Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Vinho Verde Interpretation & Promotion Center: Ponte de Lima

While wandering through Ponte de Lima, in the Vinho Verde region, we stopped at the Centro de Interpretação e Promoção do Vinho Verde (CIPVV), the "Vinho Verde Interpretation & Promotion Center," which is partially located in the Casa Torreada Dos Barbosa Aranha, a historical tower that was built in the 17th century. 

The CIPVV has a number of goals, but it's primarily to promote the region and wines of the Vinho Verde. They also conduct numerous research projects concerning the region. As such, the building contains a museum (with both permanent and temporary exhibits), a small theater and a tasting room.  If you want to know more about Vinho Verde and its wines, this is a good place to gain a basic understanding. 

We walked through the museum, although the temporary exhibit room was currently closed as it was being renovated. 

There were numerous pieces of old equipment that once were used in the area.

This is the costume of the Confraria do Vinho Verde, the Brotherhood of Vinho Verde. It includes a green cape, lined and hemmed in black and yellow ribbon, with a bunch of silver grapes (which is the symbol of the brotherhood). In addition, a wide brimmed black hat and a silver badge would complete the costume. Since 1990, the Confraria has been supporting and promoting the study of Vinho Verde, its traditions, history, gastronomy, wine tourism and folklore.

An old bottle for Red Vinho Verde, which was far more common in the past.

From an outside deck in the tower, there was a gorgeous view of Ponte de Lima, where you can even see the famed bridge. You can also look down and see some grapes vines in land behind the tower.

A Loureiro vine, a major white grape in the Lima region. 

After watching a short film on Vinho Verde and its wines, we adjourned to the tasting room, which displayed about 60 wines on its walls. We tasted 4 Vinho Verde wines, three whites and one red. Each was priced from 5 to 6.5 Euros, and were excellent values at those prices. 

The 2020 Quinta Pousada de Fora Arinto (5 Euros) is produced from 100% Arinto and has a 14% ABV. It was bright and crisp, without any effervescence, and tasty flavors of green apple and lemon, as well as some mineral notes. Tasty on its own, it would pair well with seafood and light chicken dishes. These are the type of Vinho Verde white wines that we need more of in the U.S. 

The 2021 Terres de Real Alvarinho (6.5 Euros), produced from Alvarinho grapes from the famed Moncão e Melgaço subregion, has a 12.5% ABV. It is crisp and intense, with strong citrus and tropical fruit flavors and a mineral backbone. Well balanced, with a lengthy, pleasing finish, this is another excellent wine from the Vinho Verde region. Bring on the seafood!

The 2021 Sapateiro Alvarinho & Avesso, with a 13% ABV, is a bright and crisp wine, with a complex melange of flavors including citrus, stone fruit and some tropical notes. There is a briny touch, a lengthy finish, and each sip is pure deliciousness. This is a good wine to slowly sip, savoring the various flavors that tantalize your palate. 

The 2022 Casa Santa Eulalia Plainas Tinto Vinhão (5 Euros), with a 12% ABV, is a Red Vinho Verde. With a very dark purple color, the wine presented with delicious and juicy red and black fruit flavors and a hint of spice. Good acidity, mild tannins and a pleasing finish. A nice burger or pizza wine, which would be sure to please most wine lovers.

If you visit Ponte de Lima, and want to learn more about Vinho Verde wines, you should make a stop at the Centro de Interpretação e Promoção do Vinho Verde. It will probably take you no more than an hour to visit the museum and taste some wine. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Monverde Wine Hotel Experience In Vinho Verde

On our first day in Portugal, we traveled from the Porto Airport to the Vinho Verde region,ere we would sightsee in Ponte de Lima and visit Quinta do Ameal. We also stayed in that region over night at the Monverde Wine Hotel Experience, located in Teloes, and part of the Quinta da Lixa winery. The winery, established in 1986, is owned by the Meireles family, and the family now owns about 140 hectares of vineyards, although they also purchase grapes from local growers. They produce about 7 Million bottles a year, creating 26 different wines. About 52% of their wines are exported to about 35 different countries, with Brazil, the U.S. and Germany being their three top markets. 

