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The Jesuíta – You Sassy Portuguese Pastry You!

Jesuita - Portuguese PastryA few years ago, I was dining sozinho (alone) in a small neighborhood cafe in Porto when I caught sight of this gorgeous pastry in the display case. With crispy folds of puff pastry piled high under a hard, sugary crust of perfection, I thought “damn girl, you need that!”

But what looked like a small dainty pastry wasn’t decorous in the least! Even if I wanted to lift my pinkie to flaunt my European residence, I couldn’t as the sheer size of this buttery beast was massive. Not only that, as you take that first bite, an avalanche of filo flakes cascade across your chest creating a toasted brown mosaic that’s virtually impossible to brush away. Romantic rendezvous’ beware!

That said, the flavor warrants a cafe catastrophe, because when paired with a Tawny Port wine, or better yet, a dipped into a steaming hot meia de leite (coffee with milk), this pastry is sinful! The milk not only contains the Jesuita’s propensity to explode across the cafe, but it gives it just enough creaminess to round out its toasted cinnamon interior.

As a traditional Doces Conventuais (convent sweet), it’s no surprise that the shape of the Jesuita mimics the frocks worn by the Jesuit priests, nor that the dessert was brought to Confeitaria Moura in Santo Tirso, Portugal over a century ago by a Spanish pastry chef who is rumored to have worked directly with the Jesuit priests in Bilbao, Spain. What is a surprise is how quickly you’ll fall in love!

Next time you’re in Portugal, swing by one of the many pastry shops gracing Portugal’s cobblestone streets. They’re not only quaint and the perfect place to cozy up to a quirky grandmother, but they’re filled with sumptuous pastries worthy of exploring! If you need help, check out our various articles on Portugal’s vast array of breads, cheeses, coffees and pastries to savor! Or better yet, check out our book on Northern Portuguese cuisine, which includes the Jesuita and more!

Cheers!

Gabriella

Your Ultimate Guide to Camellias in Porto

Camellia PortugalIn the North of Portugal, parks radiate green under rain filled winter skies. Moss gently spreads along ancient stone walls, vines creep up porcelain tiles as Camellia trees burst in red, pinks and whites. It’s mesmerizing, beautiful and absolutely worth seeing for yourself!

Camellias, however, didn’t originate in Portugal, like the cork oak or lavender bush did; they’re home to eastern and southeastern Asia where they’ve been revered and celebrated for more than 5,000 years.

The small, shiny leaves of Camellia sinensis were first used in China and Japan to make black tea, and was later brought to Portugal in the 16th century. With the marriage of Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza to King Charles II in 1662, tea meandered its way to England where it’s become an integrated part of British culture.

Mind you, tea producing leaves of Camellia sinesis are not the same species that’s brought the city of Porto to floral delight every winter. The ornamental Camellia japonica is responsible for over 3,000 hybrids worldwide of which 400 were created in Portugal. And though the first living camellias recorded in Europe in the early 18th century were said to be in the gardens of  Robert James, Lord Petre, the Portuguese contend that Camellias arrived in Portugal well beforehand. In the Museu Azulejos (Tile Museum), you can find painted azulejos depicting camellias in Portugal dating back the 15th century.

When to Experience Camellias

This exotic botanical species thrives in Portugal’s mild Atlantic climate, making the city a rich, floral wonderland for almost half the year! From January to March the North of Portugal is completely blanketed in silky multi-colored petals, providing you a wide window to choose from. If you’re planning a spring trip, fabulous! As a result of climate change, Camellias are prolonging their stay in many parts of the North, giving you an extra opportunity to savor their beauty. If, however, your trip is edging towards summer or early autumn, head to São Miguel on the Azorean archipelago where the greatest concentration of cultivars and broadest genetic diversity can be found. Sintra near Lisbon is also fabulous place at this time to visit!

The key point to remember when planning your visit to Porto, is that Camellias bloom in different phases, the most common being the Camellia Japonica. Some types of Camellia may show their petals up in September, while others may wait as long as April! The question being, what’s the ideal time for you!

When to visit in the North of Portugal:

  • October – December – You’ll find the first small, but active wave of Camellias coming to life
  • January – February – Optimal time to see the greatest quantity and diversity
  • March – April – The last buds will make their debut!

Where to See Camellias

camellia portugalThere’s no shortage of places to enjoy Camellias in Porto, but if you’re looking for a highest concentration of botanical beauty, we have a few “must visit” locations to make your visit worthwhile! All of the gardens listed can be accessed via public transportation or a quick cab ride from downtown Porto.

  • Jardim Botânico do Porto (Rua do Campo Alegre, 1191) this lush green garden shelters rare and exotic plant species, including a cacti garden, a greenhouse and a historical rose garden. There’s also a lake situated within the perimeter of the Botanical Garden housing a fair number of water lilies. For Camellia lovers, you’ll find a fair number of Camellia Japonica scattered throughout. Open from 9am to 6pm.
  • Parque de Serralves (Serralves Foundation) Having lived next to this stunning estate for several years, I can attest to its natural beauty! Serralves occupies a total area of 18 hectares and is composed of a wide diversity of interconnected spaces including: formal gardens, woodlands and a traditional farmhouse. Designed by Jacques Gréber, in the 1930s, it’s a fantastic day spent meandering their vast estate, enjoying a picnic and swinging by their Contemporary Art Museum that new features works by Joan Miro.

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

  • Jardins do Palacio Cristal (Rua de D. Manuel II, 4050-346) – Like the original Crystal Palace in Britain, the Porto version did not survive past 1956, but in its place, one of the largest entertainment centers was constructed. But don’t come here for the dome, come for the lush green terraces and gardens filled with rhododendrons, camellias, pines, ginkgos, and lime trees. There are also several themed gardens including the Jardim dos Sentimentos (garden of feelings), Jardim das Plantas Aromaticas (garden of aromatic plants), Jardim do Roseiral (garden of roses) and the Quinta da Macieirinha (little apple tree estate). While there, visit the Romantic Museum, set within the Quinta da Macieirinha, or the local library containing a cafe and an art space for the little ones. Open year round from 8am to 7pm.
  • Quinta Villar d’Allen (Rua do Freixo, 194) – If you’re craving one of the most unbelievable Camellia experiences you’ll ever have, come here! Not only does the estate house some of the oldest Camellias in Portugal, but features an incredibly diversity that can rarely be seen by the public. Isaura Allen and José Alberto Allen, have tenderly cared for each and every tree for decades, a natural wonder passed on within the family for over 200 years. During your visit, be sure to tour their mansion – a living museum with artifacts dating back to Napoleon. Mon-Fri 8:30am to 6pm; Sat 9am to 5pm. Guided visits from 10:00 a.m. to 5pm. with advanced booking by phone.

Where to Stay

Camellia PortugalConsidering the prolific nature of the Camellia in Porto, you could stay pretty much anywhere, but for convenience sake, we’ve provided a handful of places (in various price ranges) nearest to Camellia filled parks and gardens.

  • Sheraton Hotel or Porto Palacio – both great locations to visit the Botanical Garden, Serralves and Porto’s City Park
  • Palacio Freixo – just up the road from Quinta Villar d’Allen
  • Porto Eurostar – located just along the river, it’s the perfect location if you’re keen to get to both the parks and the Villar d’Allen Estate via taxi.

What to Consider

This time of the year can be schizophrenic in the North of the country. So come prepared!

  • Clothing: Rain gear! Though climate change has put a delicious spin on Porto’s schizophrenic weather, prepare for seasonal showers. Or, follow the aged wisdom of Portuguese grandmothers by layering yourself in wool, rain gear and more wool. Additionally, consider all-terrain walking shoes well suited for mud, cobble stones and city walking.
  • Camera Gear: Beyond all weather protection to keep rain away from your uber expensive lenses, consider a tall tripod to reach the taller tree flowers, a good macro lens if you have it, and a 70-200mm to reach the flowers you might not be able to get to near the ground. You may also want a small, portable tarp to place on the ground when you need to get low.

What not to Miss!

It’s a bit of a trick question, because really, what shouldn’t you visit! The city always has heaps of concerts and events occurring throughout the year, but for ease, let’s point you to a select few!

  • Camellia Exposition in Porto – In March (date to be announced), the Palacio da Bolsa will host a Camellia exhibit featuring some of the most exquisite cuttings from across the North. Check with the Tourism Office for more information.
  • Port Wine lodges on the opposite side of the Douro River, these ancient lodges are a lovely way to spend your afternoon! Guided visits are available throughout year, as are wine tastings in the cellars.
  • Rabelo Boat Cruises – If you wrap up in layers, this one hour tour gives you a lovely view of the six bridges adorning the Douro River.
  • Casa da Musica – considered the major concert hall of Porto, they feature three orchestras – Orquestra Nacional do Porto, Orquestra Barroca and Remix Ensemble – as well as various guest musicians from around the world.
  • Traditional Cuisine – From fresh seafood to oozy rich steak sandwiches, your stomach will be quickly satiated! For those needing nature, visit the vertiginous vine-covered terraces of the Douro Valley, the crystalline waterfalls of Geres National Park or surf the breakwaters of Matosinhos and Espino!

If you’re needing a botanical guide during your stay, let us know! We’re more than happy to seek out the ideal garden or nature tour while you’re here.

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

 

Staff Picks: 5 New Experiences to Enjoy in Portugal this Year!

Happy New Year from the Catavino Team!

With the year just kicking off, welcoming heaps of new opportunities, a trip to Portugal should be at the top of your list! Brimming with soulful foods, diverse wines and stunning natural wonders, it’s no wonder that Portugal has been rated as one of the top tourism destinations in Europe. But what are the hidden Portuguese treasures most overlooked by tourists? We have a few ideas!

Catavino’s Staff’s Recommendations for 2017 in Portugal

madeira-oliveriasRyan CEO – 2017 is the year to try a Madeira wine! Think nuts, caramel and dried fruits swirling in a bright, vibrant liquid. You’ll wonder how something so packed with sugar can taste so dry! With its racy acidity and cornucopia of flavors, you’ll wonder what took you so long to savor it. Better yet, if you really want to fall in love, make it your resolution to visit the island where they originate. Madeira is not only beautiful, but has loads of food and flavors to enjoy!

Andreia Office Ninja – If you’re a music lover, buy a ticket to the Paredes de Coura Festival! Over the past 25 years, hundreds of incredible bands have played in this cozy northern village over the course of five days. From bluesy jazz to hardcore rock, the lineup is not only exceptional, but so is the setting. The stage is set within a grassy embankment surrounded by trees and just stones throw from the river, making it an idillic natural environment to disconnect and enjoy the music. Vast camping spaces are available, and traditional meals are served within the village of Paredes de Coura. This is a music festival not to miss. (photo by Ryan Opaz)

Caldeira Velha AzoresAna Tour Coordinator – Nestled in the mid-Atlantic, some 1,500 km to the west of Lisbon, lies the lush green archipelago of the Azores. The Azores is a collection of nine islands, the biggest of which is the São Miguel….which I’ve had the privilege of visiting twice in my life. I say “privilege” because on the North slope of the Fogo volcano you’ll find a thermal…waterfall to swim in called Caldeira Velha ! If this hot spring isn’t appealing enough, know that you’ll be relaxing among a dense forest of tropical plants, which basically makes every single concern you’ve ever had just simmer away in a relaxing pool of fabulousness.

Sonia Writer – It’s almost impossible to ask me this question as there are zillions of Portuguese flavors I desperately feel people should try in 2017, but I’ll go for the least experienced – Maranho. It’s one of the more unique foods in Portuguese cuisine, originating in the Serta region of central Portugal. Maranho is flavorful enchido (sausage) made with goat meat, or mutton, mixed with rice and a generous amount of fresh aromatic herbs, particularly mint. Not the easiest to source, but Maranho is by far one of the most exquisite Portuguese flavors you’ll ever experience! (photo by David Stanley)

Rota Vincente PortugalGabriella Co-Founder – The Portuguese are famous for many things, but their adoration of the sea far exceeds anything else. From perfectly grilled fish to world-renown surfers, the sea has always been the base of Portuguese culture. Which is why Portugal has gained notoriety for their beautifully curated walking trails that hug the Atlantic. My suggestion, check out the Rota Vicentina. Extending approximately 340km along one of the most beautiful and best preserved coastal areas of Europe, it’s a phenomenal objective to put on your 2017 bucket-list. (photo by Dani Alvarez)

We hope these give you some ideas for things to do, taste and sip on this coming year! Let us know if you have a favorite hidden treasure that we should share.

Cheers from the whole Catavino Team

Create your own Delicious Portuguese Jam this Holiday

The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal - Maria Teixeira

Fragrant, seasonal fruits and vegetables aren’t all that you’ll find at Bolhão Market. Many of the produce vendors transform their sappy melons, juicy tomatoes and gigantic gourds into tantalizing doces (jams), geleias (jelly), compotas (preserves) and marmelada (quince paste). Tomato jam is especially common in Portuguese homes as is Doce de Gila, made from the gila gourd a type of spaghetti squash. These are especially delicious once you learn their grandmother secrets to making Portuguese jams and jellies.

What makes these fruits and vegetables unique is their source. Many of the vendors at Bolhão remain connected to their villages farther north. Maria Teixeira, for instance, gets her vibrant gourds from her mother’s farm in Penafiel.

When in Portugal, pay a visit to the market to pick up a few jars of these homemade treats. Perfect to enjoy in your airbnb or to take home with you.

Want to learn more about the life cycle of Bolhao’s fruits and vegetables, check out our new book on Portuguese cuisine, The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal.

Cheers, Sonia Andresson Nolasco & Gabriella Opaz

Highlights: Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal

With nine new Michelin stars added to last year’s 17, it’s an exciting time to indulge in The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal. Our newly-released book shares with the world the exclusive, never before told life and food stories forgotten for 100 years inside Porto’s iconic Bolhão Market.

The grandmother food stories we found in this charismatic open-air market are a cultural treasure, and it’s people and places like these that are partly responsible for the success of the haute cuisine putting Portugal’s gastronomy on the map today. Many of the country’s award-winning chefs tap into local foods and traditions to achieve their highly personalized Portuguese flavors with a twist.

In our book, discover inspiring people, unique perspectives, the foods you love and those that you never even knew existed in Portugal. Through every incredible story and captivating image, experience this extraordinary country in an entirely new way.

Let us share a bit of our book with you with some of our favorite excerpts and images from our book, but trust us, there’s tons more to discover!

The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal Rosa Perreira Bolhao

Helena Rosa – Bread Vendor

“It goes beyond the bread for these women. Selling at the market gives them a chance to do what Portuguese women do best – care for others. Step into any traditional Portuguese home and you’ll surely be showered with a buffet of cheese, jams, cured meats and olives, all with bread as the centerpiece. In the Fado (Portuguese blues) song “Uma Casa Portuguesa” (A Portuguese Home), the lyrics say that in a Portuguese home bread and wine are a must, and when there’s a knock on the door, insist they sit at the table. This scenario comes with a promise of kisses and arms flung wide open to greet you. The warming scents of bread inside Bolhão are a reminder of the joy it brings to the Portuguese and the people they share it with.”

The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal Ana Castro_bolhao

Ana Cardosa – Vegetable Vendor

“In the age of mass production, it’s incredible to know that the woman selling you kale is the very same woman who grew, picked and shredded it by hand. No hidden agendas. No middle man. Just Ana. It goes beyond customer service, it’s simple, genuine and heartwarming. The fact that Ana and many of her peers grow their own fruits and vegetables is a major perk for patrons on the hunt for authentic, hard to procure items like the seasonal turnips from Gondomar that require an experienced hand to grow properly.”

_The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal Lucinda Leites_bolhao

Lucinda Leite – Poultry Vendor

“At Bolhão, there’s still an effort to preserve the connection between the origins of food and the people who eat it. Here, the chicken still bocks and has feathers, and its freshly butchered meat boasts smooth unfettered feet and regal, red combs. Nothing in Bolhão is sugar coated. There’s no desire or need to hide life. There’s value to buying a live chicken, whose fresh blood enriches the aromatic rice dish of arroz de cabidela, and whose offal and feet metamorphose into pipis, a petisco (small bite) of stewed chicken gizzards, hearts, liver and feet in a savory gravy of onions, garlic, tomatoes, spices, herbs and a dash of Piri-Piri. There’s comfort in knowing that the woman selling you that chicken, not only raised and nurtured it, but that she herself killed it. These vendors are more than salespeople, they’re agents of sustainability.”

If you’re interested in getting a copy of your own, or a gift for that special food lover for the holidays, simply click on the “Buy Now” button below!

 

We Wrote a Book!!

The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal

It has been a long hard road, full of ups and downs, but today we are incredibly excited to announce that Catavino’s first book, The Undiscovered Food Stories of Northern Portugal, is finished. Sonia, Ryan and I are a bit tired, but we’re extremely thrilled that we have finally reached the end of a journey that took us deep into the heart of Portuguese food.

