Posts Tagged : Restaurants

Maria Pia Restaurant in Cascais

Text José Silva | Translation Bruno Ferreira

On the Cascais marina and leaning against the walls of the citadel, with a superb view over the bay, we find this wide place fully surrounded by in glass, and the effect is so beautiful that it almost seems like the sea goes in there.

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The entrance – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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The room – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The décor is modern, airy, with some old elements and half a dozen sofas at the entrance that people can use while waiting for table or even to have some snacks and drinks before the meal.

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Room – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Room – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The tables are well set, with simplicity but with great quality. The service is in charge of young, friendly, helpful, and very professional people. One of the features of this fine eating house is that it opens at noon and serves uninterruptedly until midnight, be it snacks or a full meal. This is supported by a very well-equipped kitchen and a team of professionals led by Chef Pedro Mendes that has an extensive experience leading teams in this area. The Chef bets on a menu that consists mostly of sea products, including fresh fish and seafood, and even using algae that provide connections full of freshness, which taste like the sea. Over here some seasonal products are also served, like truffles, that I could recently experience during a very nice dinner.

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Montado Alentejano – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Truffles’ rice and Alentejo pork’s tenderloin – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

We started with the “montado alentejano” – head of xara (hog head cheese), acorn and truffle – followed by a creamy truffles’ rice and Alentejo pork’s tenderloin and flour sausage.

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Orange – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Couvert – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

We ended the meal with five orange textures, very well achieved. But let’s try some of the Maria Pia restaurant’s menu dishes.

First, the couvert, featuring olives’ bread and homemade bread, and thin and crunchy toast to dip in the crushed coriander or to spread with normal butter, beet butter or butter with cuttlefish ink. A beautiful start!!

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Tomato soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Gazpacho – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Of course the soups and broths couldn’t be missing: a creamy tomato soup with beaten egg and flavored croutons, a delicious soup of Algarve clams and a refreshing beaten gazpacho, slightly spicy with the tomato giving it a thick cream that wraps the other raw vegetables. It all tasted very good!

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Atlantic crab mouths with lemon emulsion – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Sea bass ceviche – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

As starters we can enjoy worked oysters tasting like the sea, delicious Atlantic crab mouths with lemon emulsion, well-seasoned sea bass ceviche and tuna tartar with sesame and ginger, and tuna pataniscas with soy sauce.

Or a platter of clams with lemon and coriander, to eat by hand and dip the bread in the sauce, a treat.

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Black bread soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Shrimp over black linguini – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Then we had a black bread soup of seafood with fried cuttlefish, a beautiful match. The extra hot spicy shrimp over black linguini and the fried sea bass with algae risotto. All delicious.

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Cod risotto – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Sea bass à Bulhão Pato – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The creamy cod risotto is also an option, as is the Algarve cockle xerém with squid in tempura or an incredible rice with coriander with bass à Bulhão Pato. All great!

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Braised tuna – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

To end perfectly we had braised tuna, beet cream and sautéed vegetables. The tuna was on point with a fantastic texture, the assorted vegetables were very well worked.

In the terrace, we did not withstood a Preguinho with excellent meat in olive bread and garlic mayonnaise, tender and tasty, really good… There almost wasn’t space for the apple crumble with ice cream. The wine list is still evolving, and there’s a promise of many new features, the most important of which is a terrace in a gazebo above the restaurant with very fresh seafood and sparkling wines, white wines and some rosés, in the company of that landscape.

It will be amazing!

From the kitchen to the vineyard, the wines of Margarida Cabaço

Text João Pedro de Carvalho | Translation Bruno Ferreira

The good decisions we make in life sometimes lead us into the path of success. Like many others this is a story of success. It all began when young Margarida arrived in Estremoz and fate dictated it would be there she would find the love of her life, Joaquim Cabaço, descendant of the Cabaço family. Joaquim early learned the art of the fields and vineyard and it was him together with his wife that planted the current vineyard, in 1992. Back then and lacking own wine production or winery all the grapes were sold to producers from the region. On another hand Margarida’s passion by cuisine led her to open one of the Alentejo cuisine temples, São Rosas Restaurant.

