueur, and anise. It was so juicy, with an interesting blend of tropical fruit flavors and a hint of anise. Even those at the table who hadn't wanted any dessert were compelled to have some of the pineapple. A fine way to end the evening.

Terra Nostra impressed, with plenty of superb dishes, and presents an excellent value as well. The wines paired very well with the various foods, reinforcing my passion for Portuguese wines. I owe big thanks to Luis and friends for such a fun and tasty evening, one I hope to repeat again in the future. If you are ever in the Fall River area, I strongly recommend you check out Terra Nostra. And I also strongly recommend you drink more Portuguese wines, and look for those from LGL Imports.

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