The winter chill has now arrived as the plants and flowers in the garden lose their leaves and petals fall from the last of the flowers. Dark nights have drawn in and it’s not just the plants going into hibernation mode, as we hurry home from work to snuggle up in our warm toasty houses.
One day the other week, my mum called me and told me about a bumblebee that was wandering around her garden. I was as surprised as her to hear that a bee could still be alive above ground in December, shouldn’t they be hibernating now? We agreed she had most likely landed en route to her hive but may have grown disoriented as she grew weaker, sadly at the end of her short life. My mum placed the bee under a tree at the top of the garden, sheltered and hopefully at peace.
The following day the phone rang and it was my mum. She explained in amazement how the little bee had made its way all the way back down the garden, walking and walking and walking. After several days of this, Kelvyn and I went over to her house and witnessed this resilient bee for ourselves. She slowly crawled past us before turning back up the garden, it was fascinating to get so close and see the fur on her body and how her legs criss crossed pushing her forward. She certainly wasn’t ready for that great beehive in the sky it seemed.
It was wonderful to see how much the determination of this bee touched my mum. In fact, it touched me too, reminding me of the force of nature and the cycle of life.
It made me think of cycles in the vineyard and how the vines are all now shutting down for winter conserving their reserves ready to grow again next spring. On our adventures this year we have witnessed fresh new buds appearing on the vines in Portugal; bud flowering whilst tendrils sprouted out reaching up to the sun in Southern England; the changing colour of the grapes as they ripened before swelling, juices almost bursting through the skins, ready to pick at harvest time in South Africa and France. However, the last piece of the puzzle we haven’t yet experienced is winter dormancy but more importantly the work needed to help ensure the desired crop the following season, winter pruning.
We hope to get a first hand experience of this highly skilled work this winter and will write more about it when we do, so watch this space!
Have you helped winter prune? We would love to hear about your experiences.
Sadly the little bumblebee that my mum grew so fond of could manage no more and after a week quietly went to sleep under the tree where she was first placed by my mum. But as we know, more bees will appear next spring, just as the world’s vines will provide more grapes next season, and so the wondrous cycle of life will continue.
Our final stay was in the city of Evora in The Alentejo where we had chosen to stay on a campsite in a compact chalet with all the mod-cons.
Must-sees are the Roman buildings that still exist within Evora itself including the Roman Temple of Evora, believed to have been constructed around the first century in homage to Augustus. Outside of the city lies Villa of Sao Cucufate and the impressive Os Almendres prehistoric stone circle both worthy of a visit (www.visitportugal.com).
Alentejo is also home to most of Portugal’s cork production with said oak trees in abundance. Portugal is the biggest supplier of cork world wide and is renowned for its quality.
There is also a Wines of Portugal facility for wine tastings and wine tours www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt Pr. Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar 20-21 _7001-901. This is certainly a step-up from the one in Lisbon. There were bottles open on the reception counter for a free tasting and the room was also well utilised highlighting the grape varieties to be found in The Alentejo region, aroma cards and even glass cases displaying the various soil types found in the area. There was also free booklets in various languages that included information about producers (including contact details/visits/etc), the wines and the region itself.
After a busy day and settling into our chalet, we went for a swim in what was an extremely cold pool and then opened a bottle of: Palacio da Brejoeira Vinho Verde 2011 – Alvarinho: Notes of citrus and apple within a creamy body and good finish Quinta do Portal 2009 – 100% Touriga Nacional: Lots of red and dark fruits, blackberries, plums and orange ginger spice. Good structure
The final call of our trip was to the state of the art winery and vineyards of Ribafreixo, http://www.ribafreixo.com the next day. A phone call with Mario Pinheiro (owner and of South African origin) provided us with an appointment to meet his Portuguese business partner Nuno Bico, who would kindly show us around the estate and give us the opportunity to taste some of the wines.
The majority of the wines are from white grape varieties with the local Antao Vaz being its principle grape though there are many others including Roupeiro, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha, Alicante Branco, Arinto and Alvarinho. The reds consist of, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet and Tempranillo.
We met Nuno and his admin assistant, Nidia who took us on a tour of the estate. We got to see the new areas of land that have recently been given over to vineyard use as well as visiting areas of old vines, some over 35 years old.
There is a new state of the art winery and soon to open public visiting area, which includes a restaurant and events area. Here, we met Jorge (Cellar Hand and assistant to the wine maker Paulo Laureano), who was happy for us to try some of the wines straight from the tanks.