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Margarida Cabaço at the door of her restaurant, São Rosas

At some point, and despite all the art and mastery that she puts in her kitchen Margarida felt the need to complement it with something that also had her hand. And so, along with the 2001 harvest the Monte dos Cabaços project was born and the grapes that were previously sold now gave birth to the couple’s first wine, interestingly it was one Syrah produced from a vineyard with three years. From a total of 130 hectares of vineyard, 55 are destined to Monte dos Cabaços project and the rest for their son Tiago Cabaço. Nowadays the range of wines is grew and is broader, the winemaking is in charge of winemaker Susana Estéban but Margarida Cabaço always has the last word.

The selection process starts in the vineyard just as she does with the products that she selects for São Rosas, the quality criteria is always present. The best blends are entitled to age in casks and when they show a higher level they are used for Monte dos Cabaços Reserva. As for the special range of wine named Margarida (which I will not approach for now) are made with the best grape variety of each vintage. The first wine was made in 2005 and nowadays we taste Monte dos Cabaços 2013, which is composed by the Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro grape varieties and is aged in stainless steel. Shows very ripe and vigorous fruit (citric, apple), lemon tree’s green leaf and white flowers in a direct and forthright set that has some nerve. In the mouth it shows somewhat tense, there’s a balance between the ripe and juicy fruit and the dryness, it’s fresh and has a good finish.

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Monte dos Cabaços Colheita Seleccionada Branco 2013 – Photo by João Pedro de Carvalho | All Rights Reserved

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Monte dos Cabaços Colheita Seleccionada Red 2009 and Monte dos Cabaços Reserva Red 2008 – Photo by João Pedro de Carvalho | All Rights Reserved

Now the reds, Monte dos Cabaços Colheita Seccionada 2009 is centered in ripe fruit, berries and forest fruits, some plum, notes of black chocolate, tobacco, black pepper, fresh and good intensity. Well-structured set, tasty mid-palate and a long finish. For last but not the least is Monte dos Cabaços Reserva 2008 that aged in casks and was made with Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet. An attractive and serious wine with very ripe black fruit wrapped in freshness and some jam, good set harmony with hints of spices and very good concentration with the wood very well integrated. Very engaging and at the same time showing nerve and grab, some austerity even, which is felt in the background. In the mouth there’s a festival of sensations, nerve and freshness with a firm structure the grants it longevity and a fantastic performance at the table.

Bulls – A Rodízio restaurant of quality in Matosinhos

Text José Silva | Translation Bruno Ferrerira

In Matosinhos, in a space that was already home for several restaurants over the past two decades, an investor decided to create a restaurant that is mostly dedicated to the much popular and traditional Brazillian Rodízio (all-you-can-eat). – Bulls.

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Entrance – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Setting off from facilities with a very strong presence of granite rock they decided to keep that rock beauty effect and added wooden slats to the floor and the ceiling. The huge background wall that has the restaurant’s name is white.

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Big white wall – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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The Counter- Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The counter is large and holds some of the wines that compose the long wine list, which complements well the overall quality of what’s served. The room is big but cozy, the tables very are well-set and have everything needed to enjoy a nice meal.

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The Counter – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

This is a rodizio restaurant but the products are of great quality starting with the meat types that are used. The service is professional and in charge of someone that already works with this kind of menus for many years.

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Caipirinha – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Quail Eggs – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Back to the beverages. The much popular caipirinha had to be present and I must say it is very well prepared. But, once again the difference lies in the great quality of the aguardente and cachaça used.

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Cheese Balls – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Bola de carne – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Already on the table and to join the first caipirinha came quail eggs, fried onion, tasty and fluffy cheese balls, bola de carne, codfish balls, rissoles and croquettes, and a beautiful octopus salad very well-seasoned.

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Entries – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Octupus salad – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The natural choice of the next thing to eat was the rodizio, which started with the traditional chicken drumsticks, linguiça Toscana and steak with cheese. Then it was time for very crispy french fries, farofa (a toasted manioc or maize flour mixture), and loose dry rice to match the creamy black beans and the well-seasoned cabbage Mineira.

