Douro and Vinho Verde
Notes from our trip to Portugal in 2012
Itinerary, Restaurants and Accommodation
We spent a couple of days in Lisbon to get to know the city a bit and then a couple of days in the north of the country to visit wineries in the Douro and Vinho Verde country. We then moved south to the Alentejo region with the primary emphasis on a beach holiday and a day visit to the wineries around Evora if the weather wasn't good for the beach.
LisbonRua Presidente de Arriaga
We stayed on the 2nd floor
In Lisbon we stayed in an apartment in what they said used to be a palace on Rua Presidente de Arriaga in Santo, the ambassadors’ area of the town. We booked through Linc. It certainly was impressive with its wide flowing staircases, high ceilings and large rooms. The outside was also impressive as were the cobblestone roads which, of course, are throughout Lisbon. The garden was great and so was the location. It would have made our stay a bit easier if they had the basics (soap, sugar etc.) and were more helpful about where to buy groceries or where the good restaurants were in the area. They referred us to their website which was pretty useless. The maintenance of the place was also not that great. Miss Havisham could have appeared at any time.
Restaurants in Lisbon
A TravessaTravessa do Convento das Bernardas 12 P - 1200-638 Lisboa; Tel 213902034 www.atravessa.com
Wild bull fillet and Luis Pato, Bairrada Vinhas Velha
A very pleasant restaurant set in the corner of an old convent with tables inside, in the glassed-in cloisters and out in the open. We had a table out in the open which was great because we didn’t get any more than the occasional waft of cigarette smoke. We’re not sure if it was their practise or because they were very busy but the evening started with a series of small dishes ranging from goats cheese served in different ways through squid and a few slices of black pig and finishing with scrambled egg and mushrooms. And then they came and took the order for the main course. As it turned out these pre-courses that we did not order were charged at €12.50 a head; in any case a very nice way to start the evening. Their speciality on Saturday nights is moules et frites because one of the owners is from Belgium. We had wild bull fillet, red deer steaks and a pheasant pie all priced at around €35. The desserts sounded great but they took so long to take the order that we had already finished the sweet wine so we just asked for the bill.
The wines ranged from €20 to €35
Palacio da Brejoeira Alvarinho 2011. This was light and refreshing but when left to warm up a bit out of the ice bucket its complexity shone through – very good although not a typical vinho verde.
Quinta de Cidrô, Douro 2005 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Touriga Nacional. We had this decanted. The nose was full of rich red fruits and a very pleasant hot earth dustiness. The palate was also very rich red fruits and a host of other flavours; complex and pleasant.
Luis Pato, Bairrada Vinhas Velhas 2010. This wine was very much thinner than the previous wine and sweeter which is not surprising seeing it is made from late harvest grapes vinified in stainless steel and then matured in large old oak barrels. The maker says it will get better over 15 years so maybe the age of this bottle was against it.
Mingorra M, Alentejano vinho de uvas sobreamadurecidas or wine from over-ripe grapes. Instead of the normal 375ml bottle, this was a strange stumpy 750ml bottle. The maker says “you find a wine "designed" to find the "perfect balance", a sort of equilateral triangle in which one side is the acidity, the other alcoholic (13.8%), and the third the sweetness of the grapes harvested late in the season”. It was simple, light and sweet.
PicanhaRua das Janelas Verdes 96, 1200 Lisbon; tel 213 975 401
Simple and affordable food with nothing more than €10. We had a selection of starters and a salad which were good and then for mains we had Picanha à Brás (thin slices of beef mixed in with rice infused with cream broth) and Bacalhau à Brás which reminded us a bit of kedgeree. The wines were all under €20. We had a Gil Vaz vinho verde from Minho and a Quinta dos Carrvalhais from Beira – both were quite acceptable.
ElevenAv. Marquês da Fronteira Jardim Amália Rodrigues, 1070 Lisboa; Tel 213 862 211 www.restauranteleven.com
View over Lisbon
Amuse bouche and Soalheiro Alvarinho
This restaurant has a great view over Lisbon. We had the tasting menu (approx. €100 per head) for lunch – very decadent. The amuse bouche were excellent, in particular the veal tartar made us think that this style was maybe not so bad after all. The foie gras was accompanied by beet derivatives which was also good as we did not have a sweet wine with it. The prawn Bloody Mary was also inventive. To accompany this we had Soalheiro Alvarinho 2011 vinho verde which we thought was excellent (we preferred it to the Primeiras Vinhas (old vines) which we had later). For the red we had Borges (Dão) Tinta-Roriz 2004 which although light did not have much complexity and was rather disappointing.