Alicante Bouschet 2012: Lots of fruits and lots of promise. We really liked this and hope to get to try the bottled version
Gaudio Classico 2012 – Touriga Nacional, Arragones, Tinta Miuda & Alicante Bouschet: Spicy fruits showing through Barrancoa 2012 – Trincadeira, Aragonez & Alicante Bouschet: We have had previous vintages and find this an enjoyable red with dark fruits and spice
From the bottle:
Connections Mario Pinheiro Limited Edition Chenin Blanc 2012: What is believed to be the first Chenin Blanc to be produced in Portugal with links to Mario’s South African heritage. This is the first release from young vines and whilst this was reflected in the wine, it was none the less still well made and should show its potential as the vines grow older. Even now, notes of crisp apple balanced by good acidity shone through with a hint of herbiness and minerality. A bottle was taken home with us
Gaudio Alvarinho 2012: Crisp and tangy with a grapefruit citrus edge and balanced acidity
Again, we came away feeling very well looked after and have made a commitment to return sometime in the not too distant future to see the new winery in full swing, as well as to enjoy the culinary delights that the restaurant will no doubt offer. We had now almost reached the conclusion to our trip as the following day entailed a drive back to The Algarve and to the airport at Faro.
Rather than take the recently built motorway, we decided to take the advice of Antonio (Family Macedo B&B) and take the route that borders Spain. Along the way are attractive walled fortified towns including Monsaraz, which has fantastic panoramic views and definitely somewhere we could have stayed longer. Check out the rather nice looking hotel that lies within its walls http://casapinto.es Finally reaching The Algarve, we took the opportunity for a very pleasant beach walk before heading for our flight back home. If you haven’t been to Portugal then do go, you won’t be disappointed especially about the friendliness of the people, their hospitality and of course, their great wines!
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Lisbon, we would definitely recommend the quirky Family Macedo 3* B&B www.familymacedo.com. The proprietor Antonio was very helpful with suggestions and recommendations of things to do whilst in Lisbon as well as places to call upon on our way back to The Algarve.
We found the best way to get to know Lisbon was either on foot, taking a vintage tram, or Metro and a tour on an one of the many open top deck tour buses.
Our first night we chose to sample a couple of wines that we had with us from Quinta do Portal: Mural 2011 – Malvasia Fina, Codega do Larinho & Gouveio: Aromatic and fresh citrus fruits Moscatel Reserva 2004: Tasting notes already presented
Wine Bar Do Castelo Lisbon
We came across this bar purely by accident. We were making our way to the castle when we passed this bar almost at journeys end. We continued to the castle but decided to forfeit the entrance fee and queue, returning to the wine bar which seemed to hold more of an attraction and we weren’t to be let down by this decision!
At this compact (and already almost full) bar, we were met by a friendly member of staff who greeted us and quickly directed us to one of the last available tables. He explained to us that wines could be tasted from around the various Portuguese wine regions with a “try before you buy” policy.
We were given the wine list, which was broken down into regions and their wines. We were then given the opportunity to pick three wines at a time – all for tasting prior to deciding on which wine to buy by the glass or bottle. A bowl of olives and bread was also provided “on the house” when the proprietor discovered that both he and ourselves had the Charles Metcalfe, The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal.
This was a fantastic way in which to become more familiar with local varieties. All the staff seemed knowledgeable about each of the wines and their corresponding regions. Even better, they were enthusiastic about the wine and were more than happy to spend time chatting and discussing these. There was no pressure to purchase any of the wines tasted and we came away feeling that we had had a great evening with some very good wines and a much better understanding of Portuguese wines in general. If in Lisbon – do go! www.winebardocastelo.blogspot.com
The wines tasted by the glass:
Minho Soalheiro Alvarinho 2012: slightly herbaceous, floral and fruity – some peach and apple. Had some body to it with a good mouthfeel and finish
Quinta Do Ameal 2011 Branco Seco Dry White Wine – Made from the Loueiro grape: Zesty lime, fresh, with good acidity. Went really well with the herby garlic green olives in oil that we had on the table
Dao Sauzelhe 2008 – Encruzado & Malvasia Fina: We liked this one a lot! It possessed an almost Riesling/aged Semillon character with petrol like aromas. There was a lot of lemon citrus flavours with a waxy mouthfeel. Lovely colour and a great finish
Quinta Das Marias 2010 – Encruzado (13,500 bottles produced): Reminiscent of a well-balanced lightly oaked Chardonnay with vanilla hints, lemon cheesecake, fresh mouthfeel and lingering finish. When left to breath for a while more pronounced raisin and toffee flavours developed
Lisbon Casal Sta. Maria Vinho Branco 2010 (limited edition 5,800 bottles) – Chardonnay, Alvarinho, Sauvignon Blanc: This wine was recommended to try as it was local to the area. Fresh with a mineral edge, some tropical fruitiness
Alentejo Joao Grave Pera-Nova 2010 (limited edition 4,500 bottles) – Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet & Cabernet Sauvignon: Lots of fruit though very tannic – definitely needed food!