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White rice – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Farofa – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

In the kitchen several meats were still being worked, cooked in live fire: hump steak, rib, sirloin, tri tip and filet steak (in this case the normal version and the garlic version, both delicious).

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Meat – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

And so it began the festival of fantastic meats in long iron skewers, sliced at the table with very sharp knives in very thin slices. To those who like it there was a bit of chili sauce to liven up the meat taste. And we ate once, and then again, and again and again until we were full and satisfied.

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Hump steak – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Sirloin – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

But there was still a little room for some slices of grilled pineapple sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon. A great rodizio in a space of very good taste. But there are other options in the menu, from fish to meat. You can go from tiger shrimp to codfish to the traditional oven roasted kid. The fruit and some of the desserts (made on the restaurant) complete an excellent meal where meats of high quality shine very high. I recommend a walk on the seaside afterwards…

Contacts
Bulls | Restaurante de Rodizio
Rua Brito e Cunha, 515
4450-088, Matosinhos
Tel: (+351) 229 381 184
Email: geral@bulls.pt or reservas@bulls.pt
Website: www.bulls.pt

Toca da Raposa, a place to hide in Douro…

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

Throughout the last few years, a number of places in Douro have emerged that specialise on serving good food, with quality, and using genuine products that have earned a safe spot on the market and are now sought after by both Portuguese people and foreigners. This is also thanks to the word spreading on social media, which is nowadays an ever more valuable and easily accessible tool.

In Ervedosa do Douro, a small village on the side of the road that climbs from the river bed up to S. João da Pesqueira, one of those places opened a few years ago, called Toca da Raposa [“The Fox’s Den”]. Right on the side of the road, but with plenty of parking space in front, we are welcomed into a very cosy and welcoming place. It’s well decorated, sober, and with very good taste.

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Toca da Raposa – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

A few tables stand at the entrance; then, you see a broad counter and a few more tables, a wooden floor, some wooden walls and others in schist, many shelves filled with bottles of wine, which they also work very well with here.

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Toca da Raposa – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Toca da Raposa – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The mother directs the kitchen like a pro, her hands making pure magic at times; the daughter runs the room with knowledge and good taste, presenting the dishes and proposing high-quality wines to go with the meal. Douro wines naturally cover most of the menu. The result is always magnificent, offering visitors well-presented intense meals with plenty of variety, from appetisers to more elaborate main courses, with balanced seasoning on perfectly-cooked food that always enhances the quality of the products used. After selecting the food, when we shift to the choice or choices of wine, we can always count on the daughter to show us the wines on the shelves and in the long list; they are not there just by any chance. You can tell she is a knowledgeable, enlightened person who knows the wines, where they come from, their characteristics, and the many harmonisations that come through with the different dishes on the menu. This is not unrelated to the fact that many producers of the Douro region – and that area especially – come by to eat. S. João da Pesqueira is the municipality of this region with the highest amount of Douro wine producers. On our last visit, after we were comfortably sat at our table, we nibbled on a few toasted almonds that came with a 10 Year Old White Port by Andresen, served at the right temperature. Very good.

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Míscaros mushrooms – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Fried octopus filets – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Immediately afterwards, a delicious regional bread was served with very well-prepared appetisers: very tasty míscaros mushrooms (man on horseback/yellow knight) grilled with olive oil, and fried octopus filets with soft batter.

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Small river fish – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Toasted alheira – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Then, delicious small river fish fried in pickling brine, a delicious toasted alheira with a slightly sharp taste and a crunchy skin, served with sautéed plump greens.

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To close the session of appetisers – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

To close the session of appetisers and “watermill flavours”, we had toasted regional bread with olive oil, presunto, and cheese in olive oil. Excellent! So far, we had drunk the white Gambozinos Reserva 2013, that was always level with the food; we moved on to a red, Beira Douro Colheita 2012, both charged by the glass.

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Míscaros rice – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Bízaro-pig steaks – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The red made a good accompaniment for the míscaros rice – prepared to perfection, creamy and tasty, with grilled, thin Bízaro-pig steaks from the neck.