Feitoria at the Altis Belém Hotel & Spa *Doca do Bom Sucesso 1400 Lisbon, Tel +351 210 400 208 www.restaurantefeitoria.com
Lobster and asparagus with Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta
Duck and foie gras with Quinta do Crasto Vinhas Velhas
The hotel is near the Belém Tower on the banks of the Tagus river. Feitoria had 3 tasting menus including one that was solely fish; we chose the 5 plate menu @ €90. The highlights were the lobster and asparagus and the duck; the small piece of pan-fried foie gras was wonderful but the duck breast was a bit tough.
The wines we had were
Anselmo Mendes, Curtimenta, Alvarinho 2010 from the Monsão sub-region. Maturation in old oak for 9 months was evident as was the strong citrus taste – quite complex and one could easily think that it was a chardonnay.
Quinta do Crasto, Douro, Vinhas Velhas reserve 2009. We had asked them to decant it at the start of the meal but they only did so just prior to the meat course. We were right – it was far too tight and never really hit its stride. The nose was wonderful – full, rich, slightly smoky and dusty.
SardinhaRua Vasco da Gama, Peniche
On the way North from Lisbon we stopped off at the fishing village Peniche where we had a very pleasant fish lunch at Sardinha, Rua Vasco da Gama which is near the fishing port and the old town. The fish of the day were sea bass and sea bream which provided an interesting taste off - we preferred the sea bass.
Vinho Verde country
Quinta da Bouça D'ArquesVila de Punhe – Barroselas, 4905-641 Viana do Castelo booked through i-escape.com
A fabulous place to stay but it did mean a somewhat long drive to the two wine areas we wanted to visit, the Douro and Melgaço. Although it is called a winery Bouça D'Arques only has a couple of hectares of vines so it has its wine, Pecadinhos do Abade, made by a local wine maker.
To get a bit of exercise we also visited Bom Jesus de Braga which we would thoroughly recommend.
South of Lisbon
CasasNaAreiasítio da Carrasqueira, 7580, Comporta www.casasnaareia.com
Just south of Lisbon in the Alentejo region this re-creation of traditional houses suddenly appeared in many décor and travel magazines (luckily after we had made our booking). It is fabulously peaceful and rural but with all the mod cons (except a gas barbecue) and quick access to good beachside restaurants at the local Comporta beach, the next town, Carvalhal’s beach and a fish restaurant in Carrasqueira. Having two restaurants on a beach is a good idea as they keep each other on their toes.
Ilha do Arroz Sole and tomato rice with Quinta do Vallado
Comporta Cafe & Restaurant sardines with Quinta do Carmo 2000
Comporta Cafe & Restaurant grilled sea bass with Esporão Reserva 2008
Ilha do Arroz on the Comporta beach has a good wine list with wines from the rest of the country. Its menu similar to that of its sister restaurant at the Museo do Arroz which is on the road between the town and the beach. At the beach we had fish and in the Museo we had steak, both pretty good.
Comporta Café & Restaurant on the Comporta beach is also good for seafood. Their wine list is more focused on wines from the Alentejo region. In addition to their fresh fish we really enjoyed their clams, garlic and coriander do in a manner similar to mussels in white wine and their baked cheeses. The Esporão wine was the best Alentejo red that we had.
Estuary at Museo do Arroz
Pre-starters with Dona Maria Amantis Reserva 2007
In the Douro we had selected Quintas da Crasto, Nova, de la Rosa and do Vallado to visit and there seemed to be a couple of tasting/wine shops in the town of Pinhão. This part of the Douro is a difficult place to go for a tasting as there are few direct roads between places and the roads are narrow and twisting. We visited da Crasto but they could not accommodate us as they were hosting a lunch for a large group. We did not visit de la Rosa or do Vallado but did taste one or two their wines; their wines were impressive.
Quinta NovaWe tasted their wines at their hotel, Hotel Rural Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, 5085-222 Covas do Douro, Tel +351 969 860 056 www.quintanova.com but it also appears possible to taste in a wine shop in Pinhão.
At the hotel one pays for a selection of between 6 and 10 wines. We had the flight of 8 for €24. This might seem quite a lot but they were generous with their portions and each was more than enough for 4 to taste. We tasted 3 whites, 4 reds and a port. We were really impressed by the two ‘estate’ reds and the LBV port and bought them all. To be an ‘estate’ wine all the grapes have to come from the estate’s own vineyards. The Reserva Tinto 09 (€26) and the Grande Reserva Clássico 09 (€42) had wonderful complexity on the nose and in the mouth; full of fruit and hot dusty notes that we so love. The quality difference was quite obvious but both were 90+ point wines and will do well with aging. The LBV 08 (€13)was relatively light and not too sweet so we bought it (but we are no judges of port).
