Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Day Six: July 4th----Pousada Restaurant,Obidos, Obidos Castle, Luis Pato and Quinta do Encontro

Obidos and Obidos Castle

We registered at the Estalagem do Convento, a fabulous hotel that was built in 1830 as a Nunnery for a religious order of Nuns. Plans fell apart however and the nuns did not come so the place was turned into an inn and then a hotel which it is today. After we registered we were off to Obidos Castle and a restaurant within its walls.
The town of Obidos is a spectacular scenic spot where one sees narrow cobbled streets, terracotta roof tiles, flower covered walls, and of course, in the middle of it all, Obidos Castle which was originally built by the Romans. Legend has it that King Dinis offered it to his wife, Queen Isabella of Aragon in the 13th Century.
The Moors (Turks) had control of the castle until 1148 when the King and his men disguised as trees------TREES!!!!-----trees took back control and renovated it. The castle was severely damaged by the Earthquake of 1755 (which incidentally, caused a huge Sumani which destroyed much of Lisbon. One can see the newly restored buildings as compared to the old untouched ones in the lower quarter!
Obidos Castle is walled all the way around with many homes and businesses within it. One enters the castle through a very narrow gate that probably existed as a draw bridge of sorts in the past. Since the streets are very narrow and look very 17th Century, it is easier for people to walk to the main castle rather than drive.
The castle proper has been turned into a hotel (some of the rooms were in the actual castle and very inviting---talking about sleeping in history! The restaurant complex was called "pousada do castelo"! The restaurant is fine dining and the service is absolutely excellent. Our treat for the night is when we went there and ate a superb Grilled Sea Bass. Our wine was a phenomenal Luis Pato White. We had a fine evening and then a great sleep at the Convento as I called it. Unfortunately there were no nuns to tuck me in!
The following morning we had quite the breakfast at the Convento's restaurant and then off we went to visit the great Luis Pato----Mr. Baga! The Curia region within Bairrada is a lush oasis which has been known for its "thermal waters" since Roma times. It is here that Mr. Pato makes his fine wines and has become known as "Mr. Bairrada" and "Mr. Baga "for the grape he loves so much!
Luis Pato!
Hes a living legend and had the manner of one when Greg, Marcio and I went to meet him at his winery at Ribeirro da Gandara. He walked dignified towards us with a welcoming gesture. His family have been producing wine at Quinta do Ribeirinho since the 18th Century. Luis followed his father, Joao who started making the wine in Bairrada in 1970 and inherited his pioneer spirit, introducing many new styles and technologies that were alien to the area at the time.
Mr. Pato exclusively has Portuguese grapes in his 65 hectare winery. The varieties he has re Baga, Touriga Nacional, Maria Gomes. Bical, Cerceal, Sercialinho and Arinto.
We toured his wine cellars with their natural coolness and saw his impressive library which contains his wines from various vintages. Pato wines are noted for their longevity and complexity.
There is also lodging at the House of Ois where viistors can stay and eat in what was the old wine cellar of the house.
For lunch, Mr. Pato took us to Sangalhos to have the "Pride of Bairrada, Roast Suckling Pig". Roast Sucklling Pig is a 2 to 6 week old "Pigglet" (sorry "Winnie") that is still sucking milk from its mother. It is roasted slowly until very tender. This dish in various incarnations has been a delicacy since at least Roman times and has been perfected in Bairrada. I must say that it goes well with the Luis Pato Wines.
The wines of Louis Pato are truly amazing. Tasted from barrel they come out as though they were meant to be enjoyed immediately but his wines last and last. The white wines such as the Maria Gomes are fresh, with honey and apple flavours. His Reds, especially the Touriga Nacional and Baga have raspberry, blackberry and chocolate tastes which become jammy as they age.
Here are three wines now available at the LCBO in Ontario, Canada.
Vinha Barossa: Made from 80 year vines, this wine is full, round and meaty. Excellent.
Vinha Pan:Medium bodied with ripe red fruit. Nice structure!
Quinta Do Ribeirinho Baga: Bold, well integrated fruit flavours, very long finish. This wine is made from ungrafted vines.
Not much more can be said of Pato and his wines other than that he is a veritable genius who uses the best in science and tradition to make excellent and age worthy wines.
After we were finished at Luis Pato, we were off to Quinta do Encontro!
Quinta do Encontro
Quinta do Encontro was established in 2000 and the actual winery was designed to look like a barrel. The actual winery had started operation in 1930. A new cellar was construted in 2005!
Through the cylindracal shape of the building, one could easily view the continuous scene of the area and vineyards whereas within the building, the lounge, bar, restaurant with its meals based on wines and finally the winery, preparee and informed us about the wines and vines of the area as well as the mechanics of winemaking.
Just before we went to have dinner we were treated to some great "Traditional Method" Sparkling Wine. We then went to the new cellars where the state of the art fermenting and storage equipment was. The area was competely computerized------so much so that it figured that Spock and Kirk could easily fit in. So--------they did in the form of Chuck and Greg. The skit lasted some ten minutes and then we were off to taste the wines with dinner.
Baga, Touriga Nacional, Casteloa, Tinto Roriz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for red wines and Bical, Maria Gomes, Arinto for white wines are the target grapes in this winery.
Carlo Lucas put us through a fine wine and food match up.
Wines Of Quinta do Encontro
Bical: Pleasant, fresh and nice fresh flavours of citrus melon with a nice acidity and some minerality.
Encontro One:Made from Arinto and Bical. Fresher than the previous wine with more acidity and citrus and herbaceousness. Nice fresh finish with a rounder mouthfeel than the above.
Encontro Red:A blend of Baga and Merlot! Wine is round, firm as per mouthfeel Flavours of ripe red and black fruit with a reference to power that only Baga can emit. Merlot makes the wine far more approachable and the two wines blend together to give a nice concentration that was a result of the heat of that vintage.
Encontro Preto Brango: Bical is a white grape that can be blended with other whites to flesh out the resulting wine. It achieves the same with reds and in this case they are heavy weights. Touriga Nacional and Baga. It does tame them a bit but in this case, a bit is enough. The ripe fruits come out and the smoothness of the wine is evident when one drinks it. Yet, the Baga and Touriga manage to keep their identities in tact albeit a bit smoother and less tough.
Grande Encontro: This is a potential block buster that has three tough and versatile grapes-------all of which by themselves will make fine and long lasting wines but the three is like having the Three Muskateers earnestly swordfighting with a child beginer---all at one time! Touriga Nacional, Merlot and of course that wine from Bairrada, Baga! The result is a mixture of very ripe and powerful fruit flavours with a great potential of being class contenders. Red and Black fruits plus a lovely stenght and inner core that will last for a very long time!
Quinta Do Encontro One (red). Baga and Touriga. Nice wine with capablity of longer keeping plus a chance to weigh in a fair bit of power.
Sparkling White: Made made with Arinto and Bical via the Classical Method. Small bubbles, bread/yeast/some floral and pleasant sparkling acidity.
Sparkling:T0uriga Naciaonal, Refute, Castelao! Group of heavy weights who are having a desire to make some very light ones. The wine has various fruit indicators from the baga, TN, Refute and Casteloa grape. The wine is well rounded and very well integrated.
We had a fine meal with the wines provided and then went to the Curia Palace to register for the night!
End Of Day Six!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 3rd-------Day Five---Still In Estremadura