Our muse was Bolhão Market — the heart of Porto and, until recently, the engine that powered the North of Portugal. The vendors nursed the sick, fed the forgotten and served as a lifeboat to anyone in need. Their homegrown produce became key ingredients in five-star restaurants, their meat graced the tables of royals and their bread fed hungry little bellies. They were your local therapists, healers and chefs. And if there is one sage piece of advice these people have lived by, it’s to simply care, to reach out and connect with anyone in their path.

As immigrants, an American woman living in Porto and a Portuguese woman living in the U.S.A., we felt a special kinship with the vendors, a unique understanding as to what it’s like to be sensitive about your identity and uncertain about the future. These vendors share an unbreakable bond, years of stories and struggles that are interconnected with the culinary history and heritage of Porto, but few cared to listen, and even less took the time to engage.

We chose otherwise! For three years, Sonia and I lived and breathed the market, its essence and its people. We travelled, wrote and rewrote this book to not only make it meaningful and educational for the reader, but heartfelt and respectful to the vendors. If we did our job well, you’ll not only walk away with a book that will encourage priceless values such as community, compassion and connection, but also a willingness to question how food impacts your life and the world around you. Ryan helped us by illustrating the stories with his captivating photos, which we hope you enjoy as much as we do.

Beyond highlighting the region’s gastronomy and its people’s life stories, our book is a cry for the preservation of one of the oldest open-air markets in Europe, which has been neglected for three decades. Page after page, we make an emotional and riveting case for traditional markets as the base for mindful eating, sustainable food systems and healthier and happier communities.

In our heart of hearts, we truly hope you love it!

Cheers,

Gabriella, Sonia and Ryan

 

How are Women Uniting Portugal through Wine?

The Portuguese Wine GirlsIf I say fire fighter, what gender pops into your head? Doctor? Nurse? Taxi driver? Construction worker? Beautician? Historically, many of these professions were predominately occupied by one gender, but not both.

In today’s world, there are very few professions that are solely occupied by either men or women. Unfortunately our perceptions haven’t altered. Ask a child to draw a police officer and very rarely will a woman be drawn. Same can also be said of men as nurses, hairdressers and preschool teachers.

As for winemakers, well…it’s been an all male game for a very long time, but the tide is changing, dramatically.

Here in Portugal, women have changed the vinous landscape dramatically with the likes of Filipa PatoSandra Tavares and Julia Kemper, but this is only the beginning.

Today, there is a vibrant group of women working in the Portuguese wine industry who each hail from a different region. Together, they are working as a uniting force to carry Portuguese wine around the world.

When did women start breaking through the male dominated wine industry in Portugal?

On April 25, 1974, Portugal experienced a coup, a nearly bloodless revolution that’s commonly known as the Carnation Revolution. This moment was key in the evolution of women’s rights and women’s presence in the labor market, as it democratized and opened Portugal to the rest of the world. Just a few years prior to the coup, women represented only 21% of the total economic activity. That’s minuscule! And of that 21% the most significant rates of female employment were concentrated in a very young age group (15-19 year olds) who primarily worked as unskilled laborers in traditional sectors such as: textiles, clothing, footwear and agriculture. Today, women account for approximately 49%of the labor market (Pordata data).

What have been some of the challenges for women in the Portuguese wine industry?

Although women’s access to leadership and/or senior positions in companies, particularly in the wine sector, is still lower than men’s, we prefer to look at the glass half full. Why? Because the majority of Portuguese graduates are women. This translates to more female oenologists, viticulturists, saleswomen and executives in the wine world presented with a phenomenal challenge that goes beyond gender. The challenge: how does Portugal become one of the top quality wine producing countries in the world?

Wine Girls of PortugalAre there more women getting involved that don’t necessarily come from a wine family? And if yes, what’s being done to attract them, and why are they important?

Admittedly, there are women in the group that come from Portuguese families that have been directly involved in the wine world for ages such as Francisca van Zeller of Quinta Vale D. Maria; Maria Manuel Maia of Poças Júnior; Mafalda Guedes of Sogrape; and Rita Cardoso Pinto of Quinta do Pinto. These are families who have worked hard to preserve traditional methods, inspire innovation, support sustainability and beyond all else, nurture the community. However, the profile D’Uva paints a much broader picture of the Portuguese wine landscape. Luísa Amorim, from Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Douro), didn’t enter the wine world until much later in life, having worked in hotels, marketing and management previously. Rita Nabeiro dedicated much of her professional career to her family business, Delta Café, before it founded the Alentejo winery Adega Mayor in 2007. Catarina Vieira, of Herdade do Rocim, comes from who dedicated their entire lives to agricultural machinery and cultural activities (owners of a bookstore and a newspaper). Rita Fino’s family may have been the founders of Monte da Penha in the Alentejo, but for several decades, she was an entrepreneur in textiles.

In today’s world, it’s irrelevant if you come from a large, established wine family. What matters is your raw determination, passion and knowledge to bring a wine to new heights. It’s our hope, that D’Uva is doing just this.

Are there differences in how Portuguese female winemakers make wine, whether that be in style, type or viticulture?

I think a better question might be, is it gender or a new generation of winemakers who are thinking outside the box? For us, the shift towards better quality and a greater wealth of styles is a direct result of better training, vision and education over the past few decades. Consequently, the women entering the market are not only directly affected by their training and previous work experience, but also their unique way of seeing the world. For us, it’s not about men versus women, it’s about individuals of all genders, ages and cultures who are creating phenomenal wines.

Wine Girls of PortugalOther than being professional and female, is there something else that ties them together for this project?

D’Uva not only includes female oenologists, but also sales professionals, marketers and management within the wine sector. What ties them together is not their title, but the outstanding quality of their product. And maybe more importantly, it’s their undying passion and love of wine – Portuguese in particular – that makes them fantastic ambassadors for Portugal.

What’s your mission with D’Uva?

To not only promote Portuguese wines throughout both Portugal and the world, but to set a standard of excellence in the market, with a proven record of quality and international recognition.

In terms of the wine itself, what wine style or grape variety(ies) best capture each of the D’Uva girl’s personalities.

  • Catarina Vieira – “Elegant and structured with lovely freshness and minerality. Hence, I love Antão Vaz for whites and Alicante Bouschet for reds.”
  • Francisca van Zeller – “Incredibly balanced with good acidity, fruit and soft, layered tannins. In regard to regions, I like the Douro for its quality and diversity; the Dão for freshness; and internationally, Burgundy. As for grapes, I adore a wide variety of Portuguese grapes, but if I had to choose, I’d say two red grapes from the Douro, Rabigato and Touriga Franca.”
  • Luísa Amorim – “Wines that are thoughtful, well integrated and of exceptional quality; hence why I appreciate Tinta Roriz.”
  • Mafalda Guedes – “I generally like wines that are complex with an intense aroma, representative of the best of a region. For me, Antão Vaz is perfect, showing vibrant aromas and a firm, structured profile.
  • Maria Manuel Maia – “I love red table wines that can age and evolve over time, allowing me to grow with them. Tawny style – specifically Colheitas. If I had to choose a grape that I truly appreciate, I’d have to go with Alvarinho or Touriga Nacional.”
  • Rita Cardoso Pinto – “A great wine is creamy, round and present on the palate with a finish that is not only vibrant, but lingering. Enter Arinto stage-left. It’s not only a lovely white grape but also a fabulous representative of the Lisbon wine region. It’s great as a blend or on its own, and has a lovely ability to age and pair with food. In short, it’s versatile like me!”
  • Rita Fino – “I love elegant, fresh and vibrant red wines to pair with food. Wines that show the best of a region’s climate, soils and altitude. Grapes like Arinto for its minerality and freshness or Alicante Bouschet for its structure and stunning color.”
  • Rita Nabeiro – “It’s all in the story. Regardless of the wine, it’s the story that brings it to life. Paired with the moment, the company and my state of mind, a wine has a potential to be phenomenal. What’s key is that the wine is good to me!”

If you’re interested in visiting any of these fantastic producers, or doing grand vinous tour of Portugal, contact us! Portugal is brimming with dynamic women who would love nothing more than to share their winemaking secrets with you. Let us help!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

New Portuguese Cookbook Brings Unexpected Recipes to the Table

Today, if you want to start a website called portuguesecooking.com — good luck! Ana Patuleia Ortins has owned it since 1997, just a year before Google was founded. For decades, Ana has been spreading the gospel about Portuguese food. Author of Portuguese Homestyle Cooking, she’s a pioneer in cookbooks written about Portuguese cuisine in America. After the success of her first book, Ana received tons of emails from people hungry for more recipes, inspiring her newly-released Authentic Portuguese Cooking, replete with nearly 200 recipes from mainland Portugal and the islands of Azores and Madeira.

When I married in 2004, and went into a deep withdrawal from my Portuguese mother’s delectable home cooking, I came across Ana’s first book at my Barnes & Noble. It was the only Portuguese cookbook on the shelves back then. I devoured the book, making homemade sweet red pepper paste (massa de pimentão), savory bread porridge (açorda), pork and clams (carne de porco e ameijoas) from the Alentejo, where Ana has family roots in Portugal — all with success. Over the years, I grew into a pretty good cook, and in part I have Ana’s detailed recipes to thank for the confidence I gained. Having her book in the kitchen was like having a Portuguese aunt by my side, holding my hand with step-by-step insights and instructions — but in English! Though I have several new English-written Portuguese cookbooks in my cupboard these days, Ana’s remains one of my go-to books for traditional recipes sprinkled with a sense of warmth and nurture — it’s a friendly choice for anyone interested in dabbling in Portuguese cooking, but especially for newbies in the kitchen. I bought it for all of my family and friends moving out and saying goodbye to their mother’s perfect Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, and they all loved it, too.

When I recently called Ana at her Massachusetts home about her new book, we talked for hours just as I do with my Portuguese aunts. She is as I had imagined her, an open-hearted nurturer — what a treat to speak to the woman behind the book. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Ana!

In the introduction to your new book, you profess a desire to erase the opinion that all Portuguese food is salty. Share a bit more…

Portuguese food is not any saltier than other cuisines. The hand that salts the food determines its saltiness. Properly soaked, our salted cod (bacalhau) is not salty. When used judiciously, red sweet pepper paste (massa de pimentão, a salt-cured seasoning) doesn’t render a dish salty. In fact, salt is rarely necessary when using this paste in the preparation. The recipes in my books call for coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt for the best flavor. But “coarse” is subjective to the size of the grains of salt. One tablespoon of coarse kosher is about 1 ½ teaspoons of table salt, which I like to reserve for baking. In the first book, I wanted to list the salt ingredient as “salt to taste,” but I was asked to provide a measurement instead. Some folks, not understanding the difference in salt grain size, would see a tablespoon measurement and gasp at the amount of salt when it was really half the measure in table salt. I like coarser grains, because they don’t have additives like finer grains, resulting in a cleaner flavor. In the second book, I cut the amount of coarse salt to a minimum but left the words “or to taste.” (photo by oneterry)

Editor’s note: Portugal’s history of hand-harvested sea salt is thousands of years old, and in recent years artisan methods of production have slowly been revived after years of being pushed around by the mechanized salt industry and government laws. The new efforts have resulted in coveted sea salt and top notch fleur de sel (in Portugal: flor de sal). A preference for sea salt in general and the proper use of it by the Portuguese in preparing dishes is one of the reasons why the incredible food you taste in Portugal is challenging to experience again outside the country. Ana is absolutely right when she says that the person salting makes all of the difference!

Portuguese SaltWhat was your objective with this new book?

I wanted it to be similar to the first book, but with a deeper and wider scope of recipes that are traditionally popular but not seen as much in restaurants. I’m trying to preserve recipes used every day (by immigrants in the U.S. and in Portugal) to hand them down to future generations. Between the two books, I feel that on a small scale they’re a mini library of Portuguese recipes, they cover a lot of ground. And they’re different from say books by George Mendes, David Leite or Manuel Azevedo, who take the traditional and bring it up to a new level. Mine are more about the traditional nature of the recipes. I try to get as close to traditional as possible without going out to the backyard and killing a pig myself! (photo Terras De Sal)

That’s a good objective, because I’m often disappointed when I don’t find any of the traditional recipes of my childhood at Portuguese-American restaurants. Your new book seems to stem from this desire to revive Portuguese food nostalgia. What was the process of collecting these recipes like?

After the first book, I received many emails from folks around the world searching for a recipe for something their grandmother or mother made, or from travelling to Portugal and enjoying a dish there. You see, not all mothers or grandmothers shared their recipes with their family! So, I dug around for details, picked apart memories and consulted Portuguese immigrant friends to see what they knew of the dish. At times, it was as simple as writing it down and testing. Other times, if I asked “Maria” she might need to ask “Maria” and the other “Maria,” and finally the last “Maria” would pass it back to me to test and pose any questions if needed. I also wanted to include recipes that would show the Mediterranean influence and appeal to universal cooks who are interested in expanding their repertoire. The biggest challenge in acquiring some of these recipes was in finding someone either, who (a) immigrated here and was still alive or living abroad or (b) who was willing to share their family recipe the way it was cooked traditionally.

AcordaThough the book is about highlighting traditional recipes, you include your own creations and updates. Why is this important to you?

I tried to update some of the methods without losing the traditional dish. I offer substitutions for our time-pinched lives like, for instance, using filo dough to make Pasteis de Tentugal (a flaky pastry with egg custard filling) or to use good quality canned beans if you forget to soak the dried ones. The shortcuts — some of which I learned in culinary school — are useful because today, even in Portugal, women are working full time, shuttling kids to activities and trying to do it all. And updating cooking techniques improved dishes like duck rice (arroz de pato), which requires a whole duck to boil until everything falls off the bone, and finished in the oven. This can cause the meat to get chewy, so since duck breasts take the least amount of time to cook while the legs take the longest, I updated the first step of cooking the duck. It’s still an authentic dish, just improved. But even in Portugal today, you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving updated versions of their old dishes. Ultimately, Portuguese cooks are creative and we rarely waste anything, including time. However, I do believe that in order to create new Portuguese dishes, you must understand the traditional flavors before going outside of the box.

You say that a key ingredient in cooking is a balance between perfection and patience? Is that what you want to help the reader achieve with your highly detailed recipes?

I was raised on slow food and the detailed descriptions are the teacher in me. I really wanted novice cooks to be able to achieve success without having me by their side. My aim was to avoid vague recipes; I didn’t want to assume that every cook attempting a recipe would know what to do and why. Cooking good food does require patience.

Your book has traditional recipes that nobody really talks about when discussing Portuguese cooking, like the beef dishes. Most people just think of pork. Is this your way to help forge a new conversation about traditional Portuguese food?

I wanted my new book to show that there are other dishes besides pork, sardines and codfish, so I included other dishes like the steaks and stews, the suckling pig, braised goat and lamb, whole baked fish, the stuffed squid and so on. I would like to see American cooks become more familiar about non-Americanized Portuguese fare and stir up conversation about it. I mean, caldo verde soup is more than a bowl of mashed potatoes with broth ladled over it.

There were some wonderful surprises in the book, for instance, meatballs (almôndegas). In Maria de Lourdes Modesto’s Portuguese cookbook, there are references to meatballs including hare meatballs from where my family originates, the Beira Baixa. But bring them up and it’ll feel like you’re asking for the holy grail. Your thoughts?

Some might argue meatballs are Italian not Portuguese, and question if this is rather a Portuguese-American recipe. Not so, but perhaps there is a Roman influence from centuries ago. I enjoyed lamb meatballs in the Alentejo a few years back with a stew of beans. I make it clear that this isn’t a history book, because if it were then it would go on forever with no space for recipes. In history, Portugal has had influences from so many cultures. And today, the country’s cuisine is once again evolving with the impact of globalisation.

As with your first book, you include your email address and encourage readers to send you questions and comments. Why is this exchange important to you?

I include my email because there is always that young cook who has a question and I want them to be able to get an answer from me without going through all the social media hoops. I have had wonderful phone conversations with some, exchanging ideas and memories.

Though I love a delicate pastel de nata (custard egg tarts), I was thrilled to see you delve into other pastries. To end on a sweet note, what’s your favorite in the book?

So many Portuguese desserts, not enough time! I can’t choose just one, because it depends on my mood. (photo Stijn Nieuwendijk)

However, the pastel de nata aside, I love farofias (poached egg white meringues and custard sauce). Once I learned how to make it in Portugal at 13, I made it every week for months to come. I love bolo de bolacha made with coffee and Maria cookies. Molotov meringue pudding and, of course, arroz doce (rice pudding) and sericaia (pudding cake). You said one, right? Sorry, what can I say, I love them all!