DOC RestauranteFolgosa, Armamar, on the road between Régua and Pinhão www.ruipaula.com
DOC Restaurante view accrss the Douro
Rack of lamb with Quinta da Crasto 2009
It was a scorching hot day with temperatures in the mid-thirties and, as we sat out on the deck right on the banks of the Douro river in a cooling breeze, we thought that a long lazy afternoon lunch would not be such a bad idea; we had the tasting menu (€65) together with what had become our favourite reasonably-priced wines, the Soalheiro Alvarinho 11 and the Quinta do Castro 09 – both under €25.
The restaurant also offers all the wines on its list at wine shop prices so we bought the Infantado Reserva 05 (€49) and the de la Rosa Reserva 07 (€37) for tasting later.
Other wines from the Douro that we tasted included
Oboé 05 made by Companhia dos Vinhos do Douro (€33 wine shop) This was typical Douro full of fruit and dusky but with plenty of tannins for further aging.
We also had ‘everyday’ but not cheap wines (there does not appear to be any cheap wines from the Douro) from some of the large houses; Quinta de Cidrô Touriga Nacional/Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and Quinta da Leda 2007. These were of acceptable quality.
Melgaço is a town in the northern most part of Vinho Verde country near Valencia. It is in a unique area that specialises in the Alvarinho grape or Albariño as it is known across the border. The wines are also different to the slightly sparkling whites that one more readily associates with Vinho Verde. We had identified Soalheiro as the must visit winery but were prepared to be serendipitous about the rest. We should have taken Sarah Ahmed’s advice and tasted what we wanted at the Solar do Alvarinho as our serendipity yielded a pleasant drive but no wineries to taste at. But everywhere is like this the first time you visit; one battles to find places to taste at in the first place and then many are not worth tasting in the second place. But Soalheiro was fabulous!
Quinta de Soalheiro4960 Alvaredo, Tel. +351 251 416 769 www.soalheiro.com
Quinta de Soalheiro cellar door view across alvarinho vineyards into Spain
In restaurants we had drunk their ordinary Alvarinho and their Primeiras Vinhas (old vines) and could not choose between them, so here was a chance to taste them side by side. Unfortunately it did not really resolve the debate; we just liked both. Probably the simple Alvarinho (€5.50) was better as an aperitif and the more complex Primeiras Vinhas (€9.50) was better with food. The debate didn’t really matter as they did not have any ordinary Alvarinho left in stock. Their Allo blend of Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes (€4.50) was great – light and refreshing with low alcohol (11%). The Reserva (€17) was fermented in a mix of old and new oak and this was evident. We bought the Allo and the Primeiras Vinhas. Based on the price of Primeiras Vinhas here versus a wine shop in Lisbon, it certainly pays to buy from the farm – a saving of more than half.
Casa de Pasto Maria de PerreViana do Castelo
Casa de Pasto Maria de Perre in a colourful street
Casa de Pasto Maria de Perre cod dishes with Muros Antigos and Duas Quintas
After a disappointing morning's tasting we headed back to the B&B via Viana do Castelo. This was our opportunity to try salted cod at a traditional restaurant that was full of locals at Saturday lunch; we had deep fried and a fish pie. The thin, home-made potato chips were excellent.
Among other Vinho Verde wines that we tasted were
Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho 2010 (€21) – Mendes recommends drinking this wine with a year’s bottle age so we were at the recommended age. The wine is fermented and aged in new and old untoasted French oak for 6 months. The oak is there, heavy on the nose but reasonably restrained on the palate; seems to mask the freshness of the Alvarinho grape.
Anselmo Mendes, Curtimenta, Alvarinho 2010 from the Monsão sub-region. Maturation in old oak for 9 months was evident as was the strong citrus taste – quite complex and one could easily think that it was a chardonnay. Far more oak that the previous Anselmo Mendes wine.
Deu la Deu, Alvarinho 2011 Typical, light and fresh.
Muros Antigos, Alvarinho 2011 Typical, light and fresh.
Morgado do Perdigão 2011 (€10), a blend of Alvarinho and Loureiro; light and refreshing.
Pecadinhos do Abade 2011 (€4.50), made from Loureiro grapes; a typical light, slightly bubbly vinho verde.
Our conclusion was that Alvarhino makes a light refreshing wine along the lines of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc and we really don’t agree with the trend in oaking these types of wines as it adds little (except cost to the consumer and presumably profit to the maker) but takes away the essence of the wine.