Scroll down to June 28th for beginning of the Portugal trip.
Dinosaur Bones And All That!
Casa Santos Lima
Estremadura's history goes back eons! For sure they date back to at least the Jurassic period and maybe more. The lovely rolling hills of Estremadura hide many secrets under those vines.
At Casa Santos Lima there are many riddles that exist. Actually, they aren't riddles. They are prehistoric, Palaeontological artifacts.
I had visited Santos Lima in 2006 with Alex Eberspaecher. We were both taken by the sheer beauty that surrounded the Lima Mansion. I was happy to see that things had not changed. Jose Santos Lima welcomed us to his home and winery. I remembered several things about this winery: the fine wines, the lovely vineyards and the fossils.
At the back of his home, Mr. Lima had a thigh bone of an Apatosaurus. The Apatosaurus is actually the old Brontosaurus name revised. "We found it while planting new vines," he said.
There are many fossils of various creatures in this area---most of which are sea shells from a hundred million or so years ago.
That was not the only interesting historic or prehistoric item on the property. A circle of large black ball shaped rocks which actually looked like giant 18 Century cannon balls were in a small field to the left of the mansion. There does not seem to be any explanation for them but I am going to try to find out what they were. They were obviously used by early man for some purpose.
We were taken for a view of his vineyards. They were impeccably kept----all healthy vines in the peak of condition. I remarked at how healthy everything was.
"They are healthy because the environment is healthy," Mr. Lima said, "we watch for life around the vineyards, rabbits, pheasants, small birds, hawks, insects, snakes. If they are here, then the expect the vines to be healthy. We are organic so we do not hurt the environment but complement it! This is reflected in the wines!"
Not hurt is right. As I looked out towards the horizon with the rolling hills being intermittently dotted with small villages, it seemed like things never change here but remain in an almost perfect state. So peaceful---no wonder everyone seems to smile!
The winery and new bottling line were also impressive. Everything so clean and spotless. It is hard to imagine that this was a family operation that had roots back to the 18th Century. The combination of old and new was a lesson for all wineries in the western half of the globe.
I enjoyed tasting many of Casa Santos Lima wines when I visited about three years ago and have enjoyed its wines off and on since that time. For the purpose of this blog I have included wines that are available locally.
Casa Santos Lima Red
Quinta da Amoras: Pleasant wine, cherry/raspberry notes on the bouquet with dark fruit flavours on the palate. Lengthy finish.
Sousao: Silver medal winner in France, this is a grape usually used in the making of Port but has been making a showing in Estremadura. The 2006 has black fruit and chocolate on the nose with similar notes on the palate with the addition of pepper spice and some vanilla. Nice wine!
Touriga Nacional: Deep colour and intense floral/chocolate/ripe berries on nose and palate. Great wine with long life ahead. Silver medal in Brussels.
Quinta da Setencostas: Made with Castelao, Camarate, Tinta Miuda, Preto Martinho.
Dark berry fruit on both nose and palate with some anise, cinnamon and cocoa. Nice long finish.
Note! Santos Lima has some superb wines, the Whites are phenomenally refreshing and Roses---great aperitifs.
We had a nice snack with Mr. Santos Lima and then we were off to Quinta de Chocapalha for a return meeting with lovely Sandra Tavares Da Silva and her enchanting parents.
Quinta De Chocapalha
Estremadura is indeed a scenic region. The beauty did not stop as we approached the Chocapalha gates. There was former model, turned winemaker and consultant Sandra Tavares Da Silva along side her mother waiting to take us into their home! The Chocapalha vineyards have been referred to since the 16th Century. Originally, it was the property of Constantino O'Neil. Does that sound Portuguese to you? If you say Irish, you are so right! It seems that in the 14th Century, many O'Neils (spelled O'Neills) went to Portugal and settled in Estremadura when they lost a major battle at Kinsale, Ireland against the English. Hugh O'Neill, second Earl of Tyrone, escaped to Portugal and was followed by many of the clan! Constantino O'Neil may be one of the descendants.
He owned the property since the beginning of the 19th Century and later gave it to Diogo Duff, a Scottish Noble held in high regard by then King D. Joao VI. In the 1980's it was purchased by Sandra's parents, Alice and Paulo Tavares da Silva.
Sandra's story is amazing in itself. She was born in the Azores to her father, Paulo, a naval officer and her Swiss mother. They moved to Lisbon when she was very young. She completed her regular education and then earned a degree in Agronomy and later obtained her Masters Degree in Milan, Italy. Sandra came under the influence of the legendary Christiano van Zeller of Quinta Vale D. Maria. She also took over the reins at Chocapalha and then married Jorge Seradio Borges, a winemaker. The two of them now have a business called "Body & Soul".
Chocapalha White: Made from Arinto, Viosinho, Vital. Fresh and citrus/apple on nose. Nice acidity, citrus lemon on palate. Pleasant finish.
Chocapalha White Reserve: Chardonnay, Viosinho, Arinto. Even with only 20%, Arinto manages to come out followed by the freshness of the Viosinho. Chardonnay mellow butter and citrus does emerge on a different layer after. The three grapes blend well to give a lemon/mineral finish.
Chocapalha Fernao Pires: 100% Fernao Pires: Nice colour, fresh citrus/melon/pineapple flavours. Nice pleasant finish.

Chocapalha Red: Made from Tinto Roriz, Castelao,Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Alicante Bouchet. Ripe red/black fruit on nose, floral with some spice. On the palate the wine has black and red fruit flavours. Long intense finish.
Chocapalha Reserve: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Syrah. Ripe red and black fruits, pepper spice on nose and palate vanilla apparent on nose but more on palate. Very concentrated with very long lasting finish. Some anise on finish.
Chocapalha Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet, Syrah. Dark violet in colour, pepper spice and cassis with black currant and black berry flavours. Lengthy finish.
The wines were excellent and went well with the lovely lunch that Sandra's family had prepared for us!
Time went by very quickly. Almost too quickly. Before we knew it time came to leave and off we went to our next visit. Quinta dos Loridos.
Quinta dos Loridos
Just a few kilometres south of the famous and historic town of Obidos lies the amazing oriental influenced Quinta dos Loridos. I stayed at this Quinta in 2006 and looked forward to coming here again! When we arrived I did notice that there were many new additions to the original Quinta though the "roaring lions" of the orient still held their ground!
The 35 hectares of the 100 hectare property were still there but the additions were many. When I was there, the central lake and its geese were there as were the statues of Bacchus and his entourage---welcoming visitors to taste the wine produced at Loridos. The lake was lined with giant Buddhist monks serenely posed as if in prayer. The scene was tranquil then as it is now. However now, there is much more! More of the giant Buddhas! More statues depicting oriental deities and then there is the amazing terracotta soldiers like the ones found buried in China. The site is almost overwhelming.
There were massive oriental gates that marked the entrance to the park where one could muse with the statues or sit on a bench and pass the time or, still, watch the lovely Koi as they swam around the large man made lake. It was lovely.
Then there was the mansion. The actual estate dates back to the 15th Century and was originally associated with sugar production. The Manor House and Gardens go back to the 16th Century and have seen many renovations. The winery itself was built in 1989.
The reason why the present owner decided to commit the estate to a Buddhist Garden was in direct response to the dynamiting of the Barnyan Buddhist statues that went back as far as the 6th Century. In their ignorance, the Taliban destroyed them and thus prevented the world from seeing these magnificent pieces of art again.
The is a blend of Greek and Oriental Art here but of course the garden does lean heavily to the oriental side of things.
Bernard Gouveia and Manuela Vieira put us through a tasting of Loridos wines.
Quinta do Lorridos/Bacalhoa Wines
Serras Azeito White: Made with Fernao Pires, Arinto, Moscatel Graudo, Chardonnay. A Round, fresh (Arinto), somewhat floral wine with a nice structure.
Catarina Chardonnay: Not tasted but available in Canada via Wines of
Serras Azeito Red: Aragones, Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Syrah. Ripe red/black fruit on nose and palate with a hint of cedar. Soft and forward on palate with a good elegance.
Tinta Aforna: Aragones, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark with ripe cherry, raspberry and plum. Chocolate and coffee flavours. Some wood on the nose. Soft, round and welcoming on the palate.
Tinta Aforna Grande Escholha: Aragones, Alicante Bouchet, Touriga Nacional. Very complex wine with cherry, raspberry, plum, vanilla wood on nose with ripe black cherry, blackberry and plum on the palate. Round and very concentrated on palate.
Touriga Nacional: Touriga Nacional. Usual floral and spice bouquet with red fruit flavours on nose. On the palate it is packed with cherry, raspberry, red currant flavours with a slight pepper/cinnamon spice and anise on the finish.
Sparkling Wine
Lorridos Sparkling: Tremendous value of a sparkling wine with very fine bubbles and a fresh, round well integrated taste.
Moscatel de Setubal: Amber/topas in colour. Moscatel bouquet, with floral, blossom, orange, tea and cut orange peel on nose. Sweet, smooth and fresh on palate.
Soon it was time to say goodbye but this was a very sad goodbye since we had to say goodbye to lovely Andreia of the crossed arms. I enjoyed her company and sweetness throughout our journey and she had become a good friend. Since I love to tease she also supplied me with that pleasure also. Andreia is a credit to her work and her employer. I wish her well in her work and life!
Our new guide was an old friend, Marcio Ferreira who is Andreia's boss. I met Marcio in 2006. He was intrinic in setting up this whole journey of ours.
Soon we were off to register at the Estalagem do Convento (an old convent---very apropo for me) and historic Obidos!
End of Fifth Day

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 2nd----Day Four---Terras do Sado/Estremadura

For a whole account of the trip, scroll down to June 28th.