If you’re salivating to savor the long list of delicious foods that have inspired Ana’s books, drop us a line! We’d love to craft a customized and mouthwatering tour through Portugal just for you.

Sonia Andresson Nolasco

Why is Porto Overtaking Paris for Shopping and Design

Porto Shopping Chadner Navarro recently published a fantastic article in Bloomberg highlighting why Porto is surpassing Paris as “the” shopping capital of Europe. There’s a good reason for it. Porto isn’t just an architectural wonder, with its technicolored tiles and vaulting domes, it’s a hotbed of creativity! Just hang out at a party for a few minutes and you’re bound to run into the owner of a swanky new coffee bar, a silk scarf designer and the rep of a shoe company relaunched after 30 years of dormancy. Porto feels as if someone toggled the master power switch after years of economic depression and darkness. It’s exciting, raw and full of promise, which is why everyone and their mother wants to visit Porto.

But if you do come, don’t limit yourself to Bloomberg’s suggestions on where to go. There are heaps of delicious places to shop and eat your way through the city, so let’s get started:

nuno-baltazarCLOTHING

Beyond the La Paz line, there’s a new sexy collection of radiant metallic colors from Nuno Baltazar, a 40-year old Portuguese designer who was awarded the Commendation of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator in 2015. Located near the Rotunda da Boavista, this unassuming shop has become the envy of Paris, and worth a visit if you’re in need of chic. After a trip to Daily Day in the city center, Manmood should be next on the list for tailored men’s suits and handcrafted footwear. And while you’re at it, make a beeline to Lab61 for a beard trim and sassy cut from Antonio Rodrigues – a highly sought after barber on Miguel Bombarda. Assuming you can’t visit Porto this year (though we trust you will very soon!), take a peek at Portcorner, an online fashion and lifestyle shop featuring 100% Portuguese designers – many of which are based in Porto.

ACCESSORIES

filigrana PortoFly London was created in 1994 in England, and was later acquired by Fortunato O. Frederico, one of the largest footwear companies in Portugal. Located just across from Porto’s heritage site, Torre dos Clerigos, FLY London also features seasonal collections of bags and sunglasses. For a wider range of sunglasses, just walk a few paces to Clerigos In, where you’ll also find various accessories and decor. If you’re hunting for plush leather bag or tote, walk towards the river to Ideal & Co., but for Portuguese “homegrown” cork made bags, check out the Boutique Concept Store. For jewelry, traverse down Rua das Flores for a quick (or very long) meander through Joia da Coroa (The Crown Jewel). Originally built in the 16th century, and later redesigned by the famed architect Francisco Oliveira Ferreira, this luxurious space store also features an exclusive tea shop. Just up the street, you’ll find an homage to the traditional filigree jewelry of Portugal at Ourivesaria das Flores. Finely twisted threads of silver or gold from the Portuguese jeweller Eleuterio can be found in the Intercontinental Hotel at Marcolino.

ART

With the influx of sculptors, painters and welders streaming into Porto, you’d imagine that galleries would abound! They do, but this is only the beginning. The city has several incredible galleries, most of which line the street Rua de Miguel Bombarda. At O!Gallery, you’ll find young, dynamic illustrators showcasing their books, zines and funky illustrations. Galeria Presença promotes contemporary artists from both Portugal and abroad as is Ap’arte Art. Ap’arte Art’s mission is to support emerging artists by representing them at art fairs, biennials, competitions and featuring their work at their permanent exhibition space. And let’s not forget the city itself, artistically rendered by famed graffiti artists!

Rose et al Shopping PortoWHERE TO STAY

With new boutique hotels popping up every day, it’s almost impossible to keep up! But there are a handful of luxurious hotels beyond the Yeatman, Flores Village Hotel & Spa and Pestana Vintage Hotel that are absolutely worth your time. First and foremost, make a reservation at the Rosa Et Al. Located on Rua do Rosário, the six-room Townhouse is owned and managed by two Portuguese-born siblings, Emanuel de Sousa, an architect, and his sister, Patricia de Sousa, a former asset manager. Together, they’ve created a homey, yet modern space that hosts everything from cooking courses to yoga retreats. Another boutique hotel worthy of seeking out is Malmerendas Boutique Lodging. After a full on restoration, this early 2oth century building now features five uniquely designed suites. Finally, the “not so boutique” but incredibly well maintained Eurostars Porto Douro Hotel has recently opened. Located on the Douro River, just east of the Dom Luis bridge, this hotel is perfectly situated for a visit to the Port wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, but also the cozy restaurants along the Ribeira (riverfront).

FOOD & WINE


Both
Cantina 32 and Rui Paula’s restaurant, Boa Nova, are phenomenal, and worthy suggestions by Bloomberg; but if there is one thing Porto does exceptionally well, it’s gastronomy! Rui Paula’s other restaurant, DOP is equally exquisite! For wine, Wine Box features over 230 wine references, and 100 by the glass to pair with their vast selection of cheeses and Iberian cold meats. A short distance away, you’ll find PROVA. Owned and managed by Diogo Amado, this cozy, stone lined restaurant not only serves quirky and incredible wines, but also a range of seasonal petiscos (small bites). If you’re keen to try a wine before purchasing an entire bottle, head to Vinoteca Copo & Alma, or if you’re dying for a funky wine tasting, or to bring home wine, make a beeline to Garage Wines. For Port wine lovers, the Private Vintage room in Graham’s Port Lodge features premium and luxury Ports in a plush, leather bound atmosphere – perfect for rainy days. 

garage-winesFor beer, you have TerraPlana on the east side of the city, which has a lovely outdoor terrace and a good range of craft beers, but for something more centrally located, check out Catraio.

Assuming you’re going to eat a bite or two during your stay, O’Gaveto is by far our favorite! You can also try one of the many fish restaurants along Rua Herois de França in Matosinhos, but Lusitanos is a must! Beardy and hip, Café Candelabro offers cocktails and wine in a cosy bookstore atmosphere. It’s also in walking distance from Porto’s Aliados Avenue, São Bento train station, Cordoaria gardens, Torre dos Clérigos and Livraria Lello bookshop (hint: we left something very special inside for you to find). For fine dining at casual cost, Traça serves slow food with a special focus on wild game and regional recipes, and just across the street, Taberna do Largo offers some of the best regional cured meats and cheeses in the city. O’Paparico might be hard to find, but your efforts will reward you greatly with some insatiable cuisine. For something uber cozy, visit All in Porto. Wine barrel tables, lanterns and funky Porto murals create a chill space for sampling a stellar selection of Portuguese wine and petiscos. In an old sewing machine warehouse you’ll find Aduela, serving traditional Portuguese wines and nibbles. Bar Tolo is Foz is fabulous for a seaview in a cozy, quaint atmosphere. And let’s not forget Porto’s amazing Francesinhas and other incredible sandwiches in Porto!

 Pérola do BolhãoFOOD for TRAVEL

It’s one thing to eat, it’s another to bring home a range of flavors to share with friends. Suckling lamb doesn’t travel well, but canned fish, vacuum-packed cured meats and cheeses, olive oils, wines, honey, compotes and a range of other foodstuffs do! If you’re around Mercado do Bolhao (a must visit!) you’ll find four Mercearias (deli / grocery) that are absolutely worth your time: O Pretinho do Japão, Casa Chinesa, Mercearia do Bolhao and Pérola do Bolhão. Other neighborhood grocery shops featuring a wide range of goods perfect for packing in your luggage include: Mercearia das Flores on Rua das Flores, Mercearia & Companhia off Boavista, Loja da Praça and Mercearia do Miguel in Foz, and finally, Dama Pé de Cabra, Loca and Nabos da Púcar in the Baixa. And though this Oliva & Co isn’t technically a mercearia, it is the ideal place to pick up a bottle of Portuguese olive oil.

Clearly, we’re just skimming the surface here! Porto is a fashion mecca, both in food and design, but if you’re needing a little hand-holding during your visit, give us a ring. We’re more than happy to give you a personalized tour of the very best in the city!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

 

The Undiscovered Sweetness of Portuguese Honey

Portuguese HoneyWhen people think of Portugal, rarely do they think of its rich honey culture. Perfectly grilled fish, sumptuous breads and diverse wines are commonly touted as “must try Portuguese foods“, but honey never gets any play. It should, because Portuguese honey is not only delectable but is used in heaps of local cuisine.

Therefore, to celebrate Portuguese honey, we’ve asked a local beekeeper from Santarém to share his insight on what makes Portuguese honey some of the best in the world!

Thank you Henrique Abreu for taking the time to share your passion with us!

Tell us about your project

This project was purely a trial and error endeavor. I had no previous experience with bees or beekeeping, just an intense desire to learn. Like anything in life, it began with a swarm. And through theory, passion, practice (a lot of practice!) and chatting with other beekeepers, I was increasingly applying new techniques and tools to every new swarm and hive I acquired. Thirty years later, we’ve tended to hundreds of hives to create honey, pollen, propolis (balm) (extract), beeswax and mead. But we’re not just product driven, I truly want to amplify the importance of bees, and their direct impact on our communities and world. I prefer a more global vision. (flickr photo by Amgad Fahmi)

Why is beekeeping such a passion for you?

The term “passion” goes considerably deeper than just a love for bees. Not long ago, beekeeping became a less than appealing vocation that harkened back to a sterile, old-school tradition that your great-grandfather would do. Today, things have changed. But if it weren’t for my own growth and maturity as a person, I don’t know if I’d have seen it. I’m very pleased to say that through various support structures, there’s now an increasing interconnectedness between experienced beekeepers and newbies showing curiosity, perseverance, self-confidence, creativity, enthusiasm, and most importantly, respect for nature and the human being.

Are there geographically protected areas for honey? And if so, where are those areas and what makes one different from another?

The National Beekeeping Programme 2014-2016 (Programa Apícola Nacional) refers to approximately 15 controlled areas where beekeeping is managed by different associations and / or institutions that guarantee support and oversight for beekeeping – though this will never replace simple hand’s on (HANDS-ON .. no ‘)experience. The current DOP regulated honey regions include: Serra da Lousã, Serra de Monchique, Terra Quente, Terras Altas do Minho, Barroso, Alentejo, Parque de Montesinho, Ribatejo Norte and Açores. And like Portuguese wine, each designated region – differentiated by its climatic, geographic and floral variations – will determine its structural and organisational needs. Even though Portugal is a small country, its biodiversity is absolutely remarkable, varying dramatically from one region to the next. Hence, it lends itself to incredibly diverse and quality driven products such as O Mel de Incenso dos Açores (Açoran Incense Honey).

14283111296_38eee47268_hWhat makes Portuguese honey different from any other honey in the world?

Part of the answer lies in the previous question. As a result of Portugal’s unique biodiversity and ancient beekeeping tradition, the Portuguese have been able to craft a wide variety of honeys from both mainland Portugal as well as the islands. It comes down to your personal taste and need in a given moment. Are you looking for a specific flavor, aroma, color, region or age, because any of these factors change dramatically from one type to the next. Starting with a quality retailer who stocks quality products provides you ample opportunity to simply, experiment. (flickr photo by mbeo)

How do you know you’re choosing a good honey? What does someone look for?

Assuming the information on the label is straightforward, transparent and easily understandable to the consumer, the honey must also abide by quality standards implemented both nationally and globally. On a very practical level, you’re looking for a crystallised honey that won’t dissolve in cold temperatures, nor retain residual moisture. It will be aromatic and rich in simple sugars.

What are the best practices in storing honey?

Honey is no different from any other perishable. The age old adage equally applies to honey, “keep item in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry place, away from light and at room temperature.”

Beekeeping PortugalObviously, there is a huge issue with the decline of bees on the planet. What are you, or Portugal in general, doing to help preserve the bee’s wellbeing?

Despite having the conditions to help save and care for bees, we simply haven’t (suggestion: …done the best we could). There’s a considerable amount of ignorance throughout Portugal on the impact bees have on the planet, and how their disappearance will directly affect the country – not to mention the world. And as a result, the critical role we play as beekeepers to help preserve, care for and sustain bees is often overlooked and taken for granted. The culture simply does not see the interconnection between beekeeping and their everyday lives, or even a coexistence and citizenship between humans and bees. We need to find new and innovative ways to encourage urban beekeeping in order to shift old ways of thinking. We need to have tougher regulations on pesticides in order to avoid or limit their impact on climate change, while strengthening the local biodiversity. As professionals, we cannot skirt our responsibility to help support sustainability and education, but we don’t need to prove anything either. We don’t need an organic certification to simply dedicate ourselves to working organically. What we need is to be proactive and vocal in our support of the environment and to caring for our fellow humans through our work as beekeepers. This means our production needs to be sustainable, our vision needs to be holistic and our actions must be global. (flickr photo by Anne Landois-Favret)

Honey is used in heaps of Portuguese cuisine. What are your favorite Portuguese recipes that use honey?

Hands down, one of our favourite recipes is honey with granola, honey liquor, mead and honey tea that we commonly enjoy with with various Portuguese desserts such as: bolo de mel (honey cake), bolo à portuguesa (flour cake glazed with eggs and Port wine), bolo de azeite e mel (honey and olive oil cake) and broa (cornbread). Many Portuguese sauces also use honey to lightly sweeten the dish. Hopefully in the future, we’ll see a surge of Portuguese honey used in modern and haute gastronomy.

 bolo de azeite e mel Pollen has been claimed to ease many medical issues. Where have you seen the greatest benefits in its use in Portugal?

Pollen has often been used for physical and mental fatigue, anemia, blocked digestion, weak immune systems, cardiovascular problems and infertility.

Editor’s note – It’s not just pollen in Portugal. Ask any Portuguese grandmother and they’re quick to confess the 1,001 ways honey can cure an ailment.

Finally, experiential tourism is a big deal. Can someone visit you and learn how to make honey?

Of course, yes! We would love to receive you in our little village of Torres Novas! It’s beautiful, with plenty of cultural and historical points of interest to visit during your stay. Just contact us well in advance so that we can get as many people together as possible to organize the necessary logistics.

Never forget: Portugal may be small, but we have a wealth of diversity! No matter where you go, there’s no shortage of things to enjoy, most of all, the people!

Thank you Henrique!!! And for anyone keen to pick up some honey on your travels, feel free to swing by any supermarket for a decent range of Portuguese honeys. For those wanting a more tailored experience, check out the Pérola do Bolhão, Mercearia do Bolhão or Casa Chinesa in Porto. In Lisbon, swing by Mercearia Criativa or Pimenta Rosa for your sweet honey needs!

If you’re keen to experience artisan Portuguese honey on its own, or in a wealth of Portuguese sauces and desserts, contact us for a customized food tour! We’re more than happy to help guide you to the very best Portugal has to offer, which is extensive!!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Celebrate Port Wine Day in Porto!

Port Wine DayNow that autumn is upon us, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t be cracking open a Port wine to celebrate the season. It warms the body when the winter chill seeps in. It’s versatile and perfectly suited for any conversation ranging from deforestation to the proliferation of sloths as pets. And beyond all else, there’s a flavor perfectly suited for anyone. And we do mean, everyone!

So if you’re in Porto this week, why not take the opportunity to try a wide variety of Port wines throughout the city. If you’re looking for a “Port Wine Crawl”, there are dozens of bars and restaurants serving up a special wine and food pairing. For those craving a more substantial understanding of how Port wine can pair with food, Port lodges across Vila Nova de Gaia have created an entire menu around this legendary wine. For cocktail lovers, you can savor the ubiquitous White Port & Tonic, CaipiPorto (Caipirinha made with Port wine) or a Noval Black Cocktail – a variety of cocktails made with Quinta do Noval Ruby Port.

The event will conclude on Friday the 10th of September, where a full day of innovative Talks, Masterclasses and Tastings will be held at Porto’s historic conference center, the Alfandega. For those of you keen to meet Catavino’s Ryan Opaz, he’ll be giving a speech on the impact social media has on enjoying wine.

For more information, head over to event’s website, Port Wine Day, for more information. If you’re needing some tips on what to do while in town, check out our Porto Gourmet Guide. Finally, for those of you needing a customized experience targeted specifically to your vinous or gastronomical needs, drop us an email and let us know how we can help you!