They purchased the hotel property in 1999, which was then in ruins, and so they chose to rebuild them. The hotel finally opened in 2015, and currently they have about 46 guest rooms. According to their website, "Monverde is our face, it is a reflection of what Quinta de Lixa is today and of our passion for wine and for all that nature has to offer. We have a deep passion for wine and everything that revolves around it, for its mysteries, for everything we continuously learn about it, and for that which makes every sip different. Monverde is a chance for us to share our knowledge and our flavours with you, with the world, with each and every one."

The main building houses the Reception, Restaurant, Bar, and rooms where guests can simply relax, including outside patios where you can look out over the vineyards. As we checked in, we were greeted with a crisp and tasty glass of sparkling wine.  

Inside the building, there are quite comfortable rooms to relax, and the "wooden leaves" hanging in the back of the picture look down upon the restaurant.

The Bar, where you can sip some wine, get a cocktail, or some other drink. 

Surrounding the main house there are plenty of vineyards, and you can walk through them on route to your rooms, which are in a few separate buildings from the main house. 

This building, a short walk from the main building, was where our room was located. 

Our room was clean and comfortable, with a separate space for a tub. There was also a shower in the bathroom.

A closer picture of the "wooden leaves" suspended over the restaurant, which is located on the lower floor. We dined there our first night in Portugal. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Carlos Silva, and their website states, "Chef Carlos Silva tried to fit in with the culture of the region, one of the richest in Portugal in terms of gastronomy, and giving a new look, it presents light and colorful dishes, combining the fresh products of Quinta da Lixa with the usual flavors."

The wine list has a good selection of Portuguese wines, including plenty from the Vinho Verde region. We opted for the 2016 Quinta da Lixa Reserva, a Red Vinho Verde, which was a blend of 95% Vinhão and 5% Alvarinho. The wine, with a 12.5% ABV, was aged for about 8 months in 50% used American oak, and 50% new French oak. With a appealing aroma, the wine was full-bodied with moderate tannins, good acidity, and tasty flavors of red and black fruits, spice notes, and a touch of balsamic. A very nice choice, and a reason why you should seek out Red Vinho Verde.

Although there were tasting menus available, we decided to order a la carte instead. The Duck Magret was accompanied with a black truffle purée and cranberry sauce. The duck was tender and delicious, cooked perfectly, enhanced by the slightly tart cranberry and the earthiness of the truffle. I was very pleased with my choice. 

My companion chose to have a Starter as her main, selecting the Braised Scallops, on a celery purée with a sparkling wine cream sauce. The scallops were plump and tender, silky and delicious with the creamy sauce. Another good choice. 

For dessert, we chose a Lemon Curd Cannoli with homemade black vanilla ice cream and a Selection of Portuguese Cheeses with homemade jam (although I didn't get a pic of the cheese plate). The Cannoli was very good, and the ice cream was intriguing. The cheese plate was quite large, with several different cheeses, and was a fine ending to our dinner. 

The next morning, I had breakfast in the restaurant, which provided a buffet of breakfast dishes, pastries, breads, meats, juices, sparkling wine, and much more. 

Later that morning, we attended their Wine Blending & Sensory Experience, where you get to create your own wine blend. The experience began in their sensory room (pictured above), where you got to smell a variety of common wine aromas, about 16 in all, and mostly fruit and floral aromas. Our guide stated, "Aromas are just memories" and that is a very true statement. This type of room would be helpful for newbies to wine, to better understand the aromas which they may encounter in wines.  

We then adjourned upstairs, where we would make our own white wine blend. For our blending, there were five different, unfinished white wines, including Arinto, Alvarinho, Avesso, Loureiro, and Trajadura. At Quinta da Lixa, they use Arinto primarily for blends and in their sparkling wines. It was said to be an acidic grape with citrus aromas. The Alvarinho has more tropical fruit flavors, and is well balanced, dry and bold. It's smooth in the mouth and has a lengthy finish. It's not a very productive grape so it's the most expensive grape to grow. They produce some single varietal Alvarinho. Avesso also has tropical aromas, but it's not as fresh, with a flatter taste. It's also acidic, with almond, peach and floral notes. It ages well, and they tend to make aged versions, which mellow as they age. Loureiro is very aromatic, with fruity and floral aromas. It is dry and acidic, with peach and floral flavors. They make a single varietal wine, and also use it in blends. Finally, Trajadura is the most simple of the grapes, less acidic and more apple and pear flavors. It's smooth and soft, and in blends, helps to make a rounder wine. 