Douro Quinta Do Vallado 2010 – Touriga Nacional: Chocolate orange ginger spice (something we found typical of this grape). Medium bodied with good acidity and tannins. A very pleasant glass
Quinta Do Vallado 2011 – Sousao: We preferred this to the Touriga Nacional: Young in colour (almost inky purple that stuck to the sides of the glass), fresh summer fruits including elderberries, aromatic, chocolate, smooth, soft tannins. A great tipple to end our evening!
The Wines of Portugal – Lisbon www.winesofportugal.com
This is an organisation put together by the Portuguese wine industry that seeks to promote Portuguese wine. However, neither of us were particularly impressed by the set-up in Lisbon nor did we come away feeling that we had a better grasp of either the wines or the regions of Portugal.
We had first turned up at the premises in Terreiro do Paco Lisbon on a Monday, however, it was closed and it would seem that Monday is a day off for a lot of organisations in Portugal. Returning early the following day, the premises advertised being open between 11 and 7 (with a one hour lunch break) but the first presentation and tasting was not until 12. Unfortunately, there was not a huge amount of information on display to keep visitors busy while waiting and all printed material was only in Portuguese.
Eventually, the twenty or so people who had specifically arrived (or waited) for the presentation were assembled close to the wine counters that displayed various wines and producers. A member of staff began the talk by referring the group to a large map of Portugal on the wall. It was often hard to discern what was being said as in the background a Fado soundtrack was still being played.
The visit to the map and an explanation of the wine regions seemed very brief, so was the opportunity to taste wines that had been selected for that day, which did not seem to give a good reflection of the grape varieties or the regions. Also during the presentation, the phone rang – which the member of staff answered and then a delivery man arrived with goods to drop off that required signing for and delivery straight through us standing folk, who were hoping to become better acquainted with all things in Portuguese wine.
Afterwards, we were given the opportunity to purchase wine – we chose not to on this occasion. We came away thinking it was a real shame that things had not been presented and promoted that well. So if in Lisbon, go to Wine Bar do Castelo, they do things better!
Setubal Parus Sala Ogival 100% Antao Vaz 2010: Very pale colour with a slight petrol nose. Citrus fruit flavour. Nice acidity
Quinta do Monte Alegre Palmela Colheita Selection 2009 – Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah: Fresh black fruits, cedar and drying tannins – would need food
Alentejo Pontval Reserva 2006 – Alicante Bouschet, Syrah & Touriga Nacional: Red fruits, Cherries, Red currants, acidity shone through more than the tannins as these seemed quite low
Douro Quinta das Lamelas Reserva 2008 – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz one year in French oak: Red and black fruits, soft tannins not much on the nose – can’t say that we were much impressed!
If you want somewhere to do a little more wine poncing, then why not visit The Garrafeira Nacional www.garrafeiranacional.com where you can press your face against the glass partition in the fine wine section and stare for a while (however, do ensure that it is not long enough to cause concern from the shop’s staff).
Here, you can see for yourself 200 year old+ Madeira, Vintage Ports dating back to the 19th Century, Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha, Romanee-Conti 2008, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1961, Chateau Cheval Blanc 1961, C. Marey & Cte Liger-Belair Richenourg 1947, Penfolds Bin collections, etc etc.
A short while after our London wine ‘challenge’, and boy was it a challenge not just for the wines getting tasted and scrutinised, but for the judges doing the tasting and the crew working it behind the scenes (that was us!), we slipped away for a fabulous tour around Portugal’s wine regions to see what they have to offer and learn more about this lesser known (to us) wine region.
Our eyes have been opened to Portuguese wines, especially whites, which we hadn’t really tasted much of before, touriga nacional blends we had tried and enjoyed, but whites hadn’t made much of an impression so far. This has most definitely changed.