How I became a Knight of the Port Wine Brotherhood

Catavino Port WineRecently, I was enthroned into the Confraria do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Brotherhood) as a Cavaleiro (Knight) in “recognition for my dedication and service to Port Wine.” Understandably, I was incredibly honored, but my invitation also came with several questions as to what exactly occurred. For this reason, I wanted to share a short explanation of what the Port Wine Brotherhood is and what the enthronement means to me.
The Port Wine Brotherhood was established in 1982 with the mission of promoting Port wine as well as recognizing those that work to share their passion for Port wine both locally and abroad. From their website:
“Established with the statutory purpose of communicating, promoting and reinforcing the worldwide reputation of Port Wine, the Confraria do Vinho do Porto welcomes into its midst persons who carry out a professional activity in the making and exporting of Port Wine, as well persons who, by their deeds, reputations, or standing make a significant contribution to the image and knowledge of Port Wine.”
Mind you, brotherhoods are not unique to wine in Portugal. There are brotherhoods for many things including: traditional pastries, cheeses, meats, rice and various other gastronomic products  – all with the intent of bringing greater awareness to said Portuguese product worldwide. While some brotherhoods are quite old, born of guilds and other associations, others are new and help regions/products to preserve their identity in a world where tradition is often pushed aside in exchange for ease, price and convenience.
So how does the brotherhood work? It highlights those who work in Port Wine companies and acknowledges those who promote Port Wine such as journalists, retailers and advocates. Based on your classification, the confraria then bestows a specific title. To be clear, brotherhood is only the official title, there are definitely some of sisters in the ranks as well. To be nominated into the brotherhood your name needs to be put forward by a member of the brotherhood. Only people with the rank of Mestre can nominate a new member and each new nomination needs to be approved by the other Mestres, or more correctly, not objected to. My ‘sponsor’ was Oscar Quevedo from Quevedo Port Wine, a good friend who I am very honored to have nominate me.
Active Brothers
  • Mestre (Master) – Owner or director of wine Port wine company
  • Experto (Expert) – Manager or other position within a Port wine company
  • Chancelaria (Chancery) – Elected members of the Active Brothers who oversee the Confraria, electing of new members and organizing of events
Honorary Brothers
  • Cancelário (Vice-Chancellor) – The rank of Cancelário is given to Heads of State who, through their status, bring dignity to the Confraria do Vinho do Porto. The Confraria has 44 Cancelários, including the President of Portugal, the King of Spain, and the King of Belgium among the many Presidents, Princes and leaders of the world who honour this brotherhood by their participation.
  • Infanção (Nobleman) – Attributed to all notable personalities or institutions who make a significant contribution to the promotion and prestige of Port Wine or who merit distinction with this rank due to their personal prestige or high ranking positions.
  • Cavaleiro (Knight) – Are those who merit recognition for their dedication and service to Port Wine and do not find themselves included in the previous ranks.
On the night of the induction, the new brothers are given various accoutrement to denote their rank. All Mestres and Expertos wear (from the website):
  • A black hat with a wide brim, bound around the crown of which is a wide black silk ribbon which falls to the shoulder and is wrapped around the neck. The members of the Chancelaria are distinguished by the use a cream coloured ribbon;
  • A garnet coloured cape trimmed with black ribbon;
  • An insignia with the Confraria emblem placed on the left-hand side of the cape at breast height;
  • A bright green and red ribbon placed round the neck from which hangs a Tambuladeira (tastevin) – a traditional Port Wine tasting cup from the XVII century. (this is my level)
JORGE CASTRO 2016 - 209The Confrades Honorarios (Honorary Brothers) wear a bright green and red ribbon from which hangs the Tambuladeira (tastevin), and the ranks of Cancelário and Infanção are presented with the cape and hat. The attire is obligatory whenever representing the Confraria.
When you’re inducted, you walk up to the podium and are donned a cape, hat or Tambuladeira based on the category you are invited to join, afterwhich you sign a book and receive your ‘diploma’ signed by the Chanceler and Almoxarife. The ceremony is long and slow, but being held in the Bolsa in Porto, one of the most beautiful locations in Porto, quickly makes up for this. Afterwards, we walk in a procession down the road to the Alfândega where cocktails are followed by a dinner and live music.
So then the number one question is: what benefits do you get as a Knight? The answer for me is respect. Beside the handful of special events you’re invited to the real benefit is the respect and recognition of fellow Port wine lovers; the acknowledgement that you contributed in some small way to help Port wine become better known and loved. Port wine has defined so much of my life. From that very first moment my grandfather shared his adventures tasting old Ports in Portugal, I have wanted to come to Porto to see and taste it for myself. When I found the chance to live here and raise my son in the heart of Port wine country, I felt like I had won the lottery.
Port wine is a special drink. Something that is truly hard to describe until you visit Porto, and more importantly, the Douro Valley. Living here in Porto, I have come to love this historic beverage more than I thought I ever could. Whenever I find myself driving up the Douro with a new client and showing them Portuguese wines they’re unfamiliar with, I witness their own passion grow. It’s addictive, which is why I love guiding! I can never recreate my first time when my jaw dropped at the Valley’s intensity, but I can re-experience that moment in the eyes of all those I bring here.
I’m honored to be a Knight of the Port Wine Brotherhood and will continuously work hard to uphold the oath:
“I swear to give my support to the confraria, and to continue fighting for the honour of Port wine”

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

How Adventurous of a Spanish Foodie are You? Take the Quiz!

When daydreaming of white sandy beaches, of sultry Flamenco dancers and rolling Spanish vineyards, do you also conjure up images of braised cow’s tongue or hairy pig’s ear when visiting Spain? No? Maybe you should, because if there’s one thing that Spain does unprecedentedly well it’s to use the entire, and we do mean entire, animal. It’s the Spanish way of saying, “thank you!” to creatures who have crafted mouthwatering dishes like cured jam (jamon iberico). Hence the question is, how bold of a foodie are you?! 

If you’re keen for a full on Spanish foodie tour, let customize the perfect one for you!

4 Must Eat Sandwiches of Porto!

For me, the sandwich is the pinnacle of the food pyramid. Sure I love fine dining, a good seafood feast, or a perfectly prepared piece of roasted meat; but in the end, I will always long for the great sandwich. When you have 2 slices of the perfect rustic bread holding together a selection of vegetables, meats and cheeses in the ideal balance of sweet and savory, crunchy and tender, you hold magic in your hand.

The art of the sandwich is the art of food pairing. The prior night’s roasted meat or fowl, sliced thin on a piece of lightly toasted bread with layers of vegetables, pickles and cheese, paired with a simple glass of wine or crisp hoppy beer, is the ideal balance of comfort. It’s pure decadence! (Pernil com Queijo photo by Casa Guedes)

This is one of the reasons I love Porto. A city that prides itself on its Bacalhau (salt cod) and polvo asado (grilled octopus), not to mention a rich tripe stew from which they inherited their nickname (O tripeiros), is still able to retain a rich sandwich culture at its core. This endless list includes southern Portugal’s Bifana and the ever-famous Francesinha, not to mention the Prego no Pão and the Sándwich de Pernil. And let’s not forget the bubbling pots at the legendary Tasca da Badalhoca whipping up mouthwatering Presunto, and what  may not be considered a typical sandwich, but definitely exists in its wheelhouse, the Bola de Carne.

After 3 years of living here, I’ve concluded that if you really want to understand Porto, you must explore it from the view of the sandwich. Today, I want to share 4 sandwiches that are incredibly common on menus throughout Porto, and the places you SHOULD eat them. Sure you can order a Francesinha at Conga, but you’re missing the point, because you ONLY order the Bifana there! If you’re here for a limited time and want to taste the best, follow along below.

THE FRANCESINHA

Uma foto publicada por Catavino (@catavinoexplores) a

The king of all Porto sandwiches, this is the pinnacle of a meat lover’s food pyramid. Two slices of bread, untold layers of meat, melted cheese and a sometimes spicy beer infused sauce, there really isn’t anything better if you feel your cholesterol levels dropping. Which also means restricting yourself to one a week, or you might be making an early trip to the hospital with a deliciously clogged ticker! Although this sandwich is a bigger commitment than an 18 karat engagement right, don’t walk away until every last drop of sauce is soaked up with a pile of crispy fries. What’s inside you ask? If done right, the very best steak, ham, linguiça, hotdogs and more. There are two, maybe three, places to have one: A Cunha II in the Ramalde. If you can’t find it, give me a ring and I’ll be happy to show you. These guys rock because they rightfully know that this iconic sandwich begins with good meat. You simply can’t hide bad meat in the middle of this colossus. Next, Bufete Fase, known for their lack of seating and no BS waitstaff, they are spot on when it comes to spicy sauce. Just be sure to get there early, or quite late, as it’s always full. And finally, a new comer, A Casa do Evaristo. I never thought this place could top the rest, but they are near perfect in their execution of the Francesinha – smaller than most but neither lacking in layers nor flavor. Click here to read our full article on Francesinha(Francesinha photo by Catavino)

THE BIFANA

Uma foto publicada por ryan opaz (@ryanopaz) a


Some say this is Lisbon’s sandwich. Great, go ahead say that, and then come here and have one. Pork shaved thin, boiled and stewed in a sauce that can range from fiery hot to subtlety zesty, this pork stacked sandwich is juicy and delicious. Lot’s of people are making them, but if you want the best, head to Conga in downtown Porto. Order the Bifana em Pão and a cerveja (beer). If you’re hungry, add cordoniz (fried quail). No frills…just a fried bird on a plate, legs in the air, with an intense suntan. The sandwich is wet and sloppy with a peppery sting that leaves you with bead of sweat across your brow. The beer is ICE cold and will warm as it approaches your lips in it’s vain effort to fight the tasty fire within. Sure there are a few good Bifana’s in town, but if you don’t have Conga’s, you won’t know the baseline that one should aspire to. Read more on Portuguese fried and fatty flavorful foods!

PERNIL COM QUEIJO

Uma foto publicada por João Pedro Ribeiro (@joaopedro_ribeiro_) a

Cheese haters, please close the page. The sandwich called Pernil is a something that divides friends and families. Should it have cheese or just be meat? Well, I’ve decided, it needs cheese. Sure the meat is beautiful by itself, but we’re talking Serra da Estrela cheese here. This is the king of stinky, creamy, gooey cheeses! Do never say no! You never turn down this offer! NEVER! It would be an insult to the sheep that work so hard to bring it to you. When you have a crispy roll, with a slices of freshly roasted Pernil (Pork shoulder) and soft and gooey Serra cheese, you are dining on decadence. Where to get it? Casa Guedes. Just go there. You’ll wait in line, you’ll wonder why, you’ll eat and then grin stupidly as pork fat dribbles down your chin as you realize you have a small foodgasm in your seat.

PREGO EM PÃO C/OVO

Uma foto publicada por Catavino (@catavinoexplores) a


Steak, crispy bread and an egg? Yes please, I’ll take two! The steak melts in your mouth, the egg is runny and finger-coating and the crisp bread delivers the texture you need to support the richness of the previous two. There is only one place in town that I know of to taste this bit of heaven and it’s called Lareira. If there ever should be a marriage of bovine and fowl between two slices of bread, this is it. The steak is medium-rare, and the egg plays the role of any condiment – filling the bread’s doughy crevices with a rich and flavorful yellowness. This is a sandwich I dream of. Ordering only one is a crime by most accounts, but sometimes you need to practice restraint and this sandwich will test you. Just go, order one, now and invite me along! I’m still researching adjectives to describe its flavor. And for all you out there saying that a Prego no Pão traditionally doesn’t have an egg in it, great. This is true, but once you taste one with the egg, you’ll realize someone finally got it right.

So there you have it. Though, I’m not going to share my various other fabulous sandwiches yet. There are some secrets a guy has to hold on to. If, however, you want to have a Porto Sandwich Tour that includes the full range of my favorite sandwiches, let me know. I can be bribed.

Oh and for all the Portuguese inevitably reading this post and shouting at their screens that this “American” doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Well bring it on! Educate me. What would you change? I’m happy to do the research. 😉

Till soon,

Ryan Opaz

5 Must Visit Wine Shops in Lisbon

Garrafeira de SantosSeveral years ago, I would frequently visit a delightful independent wine shop, sandwiched between a bakery and a cheese store, during my evening commute from university. Unable to differentiate between a Chardonnay and a Champagne, it made for a fabulous break from my law studies, as well as a kickstart to my wine education!

Despite not having tons of money to spend on wine, I revelled in the time I spent with the owner, releasing an onslaught of questions that swirled in my head. They ranged from the basic (Where is the Rhone?) to the practical (Serving temperature for Beaujolais?) to the personal (Favorite wine-pizza pairing?). I took note of what was on the bottom shelf and what lined the top, what the labels looked like and how the bottle shapes varied by region.

I have since spent a good amount of time lurking in wine shops. The sign of a misspent adulthood! Moving to Lisbon a few years ago gave me plenty of new opportunities to discover some truly special wine retailers – stores with unique, well thought-out selections of wine serviced by people who ooze passion for the outstanding products Portugal has to offer. The Portuguese capital is home to some genuine wine stores with character, and they’re absolutely worth a visit. We hope you check them out on your next trip to Lisbon!

1. Garrafeira de Santos

Rua de Santos-o-Velho, 74 (10 am – 9 pm Monday – Saturday, 2:30 pm – 7 pm Sunday)

Go for: A Local Experience For Wine Lovers

Head to residential Lapa for a visit to this independent wine shop featuring true Portuguese gems. Garrafeira de Santos’ selection is excellent. Each wine, from entry-level to the premium, is guaranteed to be worth tasting. Owner Francisco confided that he only carries wines that he himself savors – not a bad stamp of approval if you’re looking for a good bet!  Francisco’s passion is contagious, leading to long conversations over which wine is ideal for you and why. If you are a repeat customer, there’s a good chance he’ll not only remember your name, but the wine your purchased. What more do you want?!
Nearby: You’re just a few blocks away from the delicious Mediterranean food at Restauarante Clube dos Jornalistas . Call in advance for a table in the outdoor courtyard.

2. Carinho do Vinho

Rua Nova da Piedade, 23 (9:30 am – 8 pm)

Go for: Fun and Quirky Hangout

Carinho VinhoVisiting Carinho do Vinho is like walking into your Great Aunt’s living room. It’s warm, cozy and doubles as a wine bar and casual restaurant. Clients are welcome to uncork bottles purchased on site and enjoy with light tapas, and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Carinho do Vinho serves a great value buffet dinner that I highly recommend. At Carinho do Vinho, you’ll find attractively-priced wines that are off the beaten path. Here, smaller producers have priority. It doesn’t get more sustainable than this!

Nearby: People-watch in the leafy shade of Praça das Flores for an interesting mix of tourists and locals.

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

3. Garrafeira Internacional

Rua da Escola Politecnica, 15 ( Mon – Fri 10 am – 8 pm, Closed Sunday)

Go for: An Old School Lisbon Wine Shop

12734092_779309305532525_2786034565971766009_nThis Principe Real establishment has ‘International’ in its name, but with one or two exceptions, the wines it carries are exclusively Portuguese. Garrafeira Internacional was founded in 1937, so this shop’s seen decades of vintages! In its early days, Garrafeira Internacional featured wines from all over Europe. It has since adopted a Portuguese focus, so head here for an interesting selection of wines from across the country. Buying in bulk? No problem. Garrafeira Internacional will deliver wines to your doorstep, assuming local laws allow it to do so!

Nearby: Picnic in the beautiful, leafy Principe Real gardens. Maybe even uncork a bottle you’ve picked up at Garrafeira Internacional!

4. Garrafeira Nacional

See website for their various hours and locations

Go for: Iconic Wine Shop Trio

Garrafeira NacionalGarrafeira Nacional is perhaps Lisbon’s most iconic wine retailer. Three stores grace the city of Lisbon, so take your pick or visit them all. The primarily Portuguese selection is extensive, and Garrafeira Nacional’s friendly staff is well versed in their portfolio. They also have an impressive Port and Madeira selection, with several wines dating back to the 1800s! If you have difficulty with Portuguese, not to fret. Garrafeira Nacional is accustomed to clients from all over the world, and you’ll likely find its employees can help you in English. Ask about the regularly scheduled Thursday evening tastings at the Rua da Conceição location.

Nearby: Grab a bite at foodie market ‘Mercado da Ribeira’ if visiting the 24 de Julho store. You’ll be energized by the buzzing scene of tourists and locals! If at the Santa Justa or Rua da Conceição shops, visit the Elevador de Santa Justa (also known as Elevador do Carmo), a beautifully designed elevator with views over the Baixa that was built back in 1900!

5. Moy Charcutaria & Garrafeira

Rua Dom Pedro V, 111 (Mon – Sat 10 am – 8 pm)

Go for: Cosmopolitan Drinkables and Edibles

Moy Charcutaria & GarrafeiraThis new Principe Real wine shop is where you go when you’re ready to switch it up: you’ve been drinking Portuguese and are craving something like a Chianti Classico, a German Riesling, an organic wine from the Jurançon or Champagne made by a small producer. Moy also has a solid selection of Portuguese wines to choose from. In addition to wine, Moy’s shelves feature gourmet foodstuffs like loose leaf tea, unground coffee beans, fresh cheeses and charcuterie. Here, you’ll find edibles from around the world, like upscale chutneys from England and hand-made pastas from Italy.
Nearby: Pay a visit to the hip shopping destination Embaixada LX, right across the street from Moy. Inside the gorgeous refurbished building you’ll find a bazaar-like array of artsy clothing, art and home décor stores featuring only things ultra cool.