With these five basic wines, we tasted each of them and got to decide on the specific blend we desired. We used a measured beaker to select how many milliliters of each wine we wanted in the blend. After some experimentation with different blends, we decided on our final blend, and then made enough to fill a 750ml wine bottle. Then, we corked the bottle and designed our own wine label. Finally, we were able to take our wine with us. 

For my own blend, A Passionate Foodie Libation, I opted for a mix of 40% Avesso, 40% Arinto and 20% Trajadura, wanting a wine with good acidity, something that would pair well with seafood. The three other people in the class all made different blends, most using Alvarinho as one of their primary components. I brought my wine home with me, and am curious how it will taste when I eventually open it. 

I was pleased with the Monverde Wine Hotel Experience, and would recommend it to anyone staying in the Vinho Verde region. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) On Tuesday, November 14, at 6:45pm, Chef Jose Duarte of Tambo 22, in Chelsea, will be holding  Part II of his Taranta Wine Dinner Series. This dinner will offer a special menu that highlights some of the Chef's favorite dishes and customer favorites from his 20 year journey in Boston's North End. These dishes will be accompanied by 6 different wines. You will learn from Chef Duarte the inspiration behind these dishes during this interactive tasting menu. 

The Menu will include dishes such as Gamberi E Rapini, Pappardelle Con Funghi Porcini, Coccio di Pesce E Legumi, and Costoleta Di Maiale con Canna Di Zucchero E Rocoto (his famed brined double cut pork chop).

Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased HERE

2) Night Shift Brewing has recently launched Brunch service at their Lovejoy Wharf location. Brunch is served every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Some of the menu highlights from the new brunch service are: 
  • Apple pie stuffed french toast - Challah bread french toast, apple pie filling, crumbled crust granola, powdered sugar, vermont maple syrup 
  • Chorizo Tostada - Corn tortilla, Mexican chorizo, fried egg, jalapeno, pickled onions, lime crema 
  • Breakfast Burger - 6oz beef smashburger, bacon, hashbrown, fried egg, maple aioli, brioche bun
  • P.E.C. pizza - Crispy prosciutto, egg, house cheese blend, Tomato herb hollandaise 
  • Falafel Pita - roasted garlic labneh, pickled onions, carrots, arugula, cherry tomatoes, pita pocket, housemade chips 
  • Autumn Squash Salad - arugula & baby kale, roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, squash chips, apple cider vinaigrette 
  • Giant Prop + Peller Pretzel - served with everything bagel beer cheese
The new brunch service is also a good time to check out Night Shift's new limited edition releases such as: 
  • Apple Piescraper - 7% beer brewed with apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk sugar. It sips with crisp, refreshing notes of ripe apples and fall spices, with sweet hints of vanilla on the finish.
  • Spooky Sour - a new 6% sour ale brewed with actual gummy worms, oozing bright green and unwrapping a burst of tart, fruity deliciousness. Each sip is a cauldron of blue raspberry magic, casting a spell on your tastebuds with its candy charm 
Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant or booking online HERE

3) The Tip Tap Room, in Beacon Hill, has introduced a fresh fall menu, "offering dishes that exude a warm and comforting ambiance enhanced by all the beloved seasonal flavors." Some of these dishes include the following:
  • Tempura Green Beans: farmer dave’s green beans ~ saffron & Calabrian pepper aioli
  • Burrata: star anise balsamic ~ beets ~ exotic mushrooms ~ crispy prosciutto ~ focaccia toast
  • Six Layer Beet Salad: truffle rico ~ roasted red & golden beets ~ pistachios ~ red onion ~ goat cheese ~ mesclun greens ~ raspberry vinaigrette
  • Pinche Tuna Tartare: crispy rice ~ pinche sriracha aioli ~ seaweed ~ avocado ~ teriyaki glaze 
  • Barbacoa Pork Shank: chipotle & adobo braised ~ smoked tomato polenta ~ sautée green beans
  • Wild Game Bolognese: wild boar, yak & bison ~ parpadelle pasta & pecorino calabrese (This sounds delicious!)
4) On Thursday, November 2nd at 6 p.m., Puritan & Co. will be hosting its annual Harvest Dinner showcasing the best flavors the season has to offer. The communal-style dinner features a five-course meal of Chef Will Gilson’s signature seasonal New England fare alongside complimentary carafes of wine and Puritan & Co's full beverage menu available for additional purchase a la carte. 