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Grilled kid – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

And we still had grilled kid with stewed potatoes and sautéed cabbage – very well cooked countryside food.

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Dessert – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Dessert – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Already pushing it, but with a 2008 LBV Port by Noval in our hands, we started on the almond pie, egg pudding, a mountain cheese with quince jam, and nuts, which left us exhausted… but delighted.

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The Douro – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Then we moved down to Pinhão, to see the Douro, always his old self…

Gaveto restaurant, a reference in seafood restaurants

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

Gaveto restaurant started off as a seafood eatery in Matosinhos – yet another one. It was bought by Manuel Pinheiro in 1984.

From then onwards, they carried on serving seafood, but the place was turned into a more comfortable restaurant with good traditional Portuguese food. The list of clients gradually grew, and the restaurant was always very busy, which was the result of not only the friendliness and professionalism that the owner always demanded of his staff, but also thanks to the extremely high-quality products used in the many dishes they offer. Those values were passed onto Mr. Pinheiro’s children, who despite having studied unrelated subjects, made an early start at helping their father in the restaurant and in the guesthouse in Porto. The guesthouse has been transformed into a high-quality boutique hotel now managed by the daughter, Cristina. The eldest son, José Manuel, started working with his father in Gaveto (Matosinhos) almost from the start. Later, in 1995, they were joined by João Carlos, the other son.

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Gaveto Restaurant – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Gaveto Restaurant – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

They put in a lot of work, dedication, simplicity, and a good relationship with both staff and customers, which grew constantly. Today, a huge amount of clients is composed of the two brothers’ friends and of regulars. The dad, Manuel, now retired, continues to pop in daily to offer one or two pieces of advice, but especially because he enjoys watching the success of his long-term project in the competent hands of his sons.

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Fresh fish – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Seafood – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The seafood and fresh fish of the day are always available on demand, with extremely simple recipe books that allow the quality of the products to glow.

Two huge beds of live seafood at the entrance are guarantees of ocean freshness.

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Lobster – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Seafood – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

In addition, a huge glass cupboard displays some ready-boiled seafood and the many types of fresh fish, in plain sight. The giant tank, usually housing lobsters, will be hosting a lot of lamprey from January, the stars of the restaurant, which will also be alive. Cooked à bordalesa [Sliced, marinated in white wine and boiled in its own blood and vinegar, served with rice or toast] or in lamprey rice, they attract crowds of fans, who will not feel disappointed through to April. Also glowing in that season will be the shad – always cooked to perfection. The snack-bar service is successful too; be it small appetisers, the delicious seafood soup, barbequed food on the bread and, of course, the traditional Francesinha (a Portuguese twist on the French croque-monsieur). To be enjoyed with an ice-cold, very well-pressed beer.

However, in the last few years, the wine service and supply has been building up a real passion to the point where the current wine list includes the biggest names in the country, and even a few very good foreign wines. Many well-known national producers have become regulars; some are even friends with the two brothers and organise many tastings and presentations of their new releases and rarities. The latter make perfect matches with many of the dishes that have become compulsory choices for many of those very clients.

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Wines – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Monkfish rice – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Besides the seafood dishes that combine well with sparkling wines and refreshing full-bodied whites, the choice becomes refined, with the monkfish rice or the superb lobster rice, one of the best dishes I know. Or even a special white to side with a sole or a piece of grouper grilled on charcoal.

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Lobster rice – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Seafood rice – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The seafood rice is very traditional of this place, and so are the tasty and plump Bulhão Pato clams [Clams are cooked in white wine and olive oil].

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Bulhão Pato clams – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Narcisa-style codfish – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Also on the menu are the codfish meals, especially the Narcisa-style codfish: tall chunks of cod fried to perfection with a lot of fried onion and potato rounds.

Or even a traditional carne de porco à alentejana [Fried pork cubes and clams with potato cubes]. On Saturdays, the tripas à moda do Porto [Boiled tripes with fresh and smoked meats and vegetables.] dish brings in many loyal customers.