BONUS – Editor’s Pick – Garrafeira de Campo de Ourique

Rua Tomás de Anunciação 44  (9am – 8pm, closed Sundays)

Go for: Cozy and Intimate Atmosphere
Aromas e Sabores

In the mid 1970’s, Arlindo Santos opened a wee shop, selling wildly diverse Portuguese wines, in the heart of Campo de Ourique – a quiet neighborhood dotted with late-19th-century buildings, Art Nouveau, and less appealing architecture from the 20th century. A decade later, he expanded to offer bulk wine and key regional products in a neighborhood grocery store just across the street. But with avalanche of wine bars populating Lisbon in the early 2000’s, Arlindo revamped his shop into a boutique wine shop and delicatessan called Aromas & Sabores. Quaint, cozy and high quality, this little gem is absolutely worth visiting if you’re keen for a small bite and a glass of wine. Not only that, but you have the entire wine shop across the street to peruse from!

Nearby: For the poets among you, swing by Casa Fernando Pessoa – a cultural museum where the world-renown poet spent the last years of his life.

I hope you enjoy these tips for some wine shop wandering in Lisbon. A quick visit to a few of these stores is a great place to learn about Portuguese wine, and you’re guaranteed to walk out with some special bottles in hand. If you need some wine hunting support, or a quick 101 on Portuguese wine, let us know! We’re more then happy to set up a winery tour, wine tasting or or food and wine experience just for you!

Happy exploring,

Cathy Fisher
Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Top 10 neighborhoods to visit while in Barcelona

Barcelona El GoticBarcelona may seem large and daunting at first approach, with its maze of windy cobbled alleyways; but after awhile, it suddenly feels like home. Streets untangle into a patterned network and neighborhoods (barrios) that once seemed remote are just a short walk away. From the Medieval and Roman history of the Ciutat Vella, to the sunny squares in Gràcia and the grand avenues of the Eixample, every neighborhood in Barcelona is unique. Not only that, the city is easy to traverse by foot; but if you’re going a bit farther, or the weather has you on the run, public transportation in Barcelona is superb and simple to master.

The question being, what are the top neighborhoods of Barcelona, and how do you know which are idyllic for you?

We’ve listed the top 10 most iconic and visit-worthy below, along with a comprehensive description of each. But for those with very limited time in Barcelona, the first three neighborhoods listed (collectively known as the Ciutat Vella) are a must see, as they retain the core spirit of the city. After getting your fill of narrow alleys and gothic churches, do yourself a favor and head out of this beautiful, yet tourist-clogged, area to explore the other side of Barcelona – the one that the locals call home. Click to read our Barcelona Gourmet Guide. (El Gòtic photo by Sam Zucker)

1) El Gòtic

Perhaps the most seminal of all of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, the Barri Gòtic is thus named for its multitude of impressive Gothic structures, from the Catedral de Barcelona to the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi. At the heart of this compact part of the city are the remnant of Barcelona’s beginnings — the Roman settlement of Barcino. In addition to enchantingly-narrow and labyrinthine streets, towering churches, lively plazas and Roman ruins, the Gòtic is home to the busiest shopping avenue of the city (Portal del Àngel) and many great restaurants. Enjoy a glass of garnatxa in a small wine bar tucked into the Medieval Jewish quarter just steps from the City Hall, snack away on heaps of crispy fried anchovies down by the port or enjoy a gourmet coffee at some of the coolest spots for brunch downtown.

Must Visit:Barcelona El Borne

Restaurant: Bar La Plata
Brunch: Federal Cafe Gòtic
Coffee: Satan’s Coffee Corner
Wine Bar: Zona d’Ombra
Shop: Raima 1986 stationery
Museum: Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA)
Five Star Hotel: Hotel Mercer

2) El Born

El Born has always been a nurturing, safe haven for artisans. The first to spring up outside of the Roman wall nearly 1000 years ago, this neighborhood is rich with both local and foreign influences. It’s a romantic hideaway, rich with Gothic architecture, novel-inspiring churches like Basílica Santa Maria del Mar, and some of the best cocktail bars in the city! If you need something more cultural, check out the El Born Centre Cultural (a former fresh market turned archaeological wonder), a wide range of restaurants and cafes, and countless artisan workshops, ranging from clothing and ceramics to fine leather and shoes. Click here for the El Born Gourmet Guide! (El Born photo by Sam Zucker)

Must Visit:

Restaurant: Bar Brutal
Coffee: True Artisan Café
Brunch: En Aparté
Cocktail Bar: Collage BCN
Shop: Bornisimo
Historic Site: Born Centre Cultural (Born CC)

3) El Raval

The Raval, on the south-western side of Les Rambles, is the most ethnically-diverse part of downtown Barcelona. With a large community for Pakistani, Indian, and Filipino immigrants, this neighborhood has two distinct faces. By day, you find the local and foreign residents going about their lives among El Raval’s humble narrow streets and plazas. By night, however, this area comes alive with students, locals and expats eating and drinking on the cheap. The Raval has its offer of upscale dining too, but by in large, you’ll find packed dive bars, kebab shops and sandwich joints. The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) museum is a popular hangout for the crowds of skateboarders who flock here 24 hours a day, and the Rambla del Raval is a sunny place to relax with a drink and recharge.

Must Visit:Torresagrada

Market: La Boqueria
Brunch: Flax and Kale
Restaurant: Bar Cañete
Cheap Bar: 33 | 55
Gift Shop: Grey Street Gifts
Museum: Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)
Vintage Shopping: Carrer de la Riera Baixa

4) Poble Nou/Sant Martí

Historically, one of the most industrial areas of Barcelona, Poble Nou (“New Town,” a sub-district of the area known as Sant Martí) has been given fresh life thanks to the steady growth and expansion of the city’s tech industry. On the border of the “22@ Innovation District” — a burst of construction that brought many new, modern buildings and jobs to the neighborhood starting in 2000 — Poble Nou has modern architecture, converted warehouses, co-working spaces, creative agencies, and office buildings all sharing plots with crumbling smoke stacks and overgrown lots that serve as graffiti artists’ playground. Many consider Poble Nou the most up-and-coming area of Barcelona, with new restaurants, developments and companies bringing young life and energy to these quiet, post-industrial streets. Flanking the coastline and more space than in the old city center (plus a charming pedestrian rambla of their own, the La Rambla de Poble Nou), more and more people are choosing to live, work and play here.

Must Visit:

Coffee: Nømad Roaster’s Home
Restaurant: Els Pescadors
Cocktail and Aperitivo: Balius
Craft Brew Pub: Edge Brewery
Beach: Bogatell beach
Vegetarian Lunch: Sopa
Flea Market: Mercat dels Encants

5) Sant Antoni

A small neighborhood bordered on the top by Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, on the right by the Ronda de Sant Antoni and the Ronda de Sant Pau, and on the left by the Avinguda del Paral·lel, Sant Antoni has long had its own unique identity. Anchored by the impressive, antique Mercat de Sant Antoni (an ornate, cross-shaped building from 1882 that is currently being restored to its former glory and will reopen as one of the city’s largest fresh markets in 2017), this barri is full of locals. Especially on the weekends, the temporary market at the base of Ronda de Sant Antoni is packed with Catalan families and seniors doing their shopping, while at the same time, the trendy street of Carrer del Parlament is teaming with the younger breed of local hipsters enjoying brunch — or a vermouth aperitivo — at one of the many bars and bodegas that populate these busy three blocks.

Must Visit:Montjuic Barcelona

Coffee: Café Cometa
Tapas: Bar Ramón
Vermouth and Wine Bar: Bodega Vinito
Dinner: Lolita Tapería
Market: Mercat de Sant Antoni
Lunch: Tarranà
Flea Market: Sunday Book market Comte d’Urgell

6) Poble Sec/Montjuïc

Similar to Sant Antoni, Poble Sec (Dry Town) has a very local vibe. Full of steep streets running up hill from Avinguda del Paral·lel to the foot of the Montjuïc park, Poble Sec is not often explored fully by short-term visitors to Barcelona. Seemingly simple at first glance, Poble Sec is home to some of the best, authentic places to eat, drink, and party in the city. From the “tapas hopping” heaven of Carrer de Blai and the numerous, wine barrel-lined bodegas peppered throughout the neighborhood, to the new boutique hotels and one of the city’s most famous nightclubs, locals have long known that Poble Sec has a lot to offer. After visiting the Castle of Montjuïc or the gardens of the Teatre Grec (A beautiful Greek theater replica from the 1920s, home to a famous theater festival every July), make your way down through the green, wooded paths into Poble Sec and explore these tree-lined streets and plazas before settling in for a delicious meal. (Montjuic photo by Ryan Opaz)

Must Visit:

Cheap Tapas: Blai Tonight pintxo bar
Lunch: Quimet i Quimet
Vermouth and Wine Bar: Celler Cal Marino
Fine Dining: Pakta
Dinner: O Meu Lar
Nightclub: Teatre Apolo 
Historic Sites: Jardins del Teatre Grec
Boutique Hotel: Hotel Brummell

7) Eixample

Eixample (The Extension) is home to the most emblematic examples of Modernist architecture in Barcelona. With Passeig de Gràcia at its core, this expansive area is divided into the Dreta de l’Eixample (Right Side) and Esquerra de l’Eixample (Left Side). With wide avenues, sun-filled, chamfered intersections, beautiful buildings, upscale shopping and diverse dining options, Eixample is a vast neighborhood that plays a key role in every visitor’s stay in Barcelona. From Gaudí’s Casa Milà and La Pedrera, to the picturesque Rambla de Catalunya, this sprawling district serves as a monument to the late 19th and early 20th century; a true golden era in the history of the city.

Must Visit:Barceloneta Barcelona

Cocktail Bar: Slow Barcelona
Lunch: Cuina d’en Garriga
Wine Bar: Mont Bar
Shop: Colmado Quilez
Vermouth: Morro Fi
Dinner: Bar Mut
Historic Sites: Casa Milà
Craft Brew Pub: Garage Beer Co.
Boutique Hotel: Casa Bonay

8) Gràcia

Once its own little town of Vila de Gràcia, the expansion of Barcelona that began in the 1860s, stretching out from the Medieval city center up towards the hills of the Collserola, transformed it into the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona. Artistic, creative, lively and local, Gràcia often seems worlds away from the city center (though it’s only a few stops on the metro). Full of large plazas that offer countless cafe terraces, and many quirky shops, boutiques and restaurants, Gràcia easily earns the loyalty of those who live there, often resulting in the sentiment that one never needs to leave. Indeed, those who live in Gràcia tend to stay there, considering a trip “downtown” as a much farther journey than it is in reality. The same goes from those in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) — Gràcia seems far removed, until you realize it’s an easy ride (or walk) into the heart of this emblematic neighborhood that provides visitors with a new insight into city life. (Gràcia photo by Sam Zucker)

Must Visit:

Cocktail Bar: Bobby Gin
Lunch: Café Godot
Wine Bar: Viblioteca
Shop: Cuervo Cobbler Blackbird
Vermouth: Lo Pinyol
Dinner: Panxa del Bisbe
Public Square: Plaça de la Virreina
Craft Beer: Cara B

9) Barceloneta

Teaming with tourists, but still holding many treasures and lesser-known gems, the beachside barri of La Barceloneta has long been the home of the working-class and fishermen of the city. However, after the massive renovations leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics, the Barceloneta is primarily geared towards tourism now, with countless restaurants, bars, rental apartments, and beach bars along the busiest strip of sand in the city. Though the street of Passeig de Joan de Borbó and the promenade along the Barceloneta beach are inundated with people from June until October, head just a few blocks in towards the center of the Barceloneta and you can find narrow streets with old-school seafood restaurants and vermouth bars that haven’t changed decoration in what seems like a century. These bars “de toda la vida” (life-long) are still popular with the locals who grew up enjoying leisurely weekend meals near the seashore. Though there are also new and trendy spots throughout the Barceloneta, the best places are those that are often labeled by locals as “bueno, bonito y barato” (good, pretty, and cheap), of which there are many.

Must Visit:El Raval Barcelona

Cocktails: Maka Maka
Cheap Tapas: Jai-Ca
Bakery: Baluard Barceloneta
Vermouth: Bar Electricitat
Lunch: Kaiku
Paella: Can Solé
Outdoor Nightclub: Bestial
Craft Beer: Black Dog Brewery

10) Sarrià-Sant Gervasi

An amalgam of former villages that merged in the late 19th century, then later became one of the largest Barcelona neighborhood 1927, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is known by many as one of the wealthiest areas of the city. This is where the true “old Catalan money” resides. It is a highly-residential neighborhood, with a quiet aire that gives you the feeling of being removed a bit from the hectic city life. Boasting multiple green spaces built with elegant refinement, such as the Parc del Turo del Putget and the Jardins de Portlà, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi stretches from the Avinguda Diagonal all the way up to the foot of the Collserola mountains. With its fair share of boutique shopping, artisanal bakeries and pastry shops, and renowned restaurants, this is a part of Barcelona that very few visitors take time to explore. Though it is not as exciting as the city center (and more costly), take a stroll through these tranquil, hilly streets and be rewarded with a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of the good life and views of the city that are unrivaled. (photo by Sam Zucker)

Must Visit:

Dinner: Dos Torres restaurant
Pastry Shop: Foix Sarrià
City Park: Parc del Turo del Putget
Lunch: Bar Tomás
Shopping Street: Mayor de Sarrià
Vermouth Bar: Mitja Vida

Barcelona is a stunning, vibrant and dynamic city to explore, and with luck, you’ll now be a touch more confident diving in. That said, if you need a little guidance, or a customised tour of the city, don’t hesitate to contact us! Whether you’re hunting for a gourmet cooking class, a historical walking tour or a geeked out wine course, we’re happy to customize the perfect experience for you!

Cheers,

Sam Zucker

TOP TIPS: How To Eat Your Way Around Valencia

DULCE DE LECHE Boutique ValenciaEditor’s Note: Travel writer and fanatical foodie Jaillan Yehia explores Valencia on foot looking for the best tasty treats you can put in your mouth, whatever your mood. Here are her picks …

Having fallen in love with Valencia on a previous visit, I already knew the culinary scene would be the highlight of any return trip to Spain’s third largest city.

So when I was given a brief to head back to Valencia specifically to sample a selection of the Mediterranean port city’s foodie offerings, I had high expectations – and I’m happy to report they were more than met; in fact they were exceeded.

I spent three days touring the best restaurants and cafes (a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it, right?) and generally getting under the skin of Valencian cuisine.

I discovered a lot of great eats – and found that almost everywhere in Valencia is accessible on foot, which comes in handy when you need to walk up an appetite for your next meal – which is all the time.

Best For Cafe Culture: DULCE DE LECHE RUZAFA

If you want to soak up Valencia’s coolest cafe culture and avoid the tourists then heading to the creative hub for the city’s thriving artistic community is highly recommended. While there are two branches of Dulce de Leche (the second on Calle Jesus, not too far away) the undoubted mothership for the city’s young arty types is the Ruzafa neighborhood just south of Estación del Norte, where having your coffee with soya milk, and your cake gluten-free is the norm. The selection of cakes and desserts at Dulce de Leche is eye-popping and mouthwatering in equal measure – the only trouble is narrowing down your selection and securing a spot: this place is popular, which makes the people watching outstanding.

Order up: The sweets are ridiculously plump and homemade, but we regret not getting their giant raspberry muffin.

Catavino Tip: If you can’t find a table, are on a diet or didn’t bring any reading material pop round the corner to Ubik Cafe instead – it doubles as a bookshop and has a less tempting selection of cakes but a more highbrow air.

LA LOLA ValenciaBest For A Contemporary Lunch: LA LOLA

Down a flower-filled alleyway teaming with street art in Ciudad Vieja is a bright, contemporary and relaxed restaurant offering a tempting Menu del Día. Comprised of hearty-yet-healthy local dishes, La Lola‘s lunch is served with an innovative twist and presented like works of art. All for €15. Owner Jesús is the gregarious and fittingly bohemian owner, who, despite having cultivated the ambience of a Miro painting come to life, has also injected some palpable Gallic sensibility into the setting. The lively ambience makes the place popular with French and Belgian patrons, and there’s certainly a mixture of European accents in evidence on my visit. But if you’re seeking classic Spanish cuisine look no further than their three types of traditional paella made with Albufera rice and saffron (part of the lunchtime set menu), smother everything in their delicious Lagrima olive oil or come back after dark for the once-a-week flamenco.

Order up: ‘The Surprises’ are flaky cheese parcels ,which have been on the menu since the restaurant opened. They’re sinful!