The menu includes: 
  • Local apple salad with speck, manchego, fried rosemary, orange vinaigrette; 
  • Sugar pumpkin soup with butter poached lobster, pepitas, vadouvan curry 
  • Cedar plank grilled salmon with apple-teriyaki, miso glazed carrots, cilantro 
  • Pastrami short rib of beef with braised cabbage, spaetzle, mustard jus 
  • Caramel-poached pear with fig leaf mousse, hemp seed cake, dukkah phyllo crisp 
Tickets cost $150 per person, including gratuity, and can be purchased HERE

5) Join Burro Bar Brookline for their 3rd Annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta on Thursday, November 2, from 9pm to 1am. Partnering with Espolòn Tequila, tickets to this event will include passed Burro bites, 1 Espolòn Tequila cocktail, a swag bag and plenty of dancing and good times. Come dressed up in a costume for a chance to win a $250 gift card, as well. 

Along with the swag, attendees can enjoy a full Espolòn Tequila cocktail menu, a late night menu available until midnight and a live DJ. The event is 21+ and the ticket price is $10. The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.  

Grab your ticket through eventbrite here: https://DiaDeLosMuertosFiesta.eventbrite.com

6) Here's some local restaurants offering Thanksgiving options:       
  • Rare Steakhouse (at Encore Boston Harbor): From 4 to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, guests are invited to enjoy a holiday dish curated by Executive Chef Megan Vaughan featuring turkey roulade with black truffles, traditional sides including Brussels sprouts, herbed stuffing and house gravy for $52 per guest. Rare's regular a la carte menu will also be available. To make a reservation, please call (857) 770-3300. 
  • Bistro du Midi (Boston): They will be serving up a special three-course, prix fixe menu to celebrate Thanksgiving. Available from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 23, Chef Robert Sisca will prepare holiday dishes including pumpkin & squash soup, roasted turkey breast, ora king salmon, filet mignon, and vanilla bean crème brûlée with fall citrus. The menu costs $90 per person with an additional wine pairing available for $50. To make a reservation, please call (617) 279-8000
  • Harvest (Cambridge): Chef Nick Deutmeyer is serving up a three-course prix fixe menu on Thanksgiving Day. Available from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., the menu will be $90 per person with an additional wine pairing available for $40. To make a reservation, please call (617) 868-2255
  • Grill 23 (Boston): For an elevated Thanksgiving at Grill 23 & Bar, Chef Ryan Marcoux will be serving up an a la carte menu from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. featuring a Thanksgiving turkey entreé special for $42. For more information, or to make a reservation, please contact (617) 542-2255
  • Scampo (Boston): For Thanksgiving, Chef Lydia Shire presents a traditional Thanksgiving feast as a special four-course dinner featuring options like a traditional Roast Heritage Turkey w/ Muscat Gravy, Homemade Anadama Bread, Celery Heart, Sausage & Golden Raisin Stuffing; Deluxe Mashed Potatoes; Out-of-Shell Lobster; and Dutch Apple Pie. The menu will cost $125 per adult. To make reservations, please contact (617) 536-2100.
  • Abe & Louie’s: For Thanksgiving, they will be offering a trio of specials. To start, there is a butternut squash soup with crème fraiche and candied pepitas ($13). For a taste of tradition, the all-natural Vermont raised turkey is served with all the fixings including whipped potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pan gravy ($49). For something sweet, dig into the pumpkin pie topped with house made whipped cream ($12). Reservations from 11:30am-10pm. Please call (617) 536-6300. 
  • Coach Grill (Wayland): They will feature a quintet of Thanksgiving specials. For an appetizer, there is a split pea soup with oven-roasted ham, seasonal vegetables, and crème fraiche ($12). For entrees, there are three options: Thanksgiving turkey with traditional stuffing, whipped potatoes, butternut squash, green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce ($49); a 16oz Colorado lambchop with fingerling potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts ($90); and a lobster casserole with buttered Ritz crumbs and warm drawn butter ($60). The finale is a house made pumpkin pie with Chantilly cream ($11). Reservations from 11am-8pm. Please call (508) 358-5900 for reservations.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Iconic Porto Francesinha Sandwich: Lunch, Dinner & Socks

