Bringing Back Memories

The restrictions resulting from the current Coronavirus outbreak mean that everyone’s holiday and travel plans are on hold for the foreseeable future. But, a trip to our local fishmonger recently brought back happy memories of past visits to Portugal. For there, in his window, was some bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Often described as the national dish of Portugal with, apparently, 365 different ways of cooking it – one for every day of the year – it’s something we have always enjoyed on our visits there.

But we have never cooked it at home – until now. Mixed with ham, eggs, sweet potato and peppers – an authentic Portuguese recipe taken from a book brought back from one of our trips – it made a delicious meal and, of course, had to be paired with a wine from the country.

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Quinta de Gomariz’s Loureiro from the Vinho Verde region is an old favourite of ours (Grape and Grind or Clifton Cellars, £13.50) imported directly from Portugal by sailing boat – yes really! A delightfully clean and fresh white with lovely floral aromas and intense flavours of grapefruit. There’s an attractive savoury richness too that is surprising given that the wine is only 11.5% alcohol and excellent length. And, of course, an ideal partner with this style of food.

If these restrictions last for long, we may find ourselves bringing back memories of some of our other favourite holiday destinations without leaving home – so long as we can continue to find the local food and wine!

Oaked with Smoked?

I’m usually quite dismissive of some of the common food and wine matching tips. Especially the one about white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat. It’s just too simple and ignores the fact that the flavour to match in any dish is often the sauce rather than the main ingredient. And, in any case, everyone’s taste is different so why not drink what you like rather than anyone else’s suggestion of the ‘right’ wine?

But there is a saying that ‘with smoked try oaked’. Sounds a bit too glib to be true but I put it to the test recently anyway. We’d bought some delicious hot-smoked salmon fillets from Brown and Forrest, an artisan smokery not far from us, and decided to use them as a sauce over some fresh pasta. To accompany the dish, we opened a bottle of Crasto white from Portugal’s Douro region (Great Western Wine, £16.95).

Crasto white

A blend of 2 local grapes, Verdelho and Viosinho that had been oak aged for 6 months. On first sniff, the wine was decidedly oaky and in the mouth that was the main sensation that came through before we tasted it with the food. But, with the smoky, fishy pasta sauce (the flavours softened with some Crème Fraiche), the oakiness became much more restrained and harmonious and the wine’s creamy, rich character revealed itself.

It might not have been the wine I would instinctively have chosen with the dish but, having tasted it, I have to admit that, in this case, both my wife and I agreed that with smoked try oaked. In fact, my wife actually thought that something a bit oakier might have been even better.

So, there you have it – sometimes these food and wine matching sayings do work. Just don’t always rely on them!

Bristol’s Own Wine

Port O BristolBristol now has its very own wine, but don’t worry if you’ve never seen it on the shelves.  At present, there’s just one small problem: the label is missing some key information, so it isn’t legal to sell it in the UK yet.  But I have tasted it! 

That was at a wine tasting evening arranged by the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association – a group that fosters links and arranges exchange visits between Bristol and friends in the Portuguese city with whom we have had trading links for many centuries. 

The event was hosted by Alan, the owner of Clifton Cellars, one of Bristol’s best independent wine merchants.  He brought along a selection of wines which truly showed how far Portugal has advanced since the days when it was only known for Mateus Rosé.

The tasting included 2 very different whites: Quinta de Gomariz’s vibrant, citrussy Alvarinho (aka Alboriño) from the Vinho Verde region (£13.99) and Lagar de Darei, a richer and subtly oaked bottle from the Daô made from the local Encruzado variety (£11.98)

Of the reds, Patraô Diogo’s Aragonez- (Tempranillo) based red (£12.85) is a fascinating and rare representative of the tiny Colares region on the coast west of Lisbon.  Its sandy soils have resisted the phylloxera bug and so vines there can be planted on their own rootstocks.  The Vinha da Mouro (£13.50) from the Alentejo showed a lovely southern warmth and richness and brought the evening to a happy close.

But, what about the bottle pictured above?  The ‘Port O’Bristol’ is from a traditionally planted vineyard at the far eastern end of the Douro Valley.  Produced by Ramos Pinto’s winemaker, this was brought over in barrel from Portugal in a sailing boat and bottled in Bristol.  There’s a tiny production and this is the first vintage of a wine that is certainly a ‘work in progress’ at present but one that is worth keeping a close eye on.

If you are interested in joining the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association, please leave me your details below and I will happily pass them on to the Membership Secretary.

Look for the Duck!

Pato whiteIt wasn’t the striking stylised cut out of a duck in flight on the label that first attracted me to Luis Pato’s ‘Vinhas Velhas’ (old vines) dry white (Wines at West End, £14); I’ve been a fan of this top class Portuguese producer for many years.  And, in case you’re wondering why there’s a duck on the label –  ‘pato’ means ‘duck’ in Portuguese and all of Luis’ labels feature one; a nice marketing touch or a bit corny, depending on your view.