Catavino Tip: You don’t have to suffer from food allergies to eat at La Lola, but those who do will be in very safe hands. It is all about fresh, light food – nothing is fried and if you need gluten free, dairy free or any other speciality preparation, they’re more than equipped and happy to oblige.

Best For Traditional Spanish Fine Dining: EL CANYAR

EL CANYAR Restaurante ValenciaThe best paella may not be what you’re expecting from a cul-de-sac street bisected by train tracks in the Estación del Norte neighborhood, but behind the unassuming doors of El Canyar, the entire Spanish A-List dine! Under the watchful eye of owner Miguel Segue, the finest traditions are upheld by Chef Isobel, who has been at the helm for 28 years. Traditional isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life. The menu is teaming with seafood dishes which include highlights like prawns blended into a fresh gazpacho and a delicate hake from the north of Spain. And of course there’s the requisite thin pan of caramel colored paella. As much as the food pulls your gaze down toward the table, the restaurant walls hold their own in drawing your head back up: world famous singers actors and other famous faces have been encouraged to doodle on their napkins so everyone from Micheal Schumacher, to Yoko Ono and Daniel Craig have their signatures on display. The private dining rooms help make up a maze of nooks and crannies in the beautiful old building – including an impressive wine cellar holding up to 8,000 vintages at any one time.

Order up: When in the birthplace of paella, it would be a sin not to start with the restaurant’s celebrated rice dish, which Miguel recommends with duck, rabbit or chicken. Seafood fans shouldn’t miss the decadent Denia prawns – fished from a depth of 800 meters, they sell for over €100 per kilo.

Catavino Tip: El Canyar is open for lunch and dinner everyday but Sunday.

Best For Fisherman Style Tapas: CASA MONTAÑACASA MONTAÑA Restaurante Valencia

I’d heard that Casa Montaña was special, but so did quite a few other tourists. Then again, after 180 years selling tapas at this very spot – originally to fishermen, it’s no surprise that word has gotten around. But neither the authenticity of the surroundings, nor the standard of the food, has been compromised. Perhaps because every vestige of Casa Montaña’s lengthy history not only survived, but to continues to be celebrated, and the family atmosphere is much in evidence. The original tiled wine cellar (holding 500 vintages) remains and wine is still sold by the liter for take away while all the original rusty taps double as wall decorations to retain visceral links with the past. You’ll find very simple and unfussy tapas on the menu, with flavors elevated by the quality of ingredients. Tuna served with cardamom and mace is particularly delectable, as is the habas michirones – a snacky bean dish.

Order up: There don’t seem to be any duds on the menu but make sure you order the ham, every time. If you happen to visit in season the local mussels are picked up directly from a local lady’s house – because her catch is the best.

Catavino Tip: Try some of the best wine in Spain without breaking the bank – Casa Montaña is one of the few places which will serve top wines by the glass rather than making you buy the whole bottle.

Best For Fresh Ingredients: MERCADO CENTRAL DE VALENCIA

MERCADO CENTRAL DE VALENCIAVisit Valencia’s Mercado Central – it’s physical position in the Centro Historico makes it virtually unavoidable, and once you’ve done the tiniest smattering of research, you’ll be making a beeline for it anyway. But it’s a simple fact that no food lovers’ visit to the third largest city in Spain would be complete without devoting some time for a tour and tastings in the 8,000 square meter culinary palace. For anyone renting an Airbnb, apartment or Casa Rural, this is your one stop shopping location for delectable treats. For everyone else, check out the horchata, a signature Valencian drink made by pressing tiger nuts with copious amounts of sugar and served, as if not yet sweet enough, with long thin sugary donuts called fartons.

Catavino Tip: Of all the stalls selling jamón ibérico we liked Supergourmet best – they’re generous with samples meaning you can decide which you like before buying.

Best For Gourmet Valencian Souvenirs: ORIGINAL CV

If Valencia’s restaurants are a veritable feast, the produce on offer at this exceptionally pretty gourmet food shop set in an historic pharmacy is a joy for all the senses. From Valencian orange-scented soaps to artisan jams, handcrafted beers made with blossom and honey and wines aged in clay pots, no foodie could hope to leave empty handed in Original CV. I depart with some Agua de Valencia – the city’s famed and fortified alcoholic tipple – but depending on your preferences (and your luggage allowance) you could easily go home with bottles, jars and packages to last until your next visit to Valencia. The main branch, said to be the city’s oldest building, is conveniently located opposite the Mercado Central while the second store is in the Estación Joaquín Sorolla train station.

Catavino Tip: If you’re looking for a food souvenir for a friend with impeccable taste, the sumptuously decorated cloth bags of Arroz Albufera are hard to beat.

These six spots will always stick in my mind as major culinary highlights from Valencia’s hyper-local food scene – but of course, a huge part of the fun of any city break is finding your own favorite places and discovering the stories behind them.

That said, if you need a trust guide to lead you to tasty gems, or a customized tour through Valencia, let us know! We’re happy to lend a hand!

One of the best things about my time in the restaurants and cafes on this stretch of the Iberian Peninsula was the friendliness and openness of the owners, and their willingness to share the secrets behind their cooking, and the often fascinating history behind the food on your plate – so if you’re headed to Valencia this list might make a great starting point, but where else your taste buds will be taken is the real adventure.

Cheers,

Jaillan Yehia

Jaillan Yehia is the founder and editor of Savoir There a discerning arts and food-focused travel blog, and the travel editor of UK lifestyle magazine EKL. 

Originally from London, she now splits her time between exploring the culture and cuisine of Europe and wandering the wild open spaces of her second home of British Columbia, Canada

Barry Hatton: 5 Historical events to understand the Portuguese

Book: The PortugueseEditor’s Note: Several months ago, we stumbled upon Barry Hatton’s book, “The Portuguese: A Modern History,” and found ourselves captivated. Very few books cover Portuguese culture and history in English, and of those that do, even fewer bring to the light the incredible successes and struggles that plague the nation. As an AP reporter, and someone married to a Portuguese woman, Barry had a unique view worthy of sharing. But rather than your everyday interview,  we chose instead to ask  Barry to tell us what he felt were the top 5 historical events, listed by date, that helped to shape Portuguese culture. We hope you enjoy Barry’s take on Portugal. And if you haven’t make sure to check out his book to go even deeper.

714 – Ruled by Fate

It’s an observation you often hear from Portuguese, spoken as a justification: “We’re a small country.” It is supposed to explain why Portugal has trouble competing with the rest of the world. The idea it conveys is that Portugal is doomed from outset, that the deck is stacked against the Portuguese by geography. If you have ever wondered where that tone of doom and gloom comes from, here’s one clue: Arab fatalism. The North African Moors defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Guadalete, now in southern Spain, in the early 8th century and gradually took over most of the peninsula. They weren’t pushed out of the Algarve until the 13th century. The legacy of that Arab blood can also be detected in Fado’s sometimes melancholy mood. Of course, in this country of sometimes baffling contradictions, it has to be noted that during the Age of Expansion the Portuguese – when there were far fewer of them than there are now – were anything but maudlin. In fact, their drive and ambition were so strong that other Europeans thought them unseemly. So size doesn’t matter. Spirit and self-belief do!

1536 – Keep a Low Profile

The arrival of the Inquisition, like the rule of Antonio Salazar many years later, taught the Portuguese a lesson: Don’t step out of line, don’t take chances, stay low. That kind of violent conformity crushes the life out of free thought and action. Still nowadays, Portuguese angered by wrongdoing are often reluctant to speak out in specific terms, to name names in public. Vague generalizations are safer.

1698 – The Unseen, Unheard, Unloved

There is nothing odd about the public delight and joyful reception given to new president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. There’s a sense of relief when people feel a leader understands them and speaks to them from the heart. The Portuguese commonly describe their political leaders as distant and uninterested in the well-being of the povo, especially those living outside the capital. It’s an old complaint. Between the 12th and 17th centuries, occasional assemblies – called cortes – were held and brought together the monarch and landed nobles and clergy, and sometimes included delegates from municipalities. The last time the cortes were convened was in 1698. Portugal’s modern-day macrocephaly, with Lisbon taking an outsize role, only increases the distance between the governed and the government.

Barry Hatton1974 – Gratuitous Generosity

As any foreign visitor knows, the Portuguese are proverbially hospitable. For a start, they have an endearing readiness to speak your language in their country. The Carnation Revolution of 1974 is remembered by most Portuguese as a triumph of freedom over dictatorship and by international history as a time of deep concern about Moscow possibly getting a foothold in Europe during the Cold War. Less remembered is an extraordinary and rarely celebrated feat: Portugal, a country of fewer than 9 million people, absorbed without a problem about half-a-million Portuguese who came home from the country’s colonies. It was more evidence of the adaptability, forbearance and spontaneous generosity which marks out the Portuguese character – and that Amalia captured so memorably in her 1953 recording of “Uma Casa Portuguesa.”

1986 – The Sea is Our Blood

The year Portugal joined the European Union (then called the European Economic Community) was the year I arrived in Lisbon – and, because it was such a charming country, stayed. It was also around that time that I attended, as a reporter, a conference where politicians and businessmen talked about the need to take advantage of the ocean as an economic resource. The thing was, Portugal in 1986 had made an historic inflexion: it had turned its attention to the European continent, which had given it so little, and away from the ocean, which had given it so much. The Portuguese realized the error and wanted to correct their path. Since then, for three decades, at numerous other conferences, the Portuguese have been talking and talking and talking about the need to take advantage of the ocean economy. It makes me want to scream, “Just get on with it!”

Thank you Barry for your thoughts! For the rest of you, let us know what you think. Did Barry miss any key dates you think are key to understanding the Portuguese? What do you feel were the major events that influenced the Portuguese to become who they are today?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Barry Hatton has been a British foreign correspondent in Lisbon for almost 30 years, working since 1997 for The Associated Press. He is the author of “The Portuguese: A Modern History” (Signal Books, Oxford, 2011), translated as “Os Portugueses” (Clube do Autor, Lisboa, 2011). He also co-authored, in Portuguese, the first biography of Portugal’s only ever woman prime minister, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, “Uma História para o Futuro” (Tribuna da História, 2007). Recently, he has entertained himself by co-writing crime novels set partly in Portugal: “Lisbon Water Kills” (2014) and “The Cocaine Revenge” (2015). He is currently working on a book about Lisbon.

The Disruptive Diva of Portuguese Jewelry

Sofia HenriquesEditor’s Note: Meet Sofia Henriques, the stunning jewelry maker behind the limited edition pieces of SHAMA. After stalking her on various social sites, mesmerized by her work – including her Disruptive Diva necklace – I eventually sweet-talked her into lunch at Chef Kiko’s A Cevicheria in downtown Lisbon where we spent the better part of an afternoon bantering over design, dreams and her future in Portuguese jewelry design. Below you’ll find the highlights of our conversation. 

1. Who is this Disruptive Diva and why is she so passionate about design?

I’ve always been passionate for design. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to textures, colors, antiques, art, fashion, crafts, DIY etc, a residual effect from my summer holidays in Coimbra. The women in my family were gifted with their hands, producing linen, carpets and new clothing from tattered, old pieces that others might throw away. I never did! Today, my grandmother’s retro outfits are not only in fashion, but share a story from my past. Spending lazy summer days in the country also cultivated my appreciation for nature as I tagged along with my grandparents to help with field work. Every stick, stone and flower displayed unique contours, colors and texture. As a child, it fascinated me! This sensitivity to sensual experiences also played out in food and art. With my mother, I gained an appreciation for quality and authenticity in ingredients, while her painting of princess in gouache were mesmerizing. I grew up in rooms blanketed in canvases, brushes, rollers, paints and sprays. I experimented, played, hosted exhibitions and of course, absorbed everything I could. My childhood was a tapestry of sensual experiences!

2. You could have been a painter, or an underwater basket weaver, why jewelry?

My very first contact with jewelry was on a trip to Montreal, Canada, to visit my boyfriend’s family. His mother was jewelry designer and showed me how to craft basic pieces. I was so inspired, that when I came back to Portugal – jobless at the time – I signed up for a jewelry course. It was incredible to work with fine materials, to appreciate how vastly different the process was depending on the final piece. I worked with leather, brass, copper, fabrics and stones. I fell in love with coral, turquoise, shells and african beads. I was inspired by everything I touched, everywhere I went and everyone I met. Eventually, I took the leap and launched my own business. But jewelry is just one of my passions. Lately, I’ve also became interested in furniture restoration, but of course time and patience to devote to it is a challenge. I’m dying to restore my grandparent’s antique desk that’s been saturated in a thousand layers of green, pink and gold paint to expose its natural wood! Eventually!

Portuguese Jewelry3. Is jewelry design a hot trend in Portugal right now?

In fact, the art of craft is fashionable right now in Portugal, which includes: jewelry, knitting, furniture restoration, clothing, pottery, basketry, carpet, cork, ceramics, etc. There are a number of factors which have, in my opinion, led to this boom. First off, while many people have had a similar experiences growing up around crafty grandmothers, others are simply tired of what conventional stores are offering. Plus, the Portuguese are now valuing the entire handmade, Made in Portugal, movement of small, independent producers who are reviving the old-school traditions. Who knew that cobertores de papa or chinelos de farrapos would become fashionable again? And in fact, both are gorgeous! This notion of going back to your roots can also be seen in food. Just take a look at the boom in organic markets and rooftop gardens in the city.

4. Beyond filigree, does Portugal have any native styles or famous jewelers?

Filigree is undoubtedly the touted jewelry style throughout Portugal. This highly delicate and lengthy process has been in existence since 2500BC! Only now has it become a worldwide trend, as a result of both the craft movement and noted artists. For example, Euleutério seamlessly combines ancient with modern design, while Valentim Quaresma repurposes materials to make larger than life designs. I also love Cecilia Ribeiro‘s work, because she integrates cork into a natural, organic forms. It’s breathtaking!

5. How would you describe your jewelry, what makes it unique?

I love creating pieces in limited editions. Every piece of jewelry is unique with a singular element that helps it stand on its own. These elements might include baroque pearls, exotic fabrics, antique silks, semi precious stones, African beads, as well as leather and copper. For me, it’s essential that every piece transmits a sense of excitement with a touch of wild abandon.

Portuguese Jewelry6. What’s the backstory on your company’s name, SHAMA?

My name is Sofia Henriques. I knew I wanted a name that would integrate the “SH” and sound Portuguese. After playing around, I eventually integrated my 3 other names: Alexandra, Maia and Almeida, which gave me the intials “AMA”. And voila! SHAMA was born, with the small addition of “for you”.

7. Would you consider Portugal a creative and crafty country?

Absolutely! Just look at the toys from Madeira, the bellows of Mirandela, the lacework of Ervideira, the Alentejo hand-painted furniture, the intricate masks of Bemposta, the wicker baskets of the Algarve and the weaving tradition of Almalaguês… just to name a few. Many of these stunning Portuguese crafts are now being widely disseminated thanks to new designers who’ve taken advantage of these old school traditions. Using age old methods, they’ve simply added their own contemporary twist, and relaunched a new, exciting product. A great example of this Tóino Abel‘s reed handbags. By adding leather straps and fastenings, he provided a new exciting feel to an old tradition.

8. If someone is visiting Portugal, are there places people can learn to make traditional Portuguese jewelry?

There are plenty of jewelry schools and workshops in Portugal – mostly to the art of filigree. Mind you, this is an art, which takes years of discipline and practice, but if you’re keen to get a small taste of it, contact Catavino for more information.

9. Where can people find your work?

Currently, my jewlery is available online at www.shamaportijewelry.com I also have one Facebook page – www.facebook.com/shamaporti and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/shamaporti

Sofia, thank you so much for sharing your dreams and visions with us, and with luck, we’ll have more info about your jewerly making workshops in the near future!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Discovering Irresistible Portuguese Wines – Simplesmente Vinho

Simplesmente VinhoIf you visit Porto in the last week of February, be prepared to get wet – drenched even, as the rainy season can be almost tropical in its intensity. Metaphorically, you’ll also get drenched in wine, as the city hosts not just the huge Essencia do Vinho fair, but an ever-increasing range of off-events, lunches, dinners, tastings and producer soirees.

For the wine lover or connoisseur, this must be one of the top weeks in the year to be in Porto – producers, critics and traders from across the country, and indeed across the Iberian peninsula are all in town, and you’ll frequently find them holding court at some of the city’s best restaurants and wine bars.

In terms of tasting events, top of the list for any adventurous wine lover must be Simplesmente Vinho, an alternative “salon” for those who want to branch out from the more corporate fare on offer at Essencia and discover the full range that Portuguese wine is capable of delivering.

I last attended Simplesmente Vinho in 2014 – its second year. At that point it still felt like an insider tip, with 20 or so producers crammed chaotically into a pair of crumbling stone cellars. This year’s edition was a different story – the shabby-chic, alternative feel remained but Simplesmente expanded to a much bigger venue, with more than 60 producers from all over Portugal, and a small clutch from Spain in attendance.