The Francesinha! A hearty Portuguese sandwich from the city of Porto. It should be on the list of the Ten Best Sandwiches in the world. It can be found in many different restaurants in Porto, each place creating their own version or variation. When I was planning my recent visit to Porto, I made sure to consider where to enjoy a Francesinha. 

I had my first Francesinha back in 2015, at Tasty on the Hill in Medford, although they no longer serve this sandwich. (You can check out that prior article for more background on this sandwich.) The restaurant was owned by a Portuguese native, and once offered six different Francesinha sandwiches. Their Traditional version was made with American cheese, ham, steak, linguica, hot dog, fried egg and bacon. Their sauce recipe was a secret, though it was supposed to contain 12 ingredients, a family recipe that originated about 30-40 years ago. 

Then, in 2018, I traveled to Portugal for the first time and had my first Francesinha in Porto, at Capa Negra II. The sandwich seemed to contain steak, linguiça, ham, and melted cheese, accompanied by an ample portion of French fries. It was a heavenly sandwich, and I eagerly devoured every bite. I also had a Francesinha at the Porto Airport, although that was a bit of a disappointment. From that trip, I also acquired a Recipe for Francesinha, which was originally sourced from Daniel David da Silva, the man who is likely to have invented the Francesinha. 

On my recent trip to Portugal, we spent a day walking around the city of Porto, and one of my goals was to enjoy a Francesinha for lunch. Based on various recommendations, including from Roy Hersh of For The Love Of Port, I decided on dining at Bufete Fase, at 1147 Rui Santa Catarina. This restaurant, established in 1984, basically serves only Francesinha sandwiches, although they also offer steak and fries. The restaurant is only open from 12-4pm on weekdays, and accepts only cash. It's said that the owner may soon retire, so the window of opportunity to dine here is closing. It's a small, cozy restaurant, with two dining rooms, seating less than 20 people. 

You can watch Chef/Owner José Meneses Pinto Filipa prepare Francesinha sandwiches. 

Their Francesinha is made with thick slices of bread, without their crust, and filled with sausage, roasted pork and steak. It's topped by melted cheese, linguiça and their home-made sauce, of which you have a choice of spicy or not. We opted for the spicy sauce, and split the sandwich in half, although I ended up eating 3/4 of the sandwich. The meats were all tender and flavorful, and the sauce was complex, spicy and delicious. It wasn't overly spicy, but had a tasty kick to it. The French fries were nicely crispy and you should definitely dip them in the sauce. An excellent sandwich, which I would highly recommend too. 

One evening, while we were in Vila Nova de Gaia, the restaurant I had hoped to dine at was closed for a private function. So, we needed to find a quick replacement, and ended up on the waterfront, finally deciding on the Rabelos Restaurante. And they had a Francesinha on their menu!

I opted for the Francesinha and it was pretty good, although a few bites of the steak were a bit tough. The bread slices were thinner than Bufete Tase, and did have the crusts. The sauce was tasty enough, although it wasn't spicy, and dipping their crispy fries in the sauce was a good choice. Overall, it was a good sandwich, although I wouldn't place it in a list of the top Francesinha in the city.

While wandering down Santa Catarina, one of the major shopping streets in Porto, we stopped at Bairro Arte, a funky store with all sorts of unique items, and found Francesinha socks! Of course I needed to buy a pair. 