On To Terras do Sado!
Terras do Sado is a wine region that is almost surrounded by Alentejo. It is a designated VR or Vinho Regional very similar to the French Vin de Pays.
I woke up with a terrific appetite---still thinking about the delicious dinner we had the night before. Breakfast was welcoming and excellent. Martta joined us and we chatted about the Quinta, its horses, chapel and farm. Then it was time to go. We bid Martta and the staff a big thank you and good-by. We were off to Torres do Sado and Jose Maria Da Fonseca.

Greg and I took the time to snooze a bit while travelling the 2 hours to Azeitao.

We were met by Miguel Azevedo Remedio who I had met at the same location some three years prior. He escorted us to the old but picturesque courtyard of the Quinta and then beckoned us to a room which serviced like a museum of sorts.

The over 200 years of wine making by the same family was displayed in this room and had many artifacts and documents dating back to antiquity. For example: There were Bronze Medallions from the 1855 Paris Exhibition. I pointed out that this had special significance since it was during this year that the famous Bordeaux Classification was held----a classification that would affect how wine was treated and judged for the next century and more!

There was a thank you letter to Mr. Fonseca from then President Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as many photos going back nearly a century.

We toured the grounds and Mr. Remedio took us into the wine cellar.

A Real Wine Cellar

This was a true cellar. Very dark, lit by large iron chandeliers and "cobwebby", the cellar was what one imagines a wine cellar to be musty smell and all. There were barrels up to the ceiling We made our way through old barrels, some over a century old, with wine still sleeping inside. Throughout all this could be heard the soft voices of monks singing the "Gregorian Chant"! Of course it was piped music. but it was soothing and so "apropos"!

We made our way back to a wooden tablet with various dates dating back to the early 19th Century inscribed on it. "Are you getting this," I asked Greg who was busy filming as best he could in the dark. The reply was the quiet affirmation of a nod!

Beyond the tablets was an old----ancient iron gate through which we saw bottles obviously, very old. "This is the private family reserve!", Miguel mentioned. The door was locked and only one person had the key------The Key Keeper.

Apparently the Key Keeper is an ancestral position of an employee of the company. It was a father and son thing where by the Key would be passed down through the ages. Employee Turnover was not a problem at Jose Maria Da Fonseca. Only family members were allowed to go into this part of the cellar.

To our surprise Miguel Remedio called for the Key Keeper and within a few minutes were were strolling around visiting with sleeping history going back some 100 to 120 years. Dust covered the bottles. We were in awe. The monks chant was well chosen in this hallowed place!

Miguel mentioned, "Someone came in and wanted us to clean up the dust and cobwebs! We refused. That would alter the whole cellar and disturb the wine!" We all were glad that the cellar remained as it was!


Lancer's White: Made with a blend of Portuguese grapes it is light, citrus and off dry with a bit of pettiance.

Lancers Rise: An undermined blend of Portuguese varieties. Pinkish orange in colour. Light, strawberry, raspberry and cherry on nose with the same on palate. A bit of pettiance and gently acidity making it refreshing on own of with some spicy food!

Periquita: Made with Castelao, Trincadeira and Aragones grapes, this wine has red berry, black currant flavours. Medium bodied with forward tannins. Considered the oldest table wine produced in Portugal.

Quinta Da Camarante: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragones and Castelao. Plum, coffee, chocolate and raspberry flavours.

Fonseca/Van Zeller Vintage Port: A collaboration between Christiano Van Zeller and JMF resulted in a superb Port with exotic black fruit, figs and lush. Very lush!

After the tasting we were treated to lunch by Miguel at a "Buffet" style Portuguese restaurant called Alcanena were I gorged on fish/calamari/bean dishes. I even had my favourite soup Caldo Verde or cabbage soup. I think Alex Eberspaecher would have liked this place since he makes some awesome Caldo Verde!

The time came to say good-bye once again and we were off with good memories and full stomachs to meet with my old friend---Miguel Catarina of Quinta Da Cortezia in Estremadura.
Estremadura is like Terras do Sado is a VR or Vinho Regional. It is the largest producer of wine in Portugal.
Quinta Da Cortezia
Though the Quinta has been owned by the same family since the turn of the 20th Century (a very short period of time compared to some estates throughout Portugal), the actual estate goes back many centuries. The person in charge of the estate, my friend Miguel Catarina welcomed us first to his winery located in the village/town of Aldeia Gavinha not far from Miguel's actual home. The vineyards are located some kilometres away.
There is much history here at the estate vineyards which house an old 17th Century winery complete with actual presses. The iron gates of the winery were meant to keep unwanted people out as it took a fair amount of strength to move/open one gate. The gates are very unique not only because of their size but also their design. Thus they are pictured on the Cortezia website and bottle labels as well as becoming the emblem of the winery.
However the presses and gates are not the only historic artifacts on the property. A aqueduct that is reputed to have been built by the Arab/Moorish occupation still works perfectly. Miguel mentioned that he did not know where the source was as the spring that feeds the system is sealed but it still flows and the water is succulently sweet. Miguel says that water is never an issue here. Still on the subject of water, there is a very ancient pre-Roman (maybe Etruscan) fountain that up until 2008 was intact and working. However, time marches on and the fountain has given way but the water that flowed through its small "pipe" now flows more freely. I imagined about what other secrets lie beneath the soil of this estate vineyard.
Back at the old winery, Greg was busy taking shots of this and that. I decided to check out the press which obviously was operated via a long piece of hardwood that fitted into a hole within the press proper. To move it one had to push on one end of the hardwood which then turned the "screw-like" mechanism that operated the press. Greg got his camera on me and I pushed. The press started to give a bit and then the unthinkable happened. I snapped the lever piece! It snapped in two and I, like the kid who was caught stealing candy, tried to put these pieces together. Miguel came to my embarrassing rescue as he explained for me not to worry since it was just a piece that he had put in press to explain how the press worked.
With that Kodak moment done, me, Greg, Andreia and Miguel went to his home for a tasting and then dinner.
Quinta Da Cortezia White Wines
Arinto: Nice acidity with citrus flavours. Some butter in the middle (probably from small additions of Chardonnay and Fernao Pires).
Vinha Conches White:Fernao Pires and Arinto with a bit of Serra Nova. Nice light wine with mild acidity and melon/apple/citrus flavours.
Quinta Da Cortezia Red Wines
Vinha Conches Red: Wine is made with Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira with touches of Castelao and Alicante Bouchet. Red fruit, medium bodied wine. Mellow and smooth.
Vinha Conches Special Edition: Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Alicante Bouchet. The wine has black fruit and chocolate flavours. Elegant and silky.
Quinta Da Cortezia Reserva: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Merlot. The wine is quite dark. On the nose: Ripe red and dark fruit with toast and vanilla. Palate: Full in body, ripe red and black fruit flavours. Some fruit sweetness. Well integrated.
Touriga Nacional: Always my favourite with 100% TN. On the nose: Ripe fruit, plum, blackberry. Palate: Spice and more spice, concentrated and structured. Ripe cherry, raspberry with pepper spice and anise on the finish. Full in body and a keeper.
Quinta Da Cortezia Rose: 100% Touriga Nacional, lively, fresh and made for early drinking.
Ripe red fruit with a nice acidity throughout!
After our tasting and after I played with Miquel's three dogs for several minutes, we were called to dinner. On the table were some of the wines tasted. The meal turned out to be one of the favourites on this trip. It was Chicken Pot Pie and it was delicious. I found it went very well with the Rose.
We all had an after dinner drink and then it was again time to bid my good friend, Miguel, God's be! The group of us then took off once again to the Westin Camporeal Golf Club and Spa where we would spend the night.
End Of Fourth Day

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 1-----Day Three-----Ribatejo: Mansions, Lusitanos, Cattle and Wine!

For previous entries, scroll down and view starting June 28th.

Good-bye Alentejo----Hello Ribatejo!

I awoke around 7ish on July 1st and saluted Canada on its birthday! The usual shower and shave routine followed and I was quickly outside to find the Greg Rist was already busy shooting and taking pictures. Breakfast was available in the form of crusty bread, great cheese and ham along with coffee. As most got to know rather quickly, I must-----must----have my coffee! I call coffee my only major addiction and it that's the only one I get at my age---more power to me, I say!!! It was a great way to start the morning.