By 4pm on the Friday, a sizeable queue of enthusiastic and thirsty wine geeks was already forming. From that point on, the spacious warehouse on Calçada de Monchique hummed with activity, reaching a peak of happy raucousness on the Saturday evening.

Simplesmente VinhoCalçada de Monchique provided the perfect setting, with commanding views over the Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia as a great wine-themed backdrop. The interior – all exposed brick, edgy art installations and oak barrels for tables – would not be out of place for a cutting edge exhibition in New York’s meat packing district.

Organiser João Roseira remains adamant that Simplesmente is primarily about having fun and socialising. Wine tasting is at the core, but everything has an informal, unpretentious feel. Producers can’t hide behind tasting tables, so interaction is encouraged. Both days ended with live music, Jazz on the Friday and R&B on Saturday. I really like this ethic, surely a better way to get people excited about wine than the conventional dry, stuffy tasting format.

Simplesmente’s expansion gave a welcome opportunity to sample wines from many of the more obscure corners of Portugal, with producers from the Azores, Colares, Trás-os-montes and Ribeira Sacra all in attendance. The salon doesn’t have strict entry criteria, but focuses overridingly on small, family owned estates, often farming organically and with minimal intervention in the winery.

Roseira has imbued Simplesmente with a fierce independence, and that was reflected in characterful wines, and big personalities amongst the winemakers. Amongst those holding court were passionate and multi-lingual Marta Soares (Casal Figueira), impish Filipa Pato and Alentejano genius Miguel Louro (Quinta do Mouro) – all with excellent if sometimes idiosyncratic wines.

Provided you could fight your way through the crowds, there were many treats in store. Some of my favourite discoveries included an intense Malvasia grown on sandy soil, from Casal Santa Maria (Colares), a clutch of outstanding Bagas from Quinta das Bageiras (Bairrada) and a convincing skin-contact Arinto from Vale da Capucha (Lisbon). Tasty offerings abounded from wineries up and down the country, with strong showings also from producers in the Douro (Quinta do Sagrado), Dão (António Madeira, Terras de Tavares, Casa de Mouraz) & Vinho Verde (Fascinating amphora fermented wines from Aphros, vibrant Loureiro from Clip).

In terms of variety and consistent quality, the event is a wine adventurer’s paradise and something of a must visit if you decide to spend this weekend in Porto. Simplesmente Vinho has blossomed into a vital component of Porto’s biggest wine week. As João might say “it’s simplesmente here to stay” – whatever the weather.

Cheers,

Simon Woolf

Northern Portugal: A Green Oasis for Nature Lovers

Dragons of PortoA few days ago, my son and I were taking a leisurely walk home from his daycare when we passed the infamous “dragon lair”. The tale of the devilish dragon den began with a hole in the stone wall that peeked into a lush abandoned garden bursting with life. White and pink magnolia trees shaded snaking wisteria and a budding green pine forest. The verdant landscape was mesmerizing and the perfect setting for a shy group of technicolored dragons who only came out for sweet, little boys.

“Mommy, dragons everywhere?” he asked while leaving a lone piece of bread for a carnivorous blue dragon.

“Well, not everywhere,” I confessed. “but we’re lucky to have heaps forests for them to play in! The more trees, the more dragons we can find.”

Looking at his pudgy fingers, he slowly whispered while holding each tiny digit, “One, two, five…Mom, five trees for dragons. Five! Five!”

Now whether our mythical dragons need five or five hundred trees to survive, his takeaway was the same, trees are important! So important, in fact, that we’d like to help you take advantage of the vast amount of green spaces blanketing the region. From hidden city parks with stunning views to gorgeous national parks, northern Portugal is a treasure chest for nature lovers!

The Lush Green Spaces of Northern Portugal

Parque da Cidade – Expanding 83 hectares across the city and towards to sea, it’s by far one of the most spectacular parks I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The park is a meandering labyrinth of winding paths that extends over 10 km and covered by 74 tree, 42 shrub, 15 fruit tree, and 5 aquatic plant species. 

Porto Trees!Palacio de Cristal – Designed by famed landscape architect, Emilio David, the gardens are overflowing with rhododendrons, camélias, pines, ginkgos and lime trees. There are also several themed gardens including the Jardim dos Sentimentos (garden of feelings), Jardim das Plantas Aromaticas (garden of aromatic plants), Jardim do Roseiral (garden of roses) and the Quinta da Macieirinha (little apple tree estate). While strolling through the gardens, you’ll also encounter strutting peacocks and waterfowl, majestic statues adorning fountains, ancient chapels and dozens of cozy nooks screaming for a glass of wine while watching the sun slowly set over the meandering river Douro.

Jardim Botânico do Porto & Serralves – These two privately funded parks are a must visit for anyone interested in mixing culture with nature. The Jardim Botânico do Porto (Botanical Garden) is not only famed for its literally collection of famed authors Sofia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ruben A., but houses one of the most elaborate romantic gardens in the region. Serralves, on the other hand, contains a modern art museum housed within 18 hectares of herb, rose and aquatic gardens, as well as lakes, forests and farmland. 

Peneda Geres National Park – Located along the northern border of Portugal and Spain, Peneda Geres (Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês) is a stunning labyrinth of regenerating oak forests, undulating green valleys, peat bogs, 300 million year old granite mountains and tranquil waters of the Homem River. It also happens to be the only National Park in Portugal and touches one of our favorite wine regions, Vinho Verde.

Parque Biológico de Gaia – Located in Avintes, just over the river from Porto, the Gaia Biological Park is a must visit for families! Coined as an agro-forestry park expanding over 35 hectares, you’ll encounter heaps of animal species including fox, otters, deer in addition to a vast array of bird species. It also houses a wide range of native trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.

Villar d’Allen – This gorgeous estate contains one of the few remaining leisure manors that surrounded the city of Porto in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It has belonged to the Allen family since 1839, when John Allen, who was an English businessman, bought it in a public auction. It includes the House of Villar d’Allen – a gorgeous living museum, vast romantic gardens and one of the largest collections of camelia trees in the region. For those who love nature and history, don’t miss this!

Keeping Porto Green!

If you’re keen to help keep northern Portugal lush, or simply explore the hidden green islands inside the region, check out O Futuro (The Future)! This Porto based organization has taken it upon themselves to replant 100 hectares of burnt, free or damaged land in the municipality of Porto with 100,000 native trees! Just imagine the number of dragons this could shelter! In an age when climate change is still debated, and enormous chunks of ice shelves are plunging into the Antarctic, this is a practical movement we’re elated to support!

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Villar d'AllenThere are three fabulous ways you can help support sustainability in Porto: adopt a tree(s), plant a tree or visit a tree! Depending on your schedule, and your ability to keep things alive, there’s a perfect option for you.

ADOPT: If you have land to plant a native specie(s), or know someone who does (hello Portuguese cousin!), register here by March 20th. O Futuro is giving away trees to those worthy individuals who have shown that they can care for a lovely tree! Though less work than a Labrador, a tree does require love and attention, so this is a serious request.

PLANT: If you don’t have a green thumb, then simply volunteer in one of their many meet-ups to plant trees. Easy! Bring your kid, your grandmother or your pet dragon. All are welcome!

TOUR: From March through July, you can join O Futuro on a tree crawl in Portuguese (though I’m confident you’ll find a loving soul to translate for you in a handful of common languages). Each month, they’re offering a 3 hour tour of a different native species.

If, however, you’re needing a something a little more adventurous and hands on, let us know! There are heaps of opportunities to explore Portugal’s gorgeous landscape through rafting, hiking, biking, etc. Simply contact us for more information.

Finally, an enormous thank you to Marta Pinto, one of the main founders of the project. Her willingness to sit down and discuss the program was invaluable, not to mention thoroughly enjoyable. Please don’t hesitate to contact her for more information at porto.cre@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Friday Feature Photo: The Card Sharks of Madrid

The Card Sharks of Madrid

Photographer: Adam Jason Moore

Capture Date: June 12, 2013

Location: Madrid, Spain

About: Despite their slow methodical approach, and deep-inset wrinkles, you won’t find more sly or wily players on this side of the Peninsula. Card games have long been enjoyed as a Spanish past time, and will often consist of: Loba, Botifarra, Chinchon, and the ever-so-popular, Mus. If you’ve never played, simply gift a can of beer to an older gentleman in the park and ask, ¿Cómo se juega a este juego ? (Hey, how do you play?) You’ll not only learn how to play, but I guarantee you’ll get some fantastic stories with it!

Desktop Wallpaper: To download this image, simply right-click on the image and select “save link as” or “save target as”, then select the preferred location on your computer to save the photo.

Purchase: Please contact the photographer directly if you’re keen to purchase their photo.

If you want Catavino to plan your next visit to exotic Iberian locations, contact us!! 

Wines of Portugal Annual Tasting in London – Lindley Hall

Living in Portugal, it’s a challenge to come up with a solid reason to fly to London for a Portuguese wine tasting, unless I’m already there! As a result of my article “On Wine. A Tragedy.“, I was asked to give a speech that coincided with this years Wines of Portugal Annual Tasting. Considering the two gigs were just a stone’s throw apart, it was a no-brainer to go, and I’m glad I did! It felt like a big family reunion among winemakers showing their latest releases, newest projects and looking for that ever elusive importer or distributor in the UK market. For me it was a chance to taste some old favorites, catch up with friends and take a few pictures along the way. Each picture is labeled with a name and winery/project, as best as I could. As to which wines were my favorite, I’ll try to put something together in the near future to share!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

Friday Feature Photo: The Prolific Portuguese Poet

Fernando Pessoa

PhotographerPedro Ribeiro Simões

Capture Date: March 30, 2015

Location: Lisbon, Portugal

About: The famed Portuguese poet and writer, Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) , was respected not only for the quality and breadth of his work, but for the work of his 75 alter egos. Rather than call them pseudonyms, because he didn’t feel it captured their true independent intellectual life, he called them heteronyms. These imaginary figures sometimes held unpopular or extreme views, and would often interact with one another. 

Desktop Wallpaper: To download this image, simply right-click on the image and select “save link as” or “save target as”, then select the preferred location on your computer to save the photo.

Purchase: Please contact the photographer directly if you’re keen to purchase their photo.

If you want Catavino to plan your next visit to exotic Iberian locations, contact us!! 

A Meat-Lover’s Guide to Portuguese Beef

Portuguese BeefWith large milky eyes, and softly splotched brown skin, the cow is by far the greatest protagonist in any baby book. Between the thick cardboard pages, she’ll pop up dozens of times among her barnyard friends guiding the child through their first words.

“Coooowwww!” Considerably easier than hippopotamus, right? But among the baskets of books I have for our wee one, I have yet to meet the cow’s intimidating counterpart, the bull. With his thick, muscular neck and enormous hind legs, his highly sensitive and emotional self is rarely seen, nor heard from. Odd, no?! (photo by Aitor Salaberria)

The irony is that I’m a Midwesterner! Having grown up in Chicago – once home to one of the largest meatpacking districts in the world – you’d imagine I’d be a resident expert on all things bovine. I should know how every steak, rump roast and rib was procured, sliced and delivered. Which breeds are flavorful and what cooking techniques yield the best results. But my world was perfectly packaged in plastic, a fairytale ending to a harsher, more tumultuous story…that is, until I moved to Iberia. Here, cattle is both prized for its skill in the ring, as well as its flavor in a meal. Walk into any butcher and you’ll encounter huge slabs of beef hanging from a hook, thick tongues on a display and a diverse selection of organs at your fingertips. Consider Iberia your carnivore utopia!

Why do I bring this up? Because very recently, when encountering a long table filled with thick, perfectly marbled Portuguese ox meat, I found myself muttering, Errr, what the (bleep) is an ox? I wondered if it wasn’t a distant cousin of a cow, or a totally different species more closely related to a bison, yak or yeti. And to my defense,  I wasn’t alone! No one knew what an ox was in my wee bubble of influence! Clearly, unless you’re raised on – or near – a ranch, it’s all cow to you!

Let’s change this! Time to get carnivorously educated!

  • Cow – An adult female that has at least one calf.
  • Heifer – A female under the age of three without calves.
  • Bull – An “intact” (i.e., not castrated) adult male. A wild, young, unmarked bull is known as a “micky” in Australia, while an unbranded bovine of either sex is called a “maverick” in the USA and Canada.
  • Steer – A castrated male in the United States; older steers are often called bullocks in other parts of the world, but in North America this term refers to a young bull.
  • Ox – A castrated male (occasionally a female or in some areas a bull) kept for draft purposes is called an ox (plural oxen); “ox” may also be used to refer to some carcass products from any adult cattle, such as ox-hide, ox-blood, oxtail, or ox-liver.

Portuguese BeefWhy is this relevant? If you’re crossing continents, it’s important to know what you’re consuming or potentially buying. Ox in one country, might be steer or bull in another. The same is absolutely true for cuts of meat.  

Now you might be thinking, “What’s up with the masterclass on beef? If it’s red and tasty, I’m happy.” Completely fair statement, but when I attended the 3rd Annual Trás-os-Montes Ox Festival, where I savored old Portuguese draft ox, the diehard foodie would vehemently disagree. This was my first festival, but hopefully not my last, because it brought to light how unbelievably ignorant I was, not only only cattle as a whole, but specifically about Portuguese beef. (photo by Rosino)

Portuguese Beef

Having lived under an oppressive dictatorship for nearly a half century, followed by bureaucratic chaos and worldwide financial crisis, it’s no wonder why the average Portuguese has yet to enjoy a 3 inch thick T-bone. Unless ranching was a family endeavor, thinner, cheaper cuts of meat were prized and turned into rich, flavorful stews or breaded paper-thin cutlets. Even the “extraneous” parts were made into savory comfort food, such as braised tongue, oxtail and tripe. Where luxury lacked, innovation flowed, making Portugal renowned for its diverse and mouthwateringly delicious gastronomy.

Though thick, marbled cuts of beef are a rarity on many Portuguese tables, there are exceptions, especially in traditional cattle rearing regions where farmers pride themselves on organic herding that result in premium cuts of meat.

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Ten of these native Portuguese breeds are now geographically protected and regulated under the PDOs or DOP (Denominação de Origem Protegida) label from the European Commission, and are absolutely worthy of seeking out. These include:

Portuguese Beef

1. Arouquesa – adapted to the mountains of Arouca in northern Portugal, this “small” breed is renowned for their muscular hind legs. In the past century, oxen often were often exported to the UK because of their gorgeous marbled beef. The 1meat was so famed, that in 1902, Arouquesa won the “Award for the Best Beef” in Paris. Good trivia, the calves must remain with their mother and suckle for a period of 5 to 7 months and once that period is complete the feed of the animals must consist of natural products such as rye, oats, straw and maize.

2. Barrosã –  originally from the Peneda-Gerês National Park in the extreme north of Portugal (Minho and Trãs-os-Montes regions), the Barrosa is known for its long, distinct horns – the kind of horns you don’t particularly want to get in a row with in a dark alley. That said, its meat is extremely tender with little intramuscular fat lending to gorgeous juicy meat.

3. Cachena da Peneda Gerês  originally bred in the Vila Real District, an agriculturally poor district in the extreme north of Portugal, the Cachena can also be found in Galicia. Cachena and Barrosã are sometimes considered variants of the same race, though Cachena are considerably smaller and known for their insanely delicious meat. 

4. Carnalentejana – golden red with long horns, the Alentejana cattle breed is found in the southern region of Alentejo. This is the largest and most renowned of the Portuguese DOPs boasting of 129 producers scattered across the southern region of Alentejo. If you’re looking for an easy a great Portuguese meat to procure just about anywhere in Portugal, this is it.

5. Charneca  – Charneca beef is produced in a large area in southern Portugal, north of Beja and south of Castelo Branco. Interestingly, the designated breed of cattle is called Preta (the black breed), which cannot travel more than 8 hours from the farm to the slaughterhouse to prevent undo stress. Then, the animals must rest for 12 hours in special area that’s well ventilated with clean water to allow a gentle transition onto their next stage of existence. Hopefully they enjoy a fabulous last supper as well!

6. Bravo do Ribatejo – Bravo do Ribatejo beef is produced in a widely fragmented area consisting of three parts – a large one in southern Portugal, another small one on the eastern border with Spain and a tiny one just northwest of Coimbra. The meat is from the purebred cattle of the Brava de Lide breed, which grazes freely off the land.

7. Marinhoa – produced in the western portion of Portugal, between the cities of Leiria and Porto. The Marinhoa diet is based on traditional fodder, however when housed their food consists of maize, rye grass, straw and hay.