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Carne de porco à alentejana – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Seafood soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

On our last visit, we began with the delicious seafood soup, which had a delicate touch of spices.

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John dory – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Redoma White 2013 – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Afterwards, we had a plain fillet of fresh hake with a gorgeous Russian salad (cold salad of boiled vegetables with boiled egg and mayo); then, we ended the meal with john dory in very well-fried thin pieces, accompanied with a gorgeous seafood panada of the fish roe!

The Redoma White 2013 behaved beautifully…

Contacts
Restaurante O Gaveto
Rua Roberto Ivens, 826
4450-249 Matosinhos – Portugal
Tel: (+351) 229 378 796
Fax: (+351) 229 383 812
E-mail:geral@ogaveto.com
Website: www.ogaveto.com

Areia Restaurant Bar, a delicious meal by the sea

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

One day, this genuine Minho lady, born in Caminha, decided to devote herself to cooking, a passion that gradually took her over, and is now her whole life. Fishing is, together with agriculture, one of the main sources of income in the district; taking all this into account, Margarida Rego started researching, studying, tasting and trying to get to know products at the higher end. And so she continued creating dishes, making changes and even some provocations, without neglecting the traditional good things from her homeland. She also enjoys meeting her suppliers, some of which are also her friends.

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The Beach – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

These were the reasons why she embarked on managing a space which isn’t much more than a beach hut, Areia Restaurant Bar, in the beautiful Praia do Carreço, a bit further north of Viana do Castelo.

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The Restaurant – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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The Restaurant – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Margarida still keeps the place as a beach hut, where she serves snacks; however she has adapted it – both indoors and the terrace outside – to serve her very unique cuisine, which evolves according to what becomes available, especially products that come out of the sea: sea urchins, red-beak goose barnacles, rock crab, the always excellent bream, – and when it’s tastier – the very octopus, john dory, sea bass, prawns in their season, and a real passion for seaweed from that very same sea, and which she cooks superbly. The meat as well; either pork, beef of the barrosão or cachena breed, depending on what is available.

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The al-fresco area – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Besides, there’s all that modern and airy modest space right on the sand, fully invaded by that amazing landscape, and the all-mighty sea in the background. The service is remarkable, with quality staff, who serve you pleasantly and efficiently throughout the meal, including an exquisite wine service.

Although it was a bit windy, we decided for the al-fresco area, which turned out right. Bottles were opened after having been kept cool in a frappé, while we drank them.

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Bread – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Percebes – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Various kinds of bread were served, with olive oil and different condiments; all of a sudden the percebas (or goose barnacles in the north of Portugal) appeared, absolutely gorgeous!

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Rock Crab – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Immediately followed by already opened rock crabs, full of eggs, tasting of the sea.

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The ready-peeled sautéed prawns – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Also tasting of the sea were the ready-peeled sautéed prawns on a bed of delicious seaweed, their antennae were well fried and crunchy; we ate them all.

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The dish with its contents – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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The dish poured with rock crab broth – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

That’s when the first provocation arrived – a rock crab soup. First, they served the dish with its contents, and immediately poured the rock crab broth over them; excellent.

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Octupus – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The octopus was very tender, served with batata a murro (literally punched baked potato), sautéed cabbage and a very soft red pepper foam – very good.

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John dory fillet – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Margarida’s second provocation followed, an excellent john dory fillet on a bed of green beans and various types of seaweed – symbolizing both the countryside and the beach, which you can see on either side – and also a celery and garlic purée.

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Sea urchin – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

To rinse our palate and prepare for meat, we were surprised with a sea urchin, very refreshing with little bits of strawberry.

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Barrosã meat – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Then it was time to eat meat, or barrosã in this case, it was cooked just right, very tasty, with a side dish of delicious mushroom risotto and a green salad where rocket and purslane stood out.

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Chocolate mousse – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The meal ended with a superb chocolate mousse, sprinkled with… salt flower, and the effect was unbelievable.