You could tell that Andreia was getting anxious about keeping on schedule! She would walk around, head slightly tilted and with arms crossed. This was a sure giveaway that time was marching on too fast since we did have three wineries to visit. At about 8:30 AM we paid our respects to our gracious hosts who went out of their way to be so hospitable and off we went. I couldn't help feeling that this winery was going places in the near future.

Quinta da Lagoalva de Chima

It took approximately two and a half hours to get to the above Quinta. Greg and I caught up on our much needed sleep since we did loose much snooze time on our way to Portugal. The first day we were running on empty so this was a welcome two hours.

This was not my first time at Lagoalva. I visited it with Alex Eberspaecher in 2006. I fell madly in love with its wines and horses (more later) especially some of the vibrant reds made from indigenous Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional grapes. However, Lagoalva has more than just wine. Olives and Olive Oil, Cattle, Agriculture, Cork Groves and Horses are all part of its makeup!

The history of this 5000 hectare estate can be in many ways the history of Portugal. The land was awarded to the holy order of Santiago de Espada in the late 12th Century. During the following years, it was the home of Princes, Kings, Dukes and Counts. The present Lagoalva mansion is quite large and a lovely place to visit. Old Olive and Cork trees line the road that lead to the gates of this fine establishment.

When we arrived, we noticed that new things were on the go here. My friend Diogo Campilho, a young man descended from the above royalty, met us at the gate. I believe Diogo will dominate the Portuguese wine scene in the years to come as he has the ideas and the presence to lead the way to a great Portuguese wine future. Diogo informed me that much construction was going on in the courtyard since a huge pond with fountain is being built. No doubt his friend from another Quinta (Aveleda), Franciso Guedes D'Aveleda would give him some tips regarding ponds.

Diogo knew from years past that my daughter was very much interested in competitive Hunter/Jumper events and always asked me about her. Before we went to taste his wines (for me it was preaching to the converted) he allowed us to see his brother training a two year old stallion at the riding stable.

As I had mentioned in prior articles, these stables were so clean that one could veritably eat off the floor. Diogo's brother, an Portuguese Equestrian Dressage Champion, went through the paces of acclimatizing a Lusitano horse to the rigors of riding. The method was very familiar to me and one that I had seen famed "Horse Whisperer" Monty Roberts do at his ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley (Solvang) California. I was impressed.

Lagoalva Wines

I've probably written Lagoalva wines more often than not. What can I say that I haven't mentioned before. We tasted several wines this time! However, I must in this case mention my favourite wines of Lagoalva since I have tasted them time and time again.

Lagoalva White (Branco) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Alverinho, Verldelh0, Fernao Pires and Arinto. A very nice wine with great acidity and sweet fruit flavours. Kiwi, melons, ripe apples and cantaloupe come to mind! The Arinto/Chardonnay with the perfect blend of banana/pineapple and citrus flavours. The Chardonnay shows the roundness and the Arinto, the freshness.

Lagoalva de Cima Alfrocheiro is a wine that I found to have concentration and depth.

The wine is made from 100% Alfrocheiro grapes and aged in French Oak. This wine is only made in top years. I found the wine to be very elegant with plum, blackberry and residual pine nut flavours with a pleasant vanilla finish. Great on the nose with raspberry, cherry and vanilla aromas.

Lagoalva de Cima Castelao/Touriga is a bold and savoury example of this blend of two grape varieties. As usual the Touriga exhibits itself in the immediate beginning and finish.

Lagoalva Syrah has a sweet cherry/berry nose with a nuance of anise. The palate has ripe cherry flavours with a touch of spice. Long sweet finish.

Lagoalva de Cima Syrah/Touriga an excellent combination of two red grapes with similar yet different characteristics. The ripe red fruit aromas of Touriga and the black spice of Syrah meld together to make one luscious wine. The wine is smooth, elegant and leaves a long lasting finish which changes as it connects with your taste buds.

Diogo Campilho and Pedro Pinhao are taking Lagoalva to new heights. It will always be my pleasure to taste their wines whenever I get the chance.

We spent a very pleasant and gregarious time with Diogo, his brother and Pedro. However it came time to leave for our next visit and Andreia had her arms crossed!

Quinta Da Casal Branco

The first thing that I always notice at Casal Branco (White Castle or House) are the storks nesting in the several chimneys at the estate. The estate's main pastime centuries ago wasn't storks since the vineyards where the grapes grow was once used entirely for Falconry! The same family has owned this estate for the last 200 years. Indeed the winery goes back to the 18th Century and wine is still made there. The house mansion which is across the street lies amid a majestic garden which houses one of the most interesting items that I have come across in years-------a 16th Century Pigeon Coop complete with mounds of droppings. Keep in mind that in those days there were two uses for pigeons a) messages (i.e. no telephone then b) Falconry. It was a well built coop!! No doubt.

We arrived in time to have lunch with Jose Lobo de Vasconcellos and a group of visiting dignitaries. We had a delicious soup with an entree of Rabbit with the trimmings. The wine served was exceptionally good with the meal.

After the meal, Jose took us for a tour of his vineyards, winery where he showed us his lagares with a modified machine that simulated the pressing of feet on the grapes. He also showed us his old distilling pot which was in another part of the winery. We then went for a tour of the Pigeon Coop discussed earlier and the gorgeous mansion.

As with Lagoalva, I have long been associated with Casal Branco and have written about it many times in the past. In fact, Ribatejo has been one of my favourite areas for wine anywhere. I like the concentration and the elegance. The flavours---especially of the reds are amazing and the fresh fruit of the whites--truly remarkable.

As I did with Lagoalva and what I will also do with Alorna, I will comment on my favourite wines of Quinta da Casal Branco!


When a winery produces a large amount of quality wine, it is hard to comment on several wines that you like the most. Here are a few!

Quartilho White is a single variety white from Fernao Pries. It combines freshness, minerality and fruit in a nice combination to make it accessible as an aperitif or to be served with light meat and fish.

Falcoaria White as with the wine above but with more tropical fruit and concentration.

Casal Branco Rose is an interesting blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelao, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Strawberry, raspberry and cherry on the nose and the same on the palate. Fresh, clean and invigourating with a nice fruit spice finish.

Terra de Lobos Red is a blend of Castelao and Cabernet Sauvignon. Balanced is the word here. On the nose: ripe cherry and raspberry with a hint of cocoa. On the palate: ripe red fruit and chocolate spice with a refreshing acid bite.

Casal Branco Touriga Nacional is an intensly concentrated wine with plum and blackberry on the nose and very ripe cherry/raspberry on the palate. Concentrated jam in the mid road and a lovely anise spice finish at the end. What can I say, I like Touriga Nacional!

Falcoaria Reserva one of my most favourite reds! Foot crushing in lagares, Twelve months in French Oak, 4 months in the bottle. Deep dark colour, red/black fruit, leather and tobacco with pepper spice on the long finish. Outstanding.

Other attractions

Wine is not the only thing made at the Quinta. There is some great olive oil made with very special varieties of olives. The Lusitano Stud goes back to 1807 and has a history of not only grand champion horses but also grand champion riders from various equine disciplines all over the globe. Finally, the above attractions culminate themselves in the one man whose mild voice and quiet smile lends himself to those who visit his winery. I likened him to a person I like to watch on television soap operas----don't laugh---Victor Newman on the drama "All My Children". Newman is the epitome of cool thought even when the going gets rough. He is mild mannered and quick thinking yet can be the gentlest of persons. A man to discuss quietly but not a man to provoke! Jose Lobo Vasconcellos reminds me of just that man!

Andreia's arms were not folded or crossed this time! We all knew that we were going to Quinta Da Alorna and would be spending the night there. So off we went to our next winery!