Portuguese wines have improved vastly, both in quality and in the choice available, in recent years.  No longer are they defined by a certain rosé in a funny shaped bottle but by some excellent, intense reds and food-friendly whites.

The country always had the potential for making high quality wines, especially reds – the grapes used for port (particularly Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz aka Spain’s Tempranillo) are equally suited to being turned into unfortified wines.  But, when British merchants visited there and started searching for some interesting wines in the 17th century, they preferred the strength and sweetness of port.   Table wines continued to be made for the locals, but, for the export market, it was virtually all port.

And so it remained until late last century when some of their reds started to appear in the UK – although many of the early arrivals needed long keeping to tame their furious tannins.   Gradually, though, the style softened and the wines became much more approachable; one of the pioneers of the change was Luis Pato in Bairrada and I’d strongly recommend any of his reds.  But he, and now his daughter Filipa on a separate estate, also produce some delicious whites, mainly from the native Bical variety.

The Vinhas Velhas is beautifully floral on the nose and quite aromatic and fresh in the mouth.  There’s a nice richness there, too, which makes it really food-friendly – try it with some fish in a tomato sauce.  But not with duck – that wouldn’t do at all!

A Portuguese Rosé

Congratulations if you looked at the title and still decided to read the blog!  Particularly if, like me, you were old enough to drink wine in the 1970s.  Because, in those far off days, the words ‘Portuguese’ and ‘Rosé’ meant just one thing: the most popular wine of the era, Mateus Rosé, sold in that familiar, dumpy shaped bottle that, when empty, made a perfect base for a table lamp.  At its peak, in 1978, it accounted for over 40% of Portugal’s wine exports and sold a cool 42 million bottles in just one year.  That’s a lot of table lamps!

Mateus Rosé is still around (and this year celebrates 75 years since it was first produced) but, as readers of this blog will, no doubt, know, it isn’t the only Portuguese rosé on the market.

With summer in mind, I picked up a bottle of Ciconia Rosé from Corks of Cotham recently (£8.99). 

Portuguese roseA blend of 3 grape varieties: touriga nacional, one of the main components in port and many high quality Portuguese reds, syrah (shiraz) and aragonez, one of the Portuguese names for Spain’s best red grape, Tempranillo.  These three together made a wine about as different from my memories of Mateus as it is possible to be: slightly off-dry and really refreshing with attractive strawberry fruit and a clean juicy finish.  Great for drinking on its own or, perhaps, even better, with fish in a tomato based sauce (Cod Portuguaise) or a bouillabaisse.

I’m happy to drink rosé at any time of year, although I think it works best with lighter, summery foods.  But the wine must be dry – or off-dry at most; for me, the sweeter rosés such as Mateus and some of the commercial White Zinfandels that are widely available are just too sweet for a main course yet not sweet enough for a pudding. 

But they sell, so someone loves them – just leave me with the Ciconia, the other Portuguese rosé.

A Shy and Reticent Wine?

The English are often described as ‘reserved’ people: shy, reticent, not very forthcoming.  But the word ‘reserve’ can have other meanings: I can reserve a table at a restaurant or set a reserve – a minimum sale price – at an auction, for example. But what does it mean to wine lovers?

Look along the shelves of your local supermarket or wine merchant and you’ll notice that Reserve (or a local variant such as Reserva or Riserva) is one of the words most commonly found on the labels.  So, does it mean that the wine is shy, reticent and not very forthcoming?  Unfortunately not!  But, what it does mean (if anything) varies a lot, depending on where the wine comes from.

Things are clearest in Spain.  Spanish wine tasting (2)There, Reserva denotes a red wine that has been aged for at least 3 years before being released for sale, at least one year of which must have been in oak barrels.  For whites and rosés, the figure is 2 years (6 months in barrel).  The requirements for Gran Reservas are longer: for reds, 5 years (2 in oak barrel), for whites and rosés, 4 years (6 months in barrel).

Across the border in Portugal, the rules for their Reserva are much less specific, simply requiring the wine to be from a ‘good’ vintage (how do you define that?) with an alcohol level at least ½% above the regional minimum (which varies from place to place).

Italy’s equivalent is Riserva.

41 SelvapianaThis also varies from place to place – as do most things in Italy; it, too, denotes a certain minimum ageing, usually at least a year, although, for Barolo, it is as long as 5 years!  Often, higher alcoholic strength and other requirements are also included in the local rules.

And that’s as far as the regulated use of these terms goes.  Anywhere else and the word has no official meaning.  It might be used to suggest that the wine is of a higher quality, as in the French ‘Réserve du Patron’ or terms like Estate Reserve or Reserve Selection, or has seen some oak ageing, but, outside Spain, Portugal and Italy, none of this is guaranteed.

To my mind, we ought to reserve (sorry!) the use of the word to those places where it does have a legal meaning, but I’m not going to make a fuss about it because I’m English and too reserved!