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The Wines – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

During the meal, we strolled through the António Futuro whites, a modern and appetising young vinho verde by Vale de Ambrães; another verde was already mature, well structured, and consistent; then, the elegance of an Alvarinho by Quinta de Santiago, mineral, saline, and very refreshing. The Ortigão sparkling wine brought along a young and very lively modern Bairrada to prepare us for the right Alentejano: complex, very elegant, well matched with the wood, the Esporão Reserva. At last, a delicious Quinta da Manoella appeared on the scene, Douro in all its strength. For the last drink, a Port full of tradition, Quinta Seara d’ Ordens LBV 2010, that lingered in the mouth for a long time.

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The Sea – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The sea, oh well… it was still right in front of us…

Contacts
Areia Restaurante Bar
Praia de Carreço
4900-278 Carreço
Viana do Castelo – Portugal
Tel: (+351) 258 821 892
E-mail: geral@areia-restaurantebar.com
Website: www.areia-restaurantebar.com

Narcissus Fernandesii Restaurant

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

A five-star hotel in Vila Viçosa was the latest news about two years ago and has proven very successful. Seeing as it belongs to a family involved in the marble business, it’s only but natural for marble to be the noble raw material most used in the decoration. There’s a touch of marble of different colours and different origins everywhere, conveying a very unique glamour to the space around. Refined and highly comfortable bedrooms and en-suites will offer you an invigorating and peaceful stay. The tranquility of the beautiful Vila Viçosa invites you for a stress-free walk around it, including a visit to the old castle and The Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, an amazing museum, which tells you a bit of the History of Portugal. Afterwards, when you arrive back at the hotel, all the comfort and support are there to help you recover from your walk: outdoor and indoor pool, and a perfectly well-equipped spa. Professional, competent and friendly staff will wait your every need. In the morning over a fantastic breakfast, in the afternoon or evening in the bar and, of course, in the restaurant, one of the attractions of this hotel, curiously called ‘Narcissus Fernandesii’. A wide space with two separate rooms and an outdoor terrace looking on the pool.

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Main Room – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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A large glass top – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

In the main room, wide and elegant, a huge table stands out – a large glass top sits on a gigantic stand made of a single marble slab. The breakfast items are displayed on it, and it can also host meals served to groups of guests. Lighter meals at lunchtime and the à la carte menu for full-course meals in the evening.

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Local Bread – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Tasty butter preparations – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

There’s always excellent local bread and olive oil from Alentejo, but also some very tasty butter preparations.

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Codfish morsels – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Farinheira buns – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Some appetisers to start with – always very well presented, such as codfish morsels in a mint açorda (spiced, cold broth), farinheira buns, red onion jam, and shoot salad, or partridge pie with fruits of the forest, and sautéed seasonal mushrooms.

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Partridge pie – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Pumpkin cream – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Traditional soups can’t be missing, like pumpkin cream with poached egg and croutons made from Alentejo bread, pumpkin soup with truffle cream served in a cup, and a delicious purslane soup.

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Pumpkin Soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Purslane soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Or a foie gras with a sharon-fruit emulsion, foie bonbon and acorn toast, unbelievable.

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Foie gras – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Carabineiro from the Algarve – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Codfish can’t be missing, like codfish with Galician olive crust over potato à brás and algae purée; even some fish and fresh seafood, like the carabineiro from the Algarve (special large prawn from this region) with cauliflower purée and coriander, endives and lemon emulsion.

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Steer tornedó – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Venison smoked – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

And the richness of a steer tornedó with foie gras, sautéed vegetables, roast potatoes and spinach cream, or venison smoked in oak and rosemary, with a Madeira wine reduction, broad beans and coriander shoots, quince cream, cauliflower in breadcrumbs and a crunchy presunto (prosciutto) made from beef.

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Vila Viçosa orange variations – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The desserts are fantastic, but the Vila Viçosa orange variations were superb.

Vila Viçosa awaited in its serenity…

Contacts
Largo Gago Coutinho Nº11
7160-214 Vila Viçosa
Portugal
Tel: (+351)268 887 010
E-mail: reservas@alentejomarmoris.com
Website: www.alentejomarmoris.com

Brasão, a successful restaurant that treasures tradition…

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

It’s near Felgueiras, and has been practising traditional cuisine for quite a while, even after the required modernisation  of the premises. Entirely leaded by Mr. Carvalho, the owner and chef de cuisine with has an undeniable passion for what he does.