Quinta Da Alorna

We went to Da Alorna thinking that we would settle in and take in the garden or sights first. We were in for a surprise. Martta Simoes, the winemaker and oenologist at Da Alorna was waiting for us. Martta was petite attractive, intelligent and had the personality that would charm anyone. It ws a pleasure to meet up with her again as I did in 2006 when I stayed at the mansion.
Martta's smile was infectious and she quickly welcomed us and took us to our rooms. Ironically it was the very room I slept in three years prior. To say that this room is large is an understatement. I could fit one quarter of my present (albeit small) home in just the room. Then there was the modern bathroom which could hold a small party. I felt like I was home in a small sort of way! The room where my travelling companion of three years ago, well known writer and journalist, Alex Eberspaecher was unoccupied. It would have been nice to have him with us on this trip, I thought to myself. Pity! Greg, Andreia and I met downstairs shortly after and Martta took us for a tour of the vineyards. It turned into a mini adventure.
We drove to what was about 2500 hectares of vineyard space and saw the perfectly kept grape vines toiling at making the berries needed for the wine. Martta suggested that we to to the tower and also see the White Deer! Greg, of course, being the quintesential film maker said---"Show us the way!" Away we went.
We went up to what was quite a high part of the area and we came to a rickety observation old tower which had seen some better days but was quite climbable. It was about 15 metres ( 48.75 feet) high. Another more modern tower stood not far from it and a guard on duty was consulted by Martta. He nodded and up we went. One could not realize how high 15 metres can be until he/she climbed it. Below us were all the vineyards and we could see the whole area for miles away. The setting sun was magnificent as it coloured, the few clouds partially covering it, in various shades of red and yellow. It was quiet and peaceful with the exception of the small breeze that whispered quietly in our faces.
Greg took a number of shots and then came the way down. The tower shook and swayed a bit as we descended but we got down safely. It was a breathtaking experience in more ways than one. We were then off to see the White Deer which are protected from hunting by many signs saying in Portuguese----stay out/private property/absolutely no hunting. "We take care of them as they are rare", Martta commented.
We drove to a wooded area and she parked the Rover that we were in. Greg and Andreia went off up the road and into a wooded area. We could hardly see them as they semi disappeared into the woods. Martta and I stayed back basically since I did not want to take a chance at lumbering into the woods and frightening off a good chance to shoot the deer. She stayed to keep me company.
We caught site of Greg and Andreia figures in the woods and suddenly appeared a small deer which looked like a Doe. Slowly, she was followed by several others one of which seemed to be a Buck. They were very pale----almost a creamy brown in colour. I could see that Greg was taking some great footage. He must have "shot" for about twenty minutes and then we saw the two coming back. Both seemed fascinated by the experience. We went back to Da Alorna.
Dom Pedro de Alemeida was in the service of the Portuguese King when he conquered the fortress of Fort Alorna, a fort built in the 17th Century by the Bhonsles in the Portuguese colony of Goa (India). He became known as the Marquis of Alorna and gave the name to this estate.
The estate goes back to 1723 and is perfect example of pristine 18th Century architecture. The old fort (in Goa) still exists though it is in bad shape.
Imagine driving up a tree lined roadway and viewing a magnificent mansion partially hidden by a large and ancient Phytolaica Dioica, an Evergreen tree that has its "roots" in South America---Argentina to be exact, though it is found in Brazil also. Imagine this particular tree spreading its massive roots next to a serene pond in front of the steps of the mansion. Then imagine ascending a flight of wide steps leading up to a series of five arches underwhich is a prime open enclosure designed for sitting under on a warm summer night. The enclosure protects a massive door which leads into the huge main foyer of Da Alorna. To the right is a winding staircase that Rhett Butler, the hero of "Gone With the Wind" would be proud of. to the left is a lavishly decorated dining room full of paintings and frescoed art. Directly in front is a massive sitting lounge compete with fire place and old furniture, book shelves and fine art. Art is everywhere and also everywhere are the oversized windows typical of the 18th Century. The house had many rooms, each one displayed in its own style of grandeur.
The wines of Da Alorna have always pleased me. They are very inviting yet have a challenge to them as to not make them boring. We tasted the wines within the outside enclosure describe earlier. Martta brought out her wines and Greg and I tasted. To Greg it was a new experience but to me, many were old friends.
Quinta da Alorna White Wine
Arinto/Fernao Pires Tempered by the Fernao Pires, the Arinto still made itself known with its remarkable acidity. Fernao added compelling fruit and flavour of melon/apple while the Arinto, added lovely lemon citrus.
Arinto/Chardonnay An interesting combination. The Arinto was noticed first with its fresh fruit and acidity. The chardonnay then made itself known with the butter, vanilla and some tropical flavours. The finish was a nice combination of slight oak vanilla and refreshing acidity. Nice!
Touriga Nacional Rose Fresh Strawberry, raspberry on the palate with a great floral bouquet. I love Touriga Nacional!
Touriga Nacional/Cabernet The Touriga Nacional was out of the gate fast with its black fruit/berry and violet aromas on the nose and round, spice. The Cabernet followed with its pepper and cassis. The vanilla oak was noticed in both the nose and palate. At the turn, Cabernet and Tourgia were neck and neck---melding harmoniously together and at the finish it was the herbaceous Cabernet nose to nose with the body of the Touriga. Nice blend!
The dining room was elegant;y prepared but I think that the four of us seemed very microscopic in size compared with the sheer size of the table that could easily hold thirty guests at elast. The repas was absolutely delicious from the hors d'oevres to the main course of traditional Bacalhau Espitual or Spirit Codfish with all the trimmings. It was prepared by a lovely and wonderful woman, Maria Dos Anjos, who I begged to come to Canada and cook there. I was informed that her husband would not like that too much. I can see why!!!! The dessert was a delicious Creme Brullee. I had seconds with both. The meal went very well with the wines we tasted prior and the dessert went well---very well with the Late Harvest Fernao Pires with its honey, apricot, nut flavours.
Martta and I later went out on the "Porch" to relax. Greg later joined us and had a Fernao Pires Liqueur which was made by covering unfermented Fernao grape juice with quality grape spirits (thus preventing alcohol) and ageing it in old barrels for 6 years. I had a small taste which reminded me of apricots, figs and coffee. Greg really enjoyed it.
Soon it was time to turn in. We went to our rooms and I had no trouble getting to sleep!
End of Third Day

Saturday, July 25, 2009

June 30th---Day Two-------Good Morning Alentejo

For June 28th/29th recordings please scroll down.