I miss the Francesinha, and allegedly there are a few restaurants in the New Bedford/Fall River area that sometimes serve them. Maybe I need to make a road trip. And I do have the recipe for one, so maybe I need a shopping trip to gather all the ingredients.

Have you ever enjoyed a Francesinha? If so, where?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Restaurante Açude: Sarrabulho & Clams

On our first day in Portugal, we began touring the town of Ponte de Lima, often said to be the oldest town in Portugal, having received a charter by Queen Teresa in 1125 A.D. When it was time for lunch, we took the recommendation of our driver, Joaquim Almeida, and chose to dine at Restaurante Açude, which is on the waterfront  of the Lima River. 

The restaurant has a casual elegance to it, and a beautiful view of the river. The menu consists of Starters and Mains.  Starters, generally priced from 4-19 Euros, are mostly seafood, from codfish fritters to shrimp, with a couple pork dishes. The Mains have a some dishes available as 1/2 portions (called doses and priced about 19-24 Euros) and full portions generally cost 30-41 Euros, with some dishes charged by the pound. Although the majority of the Mains are seafood, there are several meat choices, including lamb, steak, veal and pork. 

I'll note that based on my experiences at a number of other Portuguese restaurants, portion size is often ample, and a full "dose" may be able to feed 2 or more people. So, that makes those dishes a better value as they often can be shared. A 1/2 dose has plenty of food, and would often constitute a regular portion at most American restaurants. 

The restaurant has a large wine list, with plenty of Portuguese wines as well as international ones. As we were in the Vinho Verde region, I selected a local wine, the 2018 José Domingues Terrunho D'Alma Alvanrinho. Domingues has an excellent reputation and this winery has only been around since 2017. The Alvarinho is sourced from the famed sub-region of Monção & Melgaço. The wine has a 13.5% ABV, is unfiltered, and was aged for about 9 months on the lees. The back label states, "Terrunho is the context. The wine is the expression, the language." The wine was absolutely delicious, with a complex melange of flavors, including bright citrus, some briny notes, and savory hints. Excellent and balanced acidity, and a lengthy finish. A fine choice for seafood.  

We began with a Starter, the Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato Clams (19 Euros). This is a traditional Portuguese dish, allegedly named after Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, a 19th century poet and essayist. He didn't invent the dish, but some unknown chef decided to name the dish after him. In short, the clams are commonly in a broth of olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, and white wine. The clams are tiny, but there had to have been at least 50 of them in the bowl, and they were tender and tasty, with a touch of the sea. And the broth was perfect for soaking your bread. A fine way to begin our lunch. 

"...papas de sarrabulho, a stew made with pig's blood that is mother's milk to the northern Portuguese."
--Chicago Tribune (IL), June 9, 1985

I wanted to try one of the most iconic dishes of Ponte de Lima, the Arroz de Sarrabulho (32 Euros). A half dose wasn't available and our server stated that the dish was large enough for two people, so we decided to share it. Sarrabulho is a traditional pork dish, made with pig's blood, and its origins may extend back maybe 600 years or more. It is said to be connected to the "Matança do Porco", a festive "pig slaughter," where families came together in celebration. It's also claimed that the dish originated with poor people, unable to afford meat, who thus used blood to make their dishes seem meatier.

The dish came in two parts. The first was the rice, made with pig's blood and shreds of pork. The second was a plate of meat and potatoes, including blood sausages and other types of unusual sausage I couldn't identify. The rice was tasty, with a strong meatiness and umami to it, and plenty of tender shreds of pork. Don't think about the fact that it's made with pig's blood and just enjoy its intense flavors. The roasted potatoes were tender as well, while some of the meats were a bit more dry, but covered with the rice mixture, they were better. This dish was large enough that it probably could have fed 3-4 people, so it's a very good value. 

I was very pleased with our lunch at Restaurante Açude, getting to experience some delicious, traditional Portuguese cuisine. Service was excellent and if you're in the area of Ponte de Lima, I highly recommend you check out this restaurant. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Back Home From Portugal: Initial Observations

This past Saturday, I arrived home in Boston, returning from my one-week vacation in Portugal, visiting the Vinho Verde and Douro regions, as well as the city of Porto. Despite the fact that it rained frequently while we were there, we still had an excellent time, enjoying delicious food and wine, exploring fascinating places, meeting great people, and enjoying the beauty of the region. I'll provide some brief comments and observations here, but I'll be writing in much more detail in the near future about my recent experiences in Portugal.
Five years ago, I first visited Portugal, and here's a photo of me standing on the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a double-decker metal arch bridge, spanning the Douro River, between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.  

