Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Open a Bottle (or three) and Travel to Portugal

( Tawny Port, public domain image from )

For this installment of the Ancient Fire Wine Region Project the spotlight is being cast on Portugal.

Winemaking in Portugal defies certain “truths” in the wine world. Using mostly indigenous grapes and with winemaking experience going back over 4000 years you can’t go looking for high-end Cabernets or winemakers chasing after the latest trend. Known primarily for Port and Madeira it used to be easy to overlook other offerings from the country. The Portuguese grew to love their own wines made in the traditional styles, but have recently started looking for opportunities to produce younger drinking, fruitier wines that can showcase their unique wine personality.

As we have done in the past Margot and I prepared a couple dishes at home based and paired them with wines sourced from Portugal. We enjoyed the Leacock’s Rainwater Madeira as an aperitif. I recall having a glass of Madeira a couple times in the past but I am sure I have never had a very good example of the style before. Madeira is made on the island of Madeira which is actually 400 miles off the coast of Morocco quite a distance away from mainland Portugal. The wine has been a principal product and export of the island for over 400 years and has brought it world-wide attention. The Leacock’s selection is a pretty standard example and was easily found for under $20. We both found it very enjoyable as a starter, medium dry with a nice mix of dried fruit and nut flavors. This particular Madeira is made from the Tinta Negra Mole grape and is subject to the estufagem process whereby it is stored in a special lodge where it is heated for at least three months. This process oxidizes the wine and concentrates the rich flavors, including the nuttiness.

Our starting course was a Sweet Potato Soup with Green Beans and Cilantro. We found the recipe at the web site

( Sweet Potato & Green Bean soup )

Our wine pairing for the dish was the Quinta do Vallado Branco 2008. This white wine is made from a blend of the Rabigato (40%), Arinto (27%), Viosinho (18%), Gouveio (12%) and Codega (3%) grapes. We found it to be dry with pronounced notes of lemon in both the nose and the palate. The pairing was average and the wine wasn’t a stunner, but was quite drinkable and had us wondering what more we might discover from time spent focused on Portugal. The wine finished clean due to the acidity and didn’t have a lingering finish something we felt maintained its drinkability. I thought that this wine might be a better drinker for a hot day after a quick stint in the fridge.

The Vallado wine is made from grapes grown in the Douro valley, the world’s first designated wine region originating in 1756, where much of the crop of Touriga Nacional used in Port-making is also grown.

For dinner we used some of the Vallado wine to make a baked fish with tomatoes. The fish was very flavorful and was so delicate in texture that we really didn’t consider the pairing with the wine very much. The fish was just that good.

( baked fish with tomatoes and white wine )

No trip to Portugal, virtual or otherwise, would be complete without raising a glass of Port. For dessert we paired a great English Stilton cheese and dark chocolate with the Warre’s Late Bottle Vintage Port from the year 2000. I have enjoyed a number of Ports before including the Warre’s LBV so I knew what to expect. The pairing with the cheese pretty much stopped me in my tracks. My wife enjoyed it as well but was much more intrigued by all the weird noises I was making with each bite of cheese and sip of wine. It really is as good and the classic pairing suggests and is something I could eat everyday if it were available. The wine is almost black with intense fruit flavors and just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back. The wine and the cheese were so good together that I got lost in the pairing and forgot to take any pictures!

( Port barrels aging, Wikimedia Commons )

I definitely need to look for additional wines from Portugal, including reds that can be paired with dishes containing red meat and sausages. I can feel so potential from Portugal in the coming years. Wines with healthy doses of acid, tannins in the reds and of course Port and Madeira still leading the charge.

Have you discovered wines from Portugal that you would recommend? Leave a comment with the names so we and others can go looking for them on our own visits to Portugal.



Photo Credits

#1 – Public Domain,

#2 - My own

#3 - My own

#4 - Wikimedia Commons,



i tell you that fish looks like perfection on a plate - and the Portugal wines ain't too shabby neither!

danasfoodforthought said...

I like that you paired the Portuguese wine with dishes from the region. The sweet potato soup looks delicious!

Elizabeth said...

That sweet potato soup looks divine. Definitley going to check that out.

Kate @ said...

I need to hunt down some Portuguese wines and have that sweet potato soup - Looks wonderful!

Pam @ Sticks Forks Fingers said...

I've not begun to visit Portuguese wines at all, and have never heard of many of the varietals you mention, so you've inspired me. Your fish dish looks and sounds so great, and one that would be so much fun to pair with many different wines. Thanks for this leg of the Ancient Fire trip around the world!

Morten Pedersen said...

We do enjoy a good bottle of wine and some good food and I think Portugal is the country there is easiest to find a wine with good value for the money.

Jason Phelps said...

I definitely thinkg hunting down some wines from Portugal makes sense. I have gotten some feedback from wine friends that the dry reds are better than the white and still a great bargain.