The Birds In My Pockets!
Morning came quickly as I awakened to the lovely chirping of birds outside my window. I kept the windows partially open all night as I have this thing about seeing daylight when I open my eyes. I starred at the open windows and reminded my self to mention that screens exist for a purpose. It was just a thought.
In my half sleep stupor, I noticed this movement on my bed not far from my feet. I immediately thought----Rat! Gad! A rat! My panic made whatever it was move faster. Then it with one other member of the group flew away! It wasn't a rat. It was a couple of sparrows that wandered into my room no doubt drawn by the curiosity of my snoring! I regained my composure and decided to leave the birds to find their own way out while I went to the washroom to begin my day. The songs grew louder. There were more birds in my washroom. Not to worry-----I decided to accompany them in song. They flew into the other room. So much for my singing. Smart Birds!
I had my shower, shaved and looked at the itinerary. We had to leave by 8 AM in order to get to the next winery on time. It was about 7:45 AM. The birds where still hopping around and singing their song. One of them was sitting on my shirt pocket while it looked at me in obvious disgust. "You're the one who is sitting there starring at my naked body," I thought.
I shooed it away and got dressed. By the time I was ready to leave, One of the birds was still there in a slight state of panic. Maybe it saw just a bit too much of me, I thought. I went over and cornered the feather buster, grabbed it and let it go out the window. "There! I hope you get the same nice treatment from the next bloke whose room you invade!"
Breakfast On The Run
Greg and Andreia were awaiting my presence as I strolled down the stairs to the main desk where we were to check out. I was informed that we were a bit early for breakfast as the bread did not come in until later so we would have to go down to the village and get our breakfast there.
We parked on the street and made our way to a small open air square where the townsfolk gathered to discuss the days events. The big advantage of living in such a small village was in doing exactly what these people did probably every day. Get together, have an espresso and bun (with cheese) and just talk.
Andreia bought Greg and me a cheese bun and coffee. We ate and were then on our way again. I could have stayed a few more minutes just taking in the atmosphere but we were there on a mission---not a vacation! To booth, we were already behind our schedule. Off we went!!!
Joao Portugal Ramos
Our vehicle drove through the gorgeous gates marking JPortugal Ramos's Vila Santa Winery. Joao Portugal Ramos specifically chose this area using his many years and skill as an oenologist to find just the right location of his vineyards. The winery and surrounding buildings which consist of the winery proper with its up to date modern stainless steel tanks, large fermentation barrels and the old legares used for foot crushing the grapes, a house, restaurant, tasting room,
meeting courtyard and spacious barrel room are designed in a unique but Mediterranean style of architecture well represented in the Alentejo----very fitting for the geography and weather of the area.
Mr. Ramos came out to meet us. He looked every bit like the aristocracy that he was descended from----tall, lean in an athletic sort of way and refined in manner and speech. I found myself wishing that I could speak Portuguese (or French for that matter) one tenth as well as he! Mr. Ramos guided us through his winery speaking throughout of his vineyards and his insistence of quality both in the care of his vineyards and making of his wine. We passed by the laboratory where his wines are tested and retested and finally took a ride with his export manager Maria Pica. The ride was to his vineyards above which rose Estramoz Castle which protected the area in the past and now looks down upon the vineyards as if guarding them.
Mr. Ramos, with a degree in Agronomy from the Institute of Agronomy in Lisbon started a company called Consulvinus which he used to "help Portugal's natural potential to shine!" In 1990, he started planting his vineyards and in 1997 he constructed his winery with an addition in 2000. The result was a first class winery dedicated to making the best of Alentejo native grapes with some imports added in for experimentation and blending.
Before lunch, I had the privilege of being introduced to some of the local business men that he was entertaining. His wife, Teresa, is a gourmet cook and designed an excellent meal accompanied by the superb Ramos wines.
We tasted the following wine: Loios White which was made from Rabo de Ovelha and Roupeiro grapes. The wine had a touch of minerality and citrus. It had a refreshing acidity to it that cleansed the palate. The Marques de Borba White (named after the demarcated region which the vineyards are in "Borba") has the above Rabo de Ovelha and Roupeiro grapes with the addition of Arinto which gives the wine an extra bit of spice. There is the acidity on the finish that Arinto is famous for though the wine is surprisingly full. The Reds were my favourite. The Marques de Borba Red made with a variety of Portuguese grapes (Aragones, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouchet) and an import (Cabernet Sauvignon) comes through with black fruit and chocolate. The Marques de Borba Reserva has the same varieties but is more concentrated and deeper in colour than its brother probably because of the partial Legares (foot) crushing and the 12 months in French Oak barrels. The result is a highly concentrated and long lasting wine with ripe red and black fruit.
Finally, the Vila Santa Red is a blend of the same varieties but has Touriga Nacional also thrown in the pot. As I always will say, the TN has a way of expressing itself and it does so here.
Partial Lagare is also used here again to extract the highest concentration of wine and along with 9 months in French oak barrels bring forward nice black fruit and a powerful wine.
It was indeed a pleasure to have the honour of meeting Mr. Ramos with the hopes of meeting him again.
Note: JPortugal Ramos has other wine interests such as the highly acclaimed Duorum Vineyards in Douro; Falua Vinhos in Almeirim , Tagus Creek in Ribatejo and Quinta de Foz de Arouce in Iousa.
Quinta de Dona Maria (Quinta do Carmo)
An interesting fact is that Joao Portugal Ramos actually started his career at this Quinta (1985) before it was sold to Lafite Rothschild in the early 90's. The owner/manager and good friend of Joao Portugal Ramos is Julio Tassara de Bastos. He told us the story of how the Quinta got its name or should I say names.
The Quinta was built in the 18th Century and was the property of the then King of Portugal, Joao Vth. He had a mistress that he fell madly in love with and he gave her the Quinta to live in.
The Quinta still has many of the artifacts that go back to the time of Joao Vth. The tiles in the mansion are from his period as are the architectural features and marble.
The Quinta became known for the name of the mistress---Dona Maria. In 1752 a chapel dedicated to "Our Lady of Carmel" and the house/Quinta became known as the Quinta Do Carmo from that point.
The Quinta had many interesting features all steeped in history. The walled garden has magnificent palms (some centuries old) plus other historical features that range from majestic sculptures to magnificent ornate buildings and pools to simple utensils. Quinta Dona Maria has it all.
The vineyards like much of the rest of Alentejo reflect the grape varieties growing in this area. Like Ramos, they are a stone's throw away from the historic castle of Estremoz. Currently the 53 Hectares of vineyards are slowly being increased. They consist of indigenous varieties complemented with some imported vines. The vineyards are situated on three different properties.
Julio took us on a tour of his winery which is a blend of old (19th Century Cement Vats) and new (Stainless Steel Tanks). The winery is spotless and barrel rooms are absolutely peaceful. We tasted many wines with Julio Tassara de Bastos so we will concentrate on just a few.
The Dona Maria White which is made up of Roupeiro, Arinto and Antao Vaz has aromas of bananas, mangoe and pineapple with a bit of citrus. The palate is fruity, refreshing and long in the finish. The Amantis White made from mainly Viognier shows excellent pear and citrus
flavours and again a pleasant refreshing finish. The reds include a well rounded Red from local and French grapes; a great Amantis with lots of ripe red and and black berries and a lovely Reserva made from French grapes (Alicante, Cabernet, Syrah). It is completely fermented in Lagares and aged in new French oak for a year. One of my favourites this trip was a strawberry flavoured Rose made from Aragones and Touriga Nacional ideal for summer sipping.
Herdade Sao Miquel
I became familiar with the final winery of the day several months earlier in Canada when I attended a special tasting of Hobbs & Co wines in Toronto. Johnathan Hostick of Hobbs introduced me to Nuno Franco the winemaker at a new and upcoming winery called Herdade Sao Miguel. Nuno runs the winery that is owned by Alexandre Relvas. Alexandre Jr. is being guided in winemaking by Nuno.
Nuno Franco is probably one of the most sincere and honest persons that I have ever met. When you consider that winemakers and viticulturists as a whole are among the most pleasant and honest of groups, that is saying something. Also, young Alex is certainly a credit to his father. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Alex's father but if I ever do, I will certainly tell him that he is fortunate to have a son such as Alex.
The winery is located far off the "beaten track". First of all, we would never have found it had it not been for Nuno meeting us (in the town of Redondo which, goes back to 1250) and we then following him many miles down a dirt road to the house location. There was not the grandioseness of the Ramos or Esporao wineries but this was truly a working farm and a relatively new winery that had many places to go.
In a sense one got a tremendous feeling of quiet and solitude since we were surrounded by many hectares of land and vineyards. If you want to get away from it all, this is the place!!! It was great!
As with some other estates, they do more here than just make wine. They have a breeding program which includes cattle, some near extinct Donkeys (one of which tried to make a meal of my shirt as I petted it!) and horses (Alex Jr is a champion jumper in addition to holding a Diploma in Oenology). No doubt, the animal husbandry is greatly assisted by having an Agro (Cattle) Breeding Engineer such as Ana Paula Tordo on the staff team.
Nuno took us for a ride around the estate where we saw the cork groves and pine tree plantings (which have a sybiotic relationship with the cork (oak) trees). Some of the cork trees where over 400 years old. Amazing. By the way, cork trees are not damaged when cork is harvested to make----corks! The bark is stripped once every 9 years leaving the tree unharmed to grow another layer of bark. Nuno pointed out dead trees.
"We must report dead trees before we cut them down. It is against the law to cut down a tree without permission." I wish they had this law in a place called Canada!
The tour of the estate and winery was fascinating. Portugal is not a huge country such as Canada but one can get the sense of massive space here---even in a village or town!!!
Evenings seem to come quick in Alentejo. Before we knew it, it was time to have supper. The whole team was there to have a delicious meal of Stewed Lamb with all the trimmings and then we tasted the wine. I can understand why Ms. Hobbs of Hobbs and Co. wanted this wine in her portfolio.
The Wine
We started with a Montinho Sao Miguel White made with a blend of Vital, Fernao Pires, Mostatel, Sauvignon Blanc and Arinto. It was a fresh and lively way to start the dinner and as I said before, the Arinto did come out on the finish. The Montinho Red, a blend of Aragones, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon would be a great fall and winter wine bassed on the production methods and style. Another amazing wine was the 100% Aragaones De Sao Miguel Dos Descobridores. Hand picked and aged in 100% American Oak, it was truly remarkable with ripe cherry and red fruit flavours and a structure that ensured a long life in the bottle. I wondered how it would have developped if it was aged either totally in French or paritially in French Oak.
The 2006 Herdade Sao Miguel Coheita Seleccionada was deliciously concentrated and went well with the meal. The hit of the night was the 2005 Herdade Sao Miguel Reserva made from Aragones, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouchet grapes that were hand picked and only partially destemmed thus giving the wine more power and concentration. This was an avante garde wine made for cellaring, yet it had a elegance also about it that was obvious. The wine had a stong structural core but with soft tannins that made it accessable yet with the firmness that would reward aging. Cherry, plum and berry notes in a jammy sort of way gave way to a fine acidy and palate cleansing finish making you want more.
There was some discussion as to what was a better year, 2005 or 2006. They were different years----2006 being very hot and dry. I like the concentration of the 2006's but will they age as well as the 2005's. I think so and some but that will ultimately be left to father time himself! All I know that both vintages have their share of elegance and concentration. This 2005 was remarkable!
The above wines were what I call food wines that prepared the palate and continued its journey throughout a fine meal. But as all good meals have in common it was the company that we shared that night that made it special------sitting at a table, on the patio/verandah underneath the dark starry sky---together in discussion as to our favourite subject. Wine!
We talked for a long time about what people at a table always talk about. It was fun and enjoyable. The night was going by very fast and we retired to the beautiful house that was to be ours for the night. Sleep came fast and comfortable! The morning came quickly also!
End of Day TWO.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Portugal: Lovely Vistas--Great Wine (Getting There!)