This trip, I got a photo from basically the same spot on that bridge. Fortunately, there wasn't any rain at that time, although it was quite windy. 

As we only had a week, we couldn't possibly see everything of interest in the regions we visited. However, we still experienced much, thoroughly enjoying our time in Portugal. In the Vinho Verde, we walked through Ponte de Lima and Amarante, as well as visited Quinta do Ameal and Quinta da Lixa. In the Douro, we visited Quinta dos MurçasCaves da RaposeiraQuinta da Pacheca, and Quinta do Bomfim. We also took a two-hour river cruise on the Douro. In Vila Nova de Gaia, we visited Porto CálemKopke, and Ramos Pinto. We also spent many hours walking around Porto, sightseeing, shopping, and snacking. Our hotel stays included the Monverde Wine Experience HotelQuinta de Ventozelo, and the famed Yeatman Hotel

We dined well, including incredible tasting menus at DOC in the Douro and the Michelin 2-Star Yeatman Gastronomic Restaurant. And of course, I dined upon the Francesinha sandwich (pictured above), enjoying it one day for both lunch and dinner. I even found some Francesinha socks! For many of our meals, the portions were quite ample and the food was delicious, from meat to seafood. Duck rice, clams, prawns, veal steak, pork cheeks, pheasant stew, Sarrabulho rice, grouper, bacalhau, cod tongues, octopus, eclairs, convent pastries, and much more.     

For the first time, I experienced a Fado performance, at the Fado Português in Vila Nova de Gaia. We enjoyed a delicious, multi-course dinner and thoroughly enjoyed the music. Even though the songs were in Portuguese, and I couldn't understand them, the emotions behind the music were more than evident, and quite moving. It was a special experience, and one I highly recommend.

The scenery in the Douro is breathtaking, one of the most beautiful vineyard regions in the world, and no photo can properly do justice to its beauty. It was overcast or raining much of the time while we were in the Douro, so my own photos weren't as good as they would have been on a sunny day, but I hope they provide a glimpse at the potential of its beauty. When you observe the steep vineyards on the mountainsides, you also gain greater respect for those working those vineyards. Managing a vineyard is hard work, but trying to manage one on steep slopes is even tougher. 

Even if you aren't a religious person, you'll likely appreciate the architecture and artwork of the many churches in northern Portugal. These churches are hundreds of years old, and the intricacy of their construction and art, must have taken years to complete, as well as ardent dedication. 

Many thanks to UNIQ, Rui Peixoto and our excellent driver Joaquim de Almeida, for our time in Portugal. We hired their services for our time visiting the Vinho Verde and Douro regions. Especially in the Douro, you probably should hire a professional driver rather than try to drive yourself. The roads can be narrow, with no railings looking down a steep mountainside. This is my second experience with Uniq, and the drivers are professional, personable, knowledgeable, and courteous. Joaquim did a great job for us, from driving to providing recommendations, and I’d highly recommend their company to anyone visiting Portugal. You won’t be disappointed.

I purchased a number of wines while I was there, including the three Ports above, and all of them arrived safely home in my luggage. We even got to blend our own white wines during one winery visit, and I brought them home as well. There were so many other wines I wished I could have bought, especially considering how inexpensive many wines were. Even at most restaurants, wine prices were extremely reasonable. You could find delicious wines for under $20, if not $10, a bottle! Drink more Portuguese wine! And explore beyond the most popular Portuguese wine styles, such as seeking the wonders of aged White Port, Colheita Port, and the non-effervescent styles of Vinho Verde.

Now, I need to review a couple thousand photos and all of my notes, so I can relate fascinating stories of my time in Portugal, allowing me as well to relive all those pleasant memories. Portugal is a compelling destination, for a myriad of reasons, and I highly recommend that you consider it the next time you're planning a vacation.