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Brasão – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Brasão it’s a very pleasant space, with two separate dining rooms, both displaying the same care for table layout and for the attentive and professional service.

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Two Rooms – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Even though the kitchen is his main post, our host is always running back and forth, ensuring his customers are not neglected, and going from table to table to greet them and find out what they feel like having. He’ll come back to the tables later on, to find out about how they liked it, always wearing a smile and the wisdom of many years handling these products and the kitchen. The point is exactly the quality of the products, for only first class ingredients make part of their stock, from fresh fish from the coast to cod, and all the meats: either pork, beef or calf, and mountain lamb, all of which he turns into unbelievable dishes. This excellent professional reveals a restless search for perfection, even when preparing a mere dessert. Wine is another of his passions, and real treasures can be found in his well-stocked cellar (just to mention an amazing collection of bottles of aguardente – rum-like liquor or spirit –, about which Mr Carvalho is deeply knowledgeable. On our last visit, we were served bread and broa (corn-bread), salpicão (pickled-pork sausage) and thinly sliced presunto (salted or smoked ham) while we waited for one of the house specialities: grouper soup.

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Small Toasts – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Grouper soup – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

It’s a real tribute to quality, very fresh fish in generous portions, garlic, lots of onion, green and red pepper, and coriander.

Some toast on a plate, a generous ladle, a bit more steaming broth, an overpowering aroma, and finally voluptuousness, as you eat with your eyes closed.

Afterwards, we tasted a superb oxtail stew with greens, which is very hard to describe such was its perfection, texture and flavour; amazing! Then, another bestseller usually only available on Wednesdays (or by order): roasted ox spareribs.

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“Rabo de Boi” – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Roastec Ox Ribs – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The slab of baby back ribs is seasoned and roasted in one piece and then carved in front of you, after the coat of fat is removed.

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The Main Course – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

On your plate, you get slices of meat with that tasty layer of fat, crunchy sliced-potato chips, black beans and a sinful oven-baked rice, which also accompanied the oxtail. We are over the moon!

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Carrot Cake – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

That’s when dessert is served, an ensemble duet composed of toucinho do céu (‘Bacon from heaven’, a rich-custard sweet which includes no bacon whatsoever) and of a fantastic carrot cake: soft, sprinkled with sugar and slices of roasted almonds, pumpkin jam and some spearmint leaves… now this is heaven on Earth!

The wines were up to scratch: first we drank a white from the Amarante area, called Sem Igual (Nothing like it); very floral, with notes of citrus and white fruit, a remarkable elegance on the mouth, a beautiful modern wine. To “counterbalance” the meats, no better than a sparkling red made from the Vinhão variety, Afros Yakkos Grand Reserve 2006. Simply fantastic, with very fine bubbles, persistent fruits of the forest, notes of dark chocolate, intense yet simultaneously elegant tannins, and a long lasting finish. To go along with the dessert, the choice of an old aguardente – really old –, the classic Adega Velha. This one was over 50 years old; beautiful, slightly cooled, with toasted aromas, dried fruits, in a lovely contrast with the sweetness.

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Sem Igual, Afros Yakkos Grande Reserva 2006 & Aguardente Velha Adega Velha – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Aguardente Velha Serradayres – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

However, a surprise was yet to come, just the way Mr Carvalho’s likes it: another very old aguardente, which I hadn’t seen for 10 years, a Serradayres. Also over fifty years old, incredibly soft and very elegant, it made a perfect finish for a great meal.

In Brasão, tradition is kept alive…

Contacts
Cimo de Vila – Refontoura
4610 Felgueiras
Tel: (+351) 255 336 118
E-mail: info@restaurante-brasao.pt
Website: www.restaurante-brasao.pt

A Taste of Alentejo at London’s New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

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Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

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Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

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Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

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House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

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Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%

A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes

Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting

Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

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Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

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House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

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Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%