Toronto: Sunday, June 28th, 2009
The weather was not what you would call the greatest as I left my home in Whitby to begin the second part of my filming journey (remember Nova Scotia which began it all?). It had been spitting rain all day! I had taken pains to make sure that everything I needed for this 12 day trip was securely and carefully packed. This included my suitcase and most of all, my computer bag (which also sufficed as a carry on bag with the usual utensils). I was to meet my business partner and cinematographer, Greg Rist at his home in Thornhill just North of Toronto at 6:35 PM in order to check in for our 9:45 PM flight to Lisbon. My wife, Darlene, drove me to the Rists' home where Greg and his wife Helen were waiting.
Pearson International Airport
Pearson has grown much through the years and I felt overwhelmed when I saw the cacophony of signs and traffic as we approached the airport. It was a far, far cry from my first experience back in 1963 when it was then called Toronto Airport. I was just 17 then and I was on my way to Amsterdam/France via Royal Dutch Airlines. The airport then had just one small terminal and all parking was outside in a small parking lot. It was all different now! So many terminals and so many planes. I have used this airport many times but never do I fail to be awe struck by the sheer size of the place.
Helen dropped us off at Terminal One where we made sure we were at the correct airline location. I went to get my bags and realized that something was missing. MY COMPUTER BAG!!!! I had left it at home! All my notes and travelling items. My right hand was now missing!
We could not go back and I had to make do.
After I got over my initial shock, Greg and I went on our jaunt to find the line up for our flight. It took us awhile but we finally came up to a small line up of folks waiting for something. I went ahead to see if I could find the airline SATA whose flight 310 was heading to Lisbon.
I curved around the line up to see it stretch to a massive one-----ending at two counters. They were for flight SATA 310 for Lisbon. I went back to inform Greg of the findings. It took about twenty minutes for the line to move but move it did and we finally got checked in and then we were off through security and then to our departure gate. One thing! If you are going to travel, do not wear western boots---especially nowadays! They are hard to take off as well as put on in a pinch and going through security makes them doubly a problem since one has to move fast.
SATA 310 To Lisbon:
It was still raining and cool when we left for Toronto on Fight SATA 310. At least it would be sunny and warm in Portugal I said to myself. The flight was just great! I was prepared for the worse since most airlines have an austerity program that basically cuts outs extras given on flights. This airline which is based in the Azores (Islands that are part of Portugal) did not skimp even a tiny bit.
First of all, the seating was comfortable, with ample leg room. Next the airline offered a full meal that was absolutely delicious with complementary wine and/or beer in addition to tea or coffee. Another meal was served later on in the flight which lasted about 7 hours. We were well taken care of by this airline and I highly recommend it to any who travel. The crew were among the most courteous I have encountered anywhere and the service just great!
Arrival Lisbon International Airport
We "touched down' on time at about 9:30 am on June 29th. It was raining! I couldn't believe it! We were later told that the weather was acting strangely this year and it had been rather cool. Global Warming one person said. "I guess this is going to be the "catch all" phrase that most will use when the weather acts differently from now on", I said to myself. Greg and I made our way through to customs and then to the baggage counter to claim our bags. It showed up after about 45 minutes. We then went out to meet our guide from ViniPortugal!
Greg and I left the "Arrivals" quadrant and proceeded to come down the main ramp where dozens of excited local people waited for those arriving from abroad. It was the same ramp that Ana Sofia D'Oliveira met me on my first visit to Portugal in 2006. I looked but this time there was no one there. We parked ourselves in a good location and I went to look for Andreia our host from ViniPortugal.
It took about 15 minutes but when I returned Andreia had found us! We had been waiting for our bags so long that she thought we may have missed our flight and went out to make a call to Canada! My wife sleepily told her that we had boarded our flight and went on to tell her what I looked like. We matched up in the end.
Andreia was/is slim, very pretty and spoke excellent English. She also was new to ViniPortugal and I feel somewhat nervous at meeting the gruesome twosome from Canada. After the introductions the group of us headed to Andreia's car where she whisked us away from the airport and towards our first winery. By that time, the sun started to peak out and I started to feel much better.
Being considerate and congenial as she was, Andreia asked us if we wished to rest but since due to a time SNAFU we arrived a day late, Greg and I decided to forge ahead with our business We were off to the first Region and Winery!
Alentejo Region: Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
Alentejo is located in the southerly part of Portugal and is separated from the rest of the country by the Tagus River. Its name in fact means "Beyond (or across) the Tagus. It is warm, with rolling hills and fertile soil which consists of free-draining shist (important for vineyards). Cork Trees and Olive trees along with many types of cows, sheep, pigs could be seen as we drove
towards Herade da Malhadinha Nova a new and exciting winery with, already, an impeccable and great reputation.
If Andreia wanted to make an impression, Malhadinha Nova was the perfect winery/estate to introduce to us. It was initially part of a family wine business started by the parents of Paulo and Joao Soares. The two brothers decided to turn their attention to a winery and they did so in grand style.
As we drove in to the winery I was impressed with the cleanliness of the architecture and grounds with a mixture of ultra modern and traditional at the same time. The Soares brothers met us and escorted us to their restaurant where, we were told, Chef Vitor Claro was preparing a very special meal to complement their fine wines. I couldn't help but notice the ultra modern winery facilities to the left of us as we walked through the main foyer and into the delightfully lit restaurant. We were seated and I commented on the winery.
"Ah, you noticed our facilities already", Paulo Sores remarked! "We have invested much time in making the best wines possible. We hand harvest all the grapes and bring them in small boxes as as not to damage the grapes. We use gravity (no pumping) to ensure that the process is natural. This ensures that the wine we produce truly reflects our vineyards."
The Soares Brothers use indigenous varieties as well as some imported varieties to make their wines. The labels of their wines are used to signify an important event in the winery for example the drawing on the label on the Monte da Pecequina wines was done by Francisca who was the first born of the family's new generation. The labels of other bottling have a similar story. One relates to the first boy born to this new generation of Soares and is named "Joao". Another, honours the "Marias" that made Portugal great! It is aptly called "mariasdamalhadinha".
One thing is that the wines from harvest to harvest, year to year, never have exactly the same blends unless they are 100 % varietals. The Soares brothers and winemaker, Luis Duarte, seem to take pains to make sure that the wine is the best it can be from one year to the next.
Greg Rist and I had lunch with the family and Chef Victor Claro did not disappoint. We had many interesting and delicious entrees which went well with the Malhadinha wines but the one dish that I most certainly enjoyed was that of "Black Pig" that was slow cooked for 72 hours. The meat literally melted in our mouths and when tried with Malhadinha red wines, it was perfection.
Agritourism Plus
However, wine is not the only thing that makes Herdade da Malhadinha Nova a great place to visit. There are the Cork Groves, certified cattle and black pig areas which seem to stretch forever. They seem to complete a self sustaining organic type of agriculture that is becoming popular world wide. In many ways they are the leaders.
For those interested in other forms of enjoyment there is a pool, spa and massage parlour for guests of the winery. The hotel on the premises offers first class room accommodations and suites, wine bar, Jaccuzi and thematic events which include riding, biking, fishing and cooking. There are even conference facilities. In many ways the facilities here reminded me of the excellent facilities at Hadsten House in Solvang, California.
In short, trying to tell me that Portugal's wines are great and that the wineries are innovative in all aspects of the wine trade is actually preaching to the converted. I found this out during my last visit in 2006. However, when I see Malhadinha Nova and what it is doing, I can only attest that Portuguese wineries are reaching for the sublime!
Herdade do Esporao
We left Herdade da Malhadinha Nova and proceeded to our next Alentejo winery: Herdade do Esporao. Again, this is an ultra modern facility with tremendous ambitions----and achievements. Parts of the property go back to the 13th Century in the form of an historic tower which was used for occupation and later shelter. Towers of this type were also ways of displaying military power and standing in the community.
The story of wine in this estate goes back only to 1987 when the winery was built. The following years saw many additions (such as a second winery for white wine only) and ultra modern equipment purchases as well as the building of a huge reservoir close to the winery estate.
Everything was done with quality in mind and in accordance with Dr. Jose Roquette's statement," The pursuit of Quality is a necessary precondition of success in any project!"
There are many projects going on at Esporao! One of the most recent is on of the top hill of the property and consists of a wine bar, wine tasting room, a restaurant featuring local and regional food and a large meeting room for conferences etc. The complex faces the large dam to the reservoir and is surrounded by vineyards.
An Aussie Winemaker In Portugal
Portugal's "Winemaker of the Year", David Baverstock was known as one of the "flying winemakers"----vintners who flew from one area/country to the next consulting and making wine. David stayed long enough in Portugal to accumulate almost 30 years in the Portuguese wine trade.
"I was educated in the Barossa Valley in Australia but came to Portugal. That's were I met my wife. We did go back to Australia but several years later she got homesick and we returned to Portugal. I had the distinct advantage of being an Australian winemaker who could speak Portuguese. The other thing is that I believed in the grapes of Portugal---that they could make great wines. I wanted to make Portuguese wines better!"
So he did! This time, he went down to the Alentejo and became the winemaker for Herdade do Esporao. He invested in Stainless Steel tanks, American Oak and ultra modern equipment to make wine in a "New World" way!
His winery is ultra clean and on many levels. Just outside on the back patio, the horizon viewed a magnificent site of the reservoir with kilometres of land surrounding it. It gave me an unusual feeling of freedom just to see that much open space below me.
David brought out a luncheon snack and some of his wines. You could tell the David was quite proud of his wines. I found that there was something special with a wine that had a blend of Touriga Nacional---the wine grape of Portugal. It is the grape that is used to make great Port and also a grape that lets you know "its there". When blended with other grapes---even if the percentage is lower than most, it still finds a way of letting you know, "I'm here!" So it was with a wine called "Quatro Castas" which was made up of red varieties Aragones, Trincadeira,Touriga Nacional and Syrah. I also enjoyed the 100% red Touriga Nacional and Aragones. The whites of Esporoa also impressed me. I find that the Arinto grape is very much like the Touriga Nacional in as much as it demands to be heard (or tasted). In the Alandra white, which has three grape varieties, Manteudo, Arinto and Diagalves, the refreshing, sharp taste of the Arinto is very pleasing. The same can be said to a lesser degree with the Esporao Reserve White where the Arinto is lower on the percentage scale than its peers Antoa Vaz and Roupeiro but still can be tasted in the finish.
Certainly David Baverstock, whose clients have included the likes of Sir Cliff Richards as well as some well known Port houses in the Douro/Port regions has proven his talents as a winemaker and manager time and time again. He seems to have a special love for the Verdelho grape variety and is thoroughly committed to developing the grape varieties that Herdade de Esporao uses.
Hotel horta da Moura
We bid a sad good-bye to David and were off to find our hotel for the night. Time had gotten away on us and Greg and I were quite tired. Keep in mind that we got off the plane in Lisbon after 7.5 hours of flying, did the customs and baggage routine, met Andreia and left for our first wineries. The time was pressing on to dark so off we went to find the Hotel horta da Moura. The hotel was quaint and pleasant. Most of all it was quiet. The rooms were clean and spacious. One thing I noticed was that most windows had shutters but no screens. I guessed that people did not leave their windows open at night.
I had a shower and off to bed I went. That ended a long day. It was fun but tiring at the same time. I cursed myself one more time for not bringing my computer with me and wandered into the sleep zone!
End Of The First Of 12 Days

