Winemakers in the world famous valley of the Douro River take pride in producing stately Port wines, sweet libations in Setubal, deeply flavoured red in Alentejo, fruity and excellent food wine in Dao and light and fresh, delightful vinho verde wines from a region approximately 100 kilometres north of the city of Oporto.
The Minho region has been transformed from a vibrant hodgepodge of all and any crops suited for a rainy, temperate climate, to an almost continuous vineyard.
The region produces mostly racy white wines, but also light red acid-driven products. The soil is granitic and difficult for planting vines, but once planted, the grapes offer possibilities for dry, racy, or off dry pleasant wines that can be sipped and which are sutiable with finger foods or deep fried, crunchy amuse geules.
Alvarinho (aka albarino in Spain), arinto, avesso, azal, batoca, loureiro and trajadura varieties are officially sanctioned for vinho verde production.
Most of the wines contain 8 – 11 ABV except those made of alvarinho, and which may go up to 14 ABV.
Red vinho verdes are rich in colour; rustic, tannic and acid-driven specially suited for robust red meat roasts with creamy sauces.
Amaral, barracal, alvarelhao, espadeiro, padeiro, pedral, rabodeanho, and vinhao, are the officially sanctioned grapes for reds.
There are many estates and a few co-operative wineries to absorb the fruit of small growers who cannot, or through lack of funds fro equipment, make wine.
Vinho Verde, 2011, Adega Co-op Ponte de Lime – typically crackling, acid-driven, fragrant and fruity
Loureiro, 2011, Quinta da Arcas off dry, light with good depth
Alvarinho, 2011 Quinta da Arcas aromatic and floral, light and crisp with a long aftertaste.
Alvarinho/trajadura, 2011, Quinta de Carapecos refreshing, light, off dry and pleasant
Gazela, 2011, Quinta de Azevedo (owned by Sogrape, Portugal’s largest winery) composed of loureiro, arinto, alvarinho this is a light, fruity, off dry wine, with a pleasant finish.
Vinho Verde, 2011, Quinta de Gamariz – floral, medium weight, clean, acid-driven and invigorating.
Alvarinho, 2011, Quinta da Lixa – a family owned winery that produces three million bottles from its 70 hectare vineyards and buys grapes using mostly trajadura and loureiro.
This 100 per cent loureiro is bright, fruity, acid-driven, light, with a long aftertaste. Excellent food wine (pastas with garlic and olive oil, pastas with cream sauces, smoked salmon, grilled fresh sardines, Mediterranean vegetable stews.
Portuguese cooks have always favoured local produce out of necessity.
Portuguese captains discovered the Spice Route. Moors ruled the nation for three centuries and Portugal ruled Brazil, Goa, Angola, and Mozambique for centuries, adopting some of the spices, and recipes from these colonies.
There are recipes with cumin, paprika, piri-piri, and even curries in the Portuguese repertoire of cuisines.
Fish has always been an important protein source for Portuguese, as was bacalhao (salted cod), which the fishermen hauled off the coast of Newfoundland by the ton, and salted for the long way back to the country.
Sea bass, swordfish, clams, prawns, crayfish, crabs, squid, lamprey, and octopus are also featured on menus.
Pork, veal and goat are often used, but sparingly because of the high cost. Potatoes, kale, onions, garlic, and sausages are employed in thick soups which Portuguese love.
Cooks use mostly olive oil for frying, and for dressings.
Fresh fruits are preferred for desserts, but occasionally sweet tortes can be found, along with sweet Muscat wines from Setubal, west of Lisbon, the capital.