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blog Special: My Brother Bob: In Memoriam

The following blog is in honour of my brother who passed away while I was filming in Portugal. I will leave this memorial on my blog site for one week in order for interested parties to read it. It will then be deleted and my blog on Portugal will begin!

Robert Charles Byers: December 4th 1935 to June 30th 2009

My earliest recollection of my brother goes back to when I was about three or four years of age. I remember accompanying him to various places but the most vivid was one evening near our then home in Zabbar, Malta. It was carnival time and I recollect a costume that I wore with a cape. My brother was dressed like a Roman soldier and had a toy sword. He took me out celebrating and waved the sword around so devilishly that a young girl who saw us approach went screaming into the alley way that I figure was near her home.
I also remember him trying to teach me about fire crackers. He and a friend lit one and gave it to me forgetting to tell me to throw the darn thing and it blew up in my hand somewhat stinging my fingers. We then went out into a nearby field to collect the left over blasting caps used during those days.
The relationship with my brother remained quite the same as both of us aged. It seemed like I was a perpetual "tag along" since he took me everywhere. If it wasn't a ride "side saddle" on the handlebars of his bike, it was on a date with one of his girl friends. I think that I single hand idly ruined his love life!
As he got older the rides on the bike turned into going to the show or to a cottage or just for a ride to a beach. No matter what we did and where we went, we had fun-----actually it was more than fun, it was a relationship which knew no conflict. We never had a fight or a bad word. Not that Bob didn't have a temper. He seldom used it (lucky for all!!!). He was mild mannered, soft spoken and kind. His long marathon singing sessions (many of which took place in the bath room) were legendary to the family and possibly to the neighbours who heard. And of course, there was this relationship with Elvis. Bob loved Elvis---his songs and his persona! He actually imitated Elvis's singing very well.
Our relationship was not of the "putting up because we're related" type that one would imagine brotherly relationships to be. While family was important, it wasn't the fact that we were brothers that kept us "together". We genuinely like each other. We were different yet similar. We shared our interest in travel, gardening and wine but approached things in a completely different way. That's what was important and made us grow towards rather than away from each other.
The sharing of our experiences whether it was a trip, a plant or a glass of wine became a focal point of discussion. The fact that the other was "around" made life just a bit more interesting. We didn't have to see each other to feel each other's presence. Sometimes weeks would pass before we "connected".
When Bob first contracted Esophageal Cancer, we found that the roles we had become accustomed were reversed. Bob became more anxious for awhile and needed to get out of the house. The operation he had to remove the tumors was "successful" but he needed time to recuperate.
He started going with me on trips to wineries etc. This time it was he who was the tag along and I who did the entertaining. It was fun and I began to look forward to his companyduring these trips. We used our time in the car as major discussion sessions where we could air concerns, discuss politics or just our gardening catch up. It was great. Bob would also fill me in on his plans, trips and tasks. It happened about once per month unless he had gardening to do.
Then came the fateful day that Bob learned of his "recent" terminal illness. To say he was not frightened would be a lie but I saw a stength in him that echoed way past his anxiety. He fought a struggle that was almost super human. Where I would have given up, he fought on. He fought the great fight---inspiring all around him!
There are many things that will bother me about Bob not being around. The main one will be that I will never be able to share my experiences with him again---at least not in this life. I will not see that smiling face or watch him as he, in his shorts (and nothing much else) wheels his plants to the various plots in his garden. The other thing that bothers me is the massive vulnerability I feel. Death is so permanent. It can and eventually will affect me and all those around me. Fragile life can end in an instant.
Bob's death gives rise to a need for answers. We want to blame someone or something for the seeming lack of justice of it all. But we are left with the one fact that we already know! Bob is gone and there are no real reasons why. Maybe we should seek to understand the questions posed rather than to know the answers.
We must have faith that the purpose and reason are out there. In some way it may have been in my final goodbye to him.
"Bob, I just want you to know that you were the best brother that any could have! I've always wanted to be like you and love you! I will always cherish our time together and hope that other brothers have the great relationship we had. You have been an inspiration to me and will always be part of me! We will meet each other again! Good bye and I love you!"If there is a God in Heaven I know that my brother is with him now where he continues to tend his garden and watch over us! I raise a glass to my brother------until next time, Bob!