8. Maronesa – the meat is derived from the primitive Maronesa cattle, which are said to closely resemble the extinct aurochs (wild ancestor of domestic cattle), and not a traditional crossbreed of other Iberian cattle. This is also a hearty and insanely rugged breed due to its native terrain, the Serra do Marão mountains of Portugal.

9. Mertolenga – with a red or reddish coat and white patches, this medium sized breed is also graced with white patches and white hook shaped horns. Native to southern Portugal, in the Low Alentejo and Ribatejo regions, the Mertolenga is a lovely marbled meat.

10. Mirandesa  – Today the Mirandesa is grown for beef in the natural pastures of Northeast Transmontano that includes the county of Miranda do Douro (hence the name). But back in the day, this large breed, known for its loose curly locks between its horns, was used to pull fishing boats from the water. I just gave you fabulous bar trivia material! You’re welcome.

Portuguese beefWhere to Enjoy Portuguese Beef?

This is a tough question, as steak houses aren’t synonymous with Portugal. That said, this is slowly changing, and an article we’ll tackle in more detail in the future. But to error on the side of caution, our best suggestion is twofold: either dine at high-end hotel or restaurant or hightail it to the source (terra). Some of the best examples of these meats are, understandably, in the region itself; and there’s no better people to suggest a great restaurant than the locals. If you are in Lisbon, however, check out: Café de São BentoCarvoaria JactoO TalhoSul and Cantinho do Avillez in Lisbon. In Porto, look for Reitoria, Rib Beef & Wine and Tenra.

If, however, you’re dying for a guided tour of these gorgeous meats, savoring their charred intoxicating flavor, drop us a line. We’d love an excuse to custom design a foodie tour specifically for you!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz
Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Michelin Chef Elevates Valencian Cuisine to New Heights

Bernd H.Knöller Headchef What would any food lover in Valencia enjoy more than a visit to the city’s Central Market – an 8,160 km2 art nouveau-styled space of gastro-commerce that houses 400 independent food vendors selling everything from the regionally grown chufas (tiger nuts), employed to make the delicious horchata drink, to baskets of snails, saffron and garrafo beans used to fry up the city’s traditional paella? The answer, I might suppose, is a visit of said market in the company of one of Valencia’s finest chefs, Bernd Knoller, the founder of the Michelin-starred Riff Restaurant.

I find him by the entrance, under a rising formation of stained glass windows that arch so high over our heads that the phrase “temple of gastronomy” seems less like a throwaway cliche and more like the only adequate description of this curiously cathedral-like bazaar. Especially when we move into the centre of the market and gaze up into the space of the structure’s commanding dome, which undeniably adds to the venue’s spiritual aura.

Knoller is not dressed for church however. The 53-year-old is wearing a loose-fitting brown leather jacket, its collar in a twist, over a casual blue shirt with faded black jeans. At well over 6ft tall with reddish blonde hair, he is easy to recognise amongst the shorter and darker natives of his adopted country. I’m relieved when he smiles and returns my greeting with a manner that is as casual as his appearance – I won’t have to spend the day treading around the eggshell ego of a celebrity chef I think to myself. And whilst he may have a laidback manner, I quickly discover Knoller is not a man to waste time, and so at the command of his shopping list – sent via Whatsapp by his fellow chefs in the Riff kitchen – we start to zip around the market’s kiosks collecting the ingredients for today’s lunch.

I start by asking him the obvious… how did this German chef, born and bred in the Black Forest, end up in Valencia: “The same as so many foreign guys here,” he says prosaically. “Because of the girls. In the kitchen now we are three, myself, one Japanese and one English guy and we all arrived for the same reason. We all have a Spanish wife and children.”

Next is recalling some of his early apprenticeships in England when we arrive at his favourite ham and cheese store, Solas. Naturally I want to know what a stall owner needs to do to earn the custom of a Michelin-starred chef. “He stocks very good products, he’s very kind, and there is always something new. It’s a very special place. They sell mostly Spanish produce but they also have some Italian mozzarella. Some ingredients invite you to make a new plate, for example this… I never worked with reblochon. I had never used it before but now I have a plate with sweet potato, and it’s already the second or third plate I make with reblochon. It’s cheese but it has a different texture, it doesn’t close the stomach.”

Talking about textures, what about the “molecular” approach to cooking, pioneered further up the Spanish coast by Ferran Adria, where foodstuffs are restructured so that familiar flavours can be served up in new forms, often with more than a side helping of performance?

Bernd H.Knöller Headchef and Owner at Riff“Molecular stuff? Molecular stuff is everything, I’m sorry!” says Knoller, taking a rather literal approach to my question (it should be noted that Adria himself hates the label too). “No, for me the product is everything. We are not going in for what you call molecular cooking. We know the techniques and I insist that we know the techniques, and some things we do, but not like a show. Only if I think there is no other way to get a flavour or idea I use it – but I don’t tell the customer.”

Not being showy turns out to be a theme for today’s conversation, but for now, let’s return to the market. Many of the stall owners are waiting for Bernd with sealed plastic bags of produce at the ready. Others weigh fresh veg for him in what is obviously a familiar ritual, exchanging a joke in Spanish as they do so. He is clearly a popular customer here and he points out that the market’s development since he arrived, over two decades ago, is a decisive factor in the improvement of the city’s food scene.

“For many, many years in Spain, chefs bought all their products in France – everything. That’s the reason why the Basque country has better cuisine, because they are nearer to France. But now we don’t have to buy in other places. What is here [in the market] is enough. Ok some spices, some oils are missing… I like very much different types of oils… but you can cook very well with what we have. But 20 years ago it was impossible!”

He is however critical of the lack of Mediterranean-sourced seafood at the fish counters.

“Everything you see here is not from the Mediterranean sea… I think 90% is not from there, it’s from the Atlantic. There are only a few places that really have Mediterranean fish.” At this point he greets the owner of Pepin stall, the one place he does come to in the market if he wants a sardine or two. The rest he buys from the fish auction.

We wander out of the market and into the warm December sunshine and, with the shopping taken care of, Knoller is free to speak more openly about his food philosophy.

“For me there’s only two types of cuisine. The good and the bad. It’s very important. For me it’s very clear what the bad one is. All the preserved foods in the supermarket, all the fast food from McDonalds, a lot of prepared pizzas, where they make food with a lot of additives… there is a lot of bad food in the world and it makes us live our lives badly. So I’m very against this kind of food. That means I’m a fan of the market here in Valencia, and I’m always looking for good food. When I go to restaurants for me it’s very important that they make good food – that they buy fresh ingredients.”

Interview with Bernd H.KnöllerThis chat has led us to Muez, a (dare I say it) hipster coffee place replete with bookshelves, kids’ play area and a healthy breakfast menu. Knoller orders some yoghurt with muesli and coffee and I quiz him about another interview he gave in which he said that the city had finally freed itself of the slavery imposed by the paella.

“In Spain there are quite a few regions where you go to eat certain things. When you go to Huelva you eat Spanish ham, and when you got to Segovia you eat cochinillo, the small suckling pig. When you go outside Segovia you eat the small lamb. When you go to Valencia you eat paella. Everyone who was coming to Valencia, came for the paella.

If you talk about Segovia, it’s still like that. My first wife is from there and I thought about making a restaurant there, but I thought it’s so difficult to fight against the tradition. In Valencia in the first years it was the same. The first years everybody comes here for paella and they didn’t look for something else. Now, almost ten years ago, they finally got free of the paella.”

But how did that come about?

“The people who live in the area of the sea are normally a bit more open than the people from the mountains. It was time for something else. There were a lot of young chefs who studied at restaurants abroad [who returned to the city]. Valencia has changed a lot in the last 20 years, a lot of new chefs, a lot of new products – the market when I first came here didn’t even sell olive oil, and there were no herbs there. There was only one salad. I couldn’t believe it! Slowly but surely they sold new products and new chefs used them. Now I don’t think that [Valencian gastronomy] is #1, but I would put it at 7 and half… so it’s getting better.”

As the conversation continues we hit on another gastronomic buzzword that seems to rile Knoller somewhat: the foodie.

“It’s very important for me to make a difference between foodies and gourmets. A gourmet is a person who will be happy with the smell, with the taste and with the texture of what they are eating. With just these three things a gourmet is getting very near to God! The foodie is different. We have had gourmets for hundreds of years… but the foodies are new, they are new because of television, of the cooking shows. The foodies make their opinion from seeing how other people cook and how other people eat and what other people say about cooking and what other people say about the food… it’s much cheaper to be a foodie than a gourmet. Because to be a gourmet you have to educate the tastes. But the foodie is more for looking so when he comes to a restaurant, he likes very much the show. The gourmet he doesn’t like the show, he even reviles it. They don’t need it. The foodie he was born with looking, he needs show and things which seems like one thing but it’s not… to put the fish on the iPod, or eating below the sea, or hearing the sea with a conch shell while you eat an oyster. This is what the foodie likes. The gourmet doesn’t care about this – even he doesn’t like it. The problem is that now there are much more foodies than gourmets.”

Interview with Bernd H.KnöllerThe root cause of Knoller’s desire to distinguish the two, is soon revealed to be our friend the Internet. “Sometimes I see my critics on Tripadvisor and they write ‘Riff didn’t surprise me’. We are cooking, nothing else. We are making food. If you want a surprise you should go to the football stadium! I think now in Spain it’s a pity because the most important restaurants, the three star [Michelin] restaurants, in my opinion, are all falling into the trap of this idea of show… and it’s a pity because the plates are not good. This has to do also with the many staff chefs in the kitchen – some restaurants have 20 staff chefs in their kitchen. You have to imagine that you have 20 people in your kitchen that don’t know how to cook, so you have 20 stupid hats, and you have to give them work for at least 12 hours a day, and this of course you see in the plates after. So you have luxury catering, but it’s no kitchen.”

Certain that I don’t qualify to be a gourmet, and possibly not even a lowly foodie, I decide it’s high time to change the subject. Luckily at this point one of the other travel bloggers in our company does just that, asking Knoller about the latest dining trends in Valencia.

“I think we are seeing a new kind of restaurant. There are not only the Michelin star restaurants, there are places like Mercat Bar. There are quite a few of these new kind of restaurants which makes the city a bit more modern. In Valencia you can go to a Michelin star restaurant and spend a €100. It’s still important to know that the Spanish Michelin star restaurants are cheaper than in England or France. But now we have fusion as well: at Canalla Bistro all the prices are 20 euros and you can eat very well. What is important in Valencia is that you should know where to eat during the time you are here, because there are a lot of bad restaurants. There were always a lot of bad restaurants in Valencia, but now with a lot of tourists it’s much easier [for restaurants] to get even worse, because the client doesn’t come back so it doesn’t matter… they are hungry, they see the place and they walk in.”

Knoller’s perspectives on his craft no doubt owe a lot to some of his more left-field career choices that have seen him take several career breaks. “It’s funny because a few years ago I told my mother, well now I’m 30 years a chef, and she looked at me, and she said ‘Thirty years? You were working as a social worker, you made theatre, you worked as a farmer.’ And I told her, but all this was very necessary to survive with my restaurant, the theatre because of my shyness – a lot of shy people make theatre – but also to learn manners, to learn how to treat people in the restaurant. Of course the social work was very important as well and the farmer time was very important as well. In German there is a word which is called Fahridiot, which is the idiot of the profession. He only knows about his own profession but he doesn’t know nothing else – he is an expert but in everything else he is ignorant. So when I get to 23 or 24 years old – I started with 15 – I saw myself as that, as a Fahridiot, so I decided it has to change.”

Bernd H.KnöllerPerhaps that well-roundedness of Knoller’s background is what enables him to take a perspective on his craft, something that may have helped him earn that coveted Michelin star… even if that was never his aim: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to decide to make a Michelin star restaurant. I never decided it. I always wanted to cook good. I went to very good restaurants to learn and after I wanted to make my own kind of cooking. And when you come to eat you will see we don’t make very Michelin plates, we make our cooking. And they gave us a Michelin star because they want to. We opened in 1993, and they give us the Michelin star in 2009, 15 years after. I think there are very few restaurants which for 15 years doesn’t have a star and after they give a star. We are still trying to improve and make better the food of course, and yes we could have earned a Michelin star 10 years earlier. But until 2009 there was no need to have a Michelin star because there was not many tourists. I couldn’t believe it because Valencia was very beautiful, but there were no tourists. There were no hotels even. Most hotels we have now in Valencia are from 2004, 2005, 2006 or even later from the America’s cup.

“I always listen to new ideas and I change almost every day the menus. My chefs are mad with me. When I see a new product I buy it without knowing what I want to cook. Recently we keep the plates a little bit more, but it has to be a little bit like that because there are a lot of people who come back and say where is the lamb that I ate last time? I have to tell them there is no lamb! Some people many years after they come they say to me, do you remember this plate what I ate here? I will never forget it in my life… and I say well I forgot it already.”

It’s nearly time for Bernd to head back to his kitchen and start preparing lunch… but it seems there’s time for one more question. Someone at the table wheels out the “you’re on Death row with one last supper” classic. Here is what Knoller had to say:

“If I had this situation I would have quite a lot of time to think about it. As I know me I change a lot of times before this moment to decide definitely. There is for example one of my favourite plates, which was the plate of my grandma. She comes from Bessarabia – as you know the Germans were all over Europe, and she was from Bessarabia which is now Ukraine – and she made a very Baltic kind of cooking. Very fatty, in the sauces there is at least one finger of oil. So she makes a plate which is strudel, like the apple strudel, but she makes it with nothing inside, she makes only the base which is very thin – for a child it was amazing when she made this it like that.” At this point Knoller mimes rolling a ball of dough across the table. “More big, more big, and then after it was as big as the table and you could put a newspaper below and you could read it was so thin. Then she made like a sausage and she put a lot of fat, water and potatoes in a pot, and the water until the potatoes was finished and on top they put this kind of pasta, and then on top another lid, a wet towel outside and they cooked it 25 minutes. After it was done the potatoes were crunchy on the outside and the strudel was very light, and it was for me it was the very best food of my life.”

Cheers,

Duncan Rhodes

Duncan met Bernd during the #VivaValencia blogtrip organised by Visit Valencia and the The Travel Mob. You can read more of Duncan’s Valencian adventures on his own award-winning Urban Travel Blog.

Portuguese Seafood Recipes for Dipping Your Bread

When we decided to relocate to Portugal from the States, I was ecstatic about the prospect of fresh seafood, seafood that was diverse, plentiful and all mine for the eating! With approximately six-hundred miles of beaches, succulent frutos do mar (seafood) exists along the entire coast, and that first night in Lisbon, I devoured half the country’s worth!

Since then, the country’s capital city has always laid claim to flavorful clams, shrimp, crab, and lobster, commonly served in a rich broth that begs to be sopped up with chunks of rustic Portuguese bread. These sauces are heavenly, addictive and perfectly suited to flavor new creations in the following days.

One such dish is Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, clams sautéed in garlic and olive oil that are then steamed open with white wine. Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, a poet from Lisbon, who had a reputation for love of food and drink is said to have noted the dish in his writings. This led to the dish being dedicated to him by way of name. Being so popular, Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato was entered, and came in as a finalist, in the national contest to choose the 7 wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy

Walk into any Lisbon marisqueira (sea food restaurant) or cervejaria (pub or bar) and you’ll easily find a plate of clams with hunks of crusty or toasted bread just begging you to get down to the good part, that wine sauce! These are typically savored at the beginning of a meal or as a snack, but if you’re feeling greedy, they make a nice meal all on their own.

While some are in love with the luscious sauce produced by these tasty clams, there are those who prefer something a little easier to spread. Enter the sweet rich taste of crab, and not like you’ve seen before!

Sapateira, or brown crab, is a perfect example of using food to the fullest when it comes to Portuguese cuisine. The crustacean seems to have always been highly prized around the world, but in most places it’s only the claws and legs that get attention. Here nothing edible goes to waste.

With the coastal inhabitants having had a primarily pescatarian diet, this meant that nothing could be just “tossed” out. Such a recipe was made from crab where all the sweet meat, creamy insides, and bright orange roe come together, becoming everything that the adventurous eater craves! Then in the true spirit of “waste not, want not”, it’s served in the original crab shell. 

There is a Portuguese saying that crab, and most of its sea brethren, are believed to be best eaten in the months that contain “R”. This makes the month long Sapateira Festival in Torres Vedras (September 4 – October 5) very time appropriate. During the month several restaurants participate in making crab “queen” with a various versions of the Portuguese favorite; Sapateira Recheada

Tasting the liquid gold that comes from a pot of Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato (recipe) or scooping up some Sapateira Recheada (recipe) onto a little toast on Portuguese soil is the ultimate way to experience the country’s food culture. But what about when you get home and that craving for just a taste hits? Why get into the kitchen and whip up some memories and share them with friends and family!

If however, these recipes have piqued your interest and desire to taste them on Portuguese soil, why not let us put together a full custom foodie tour just for you! Then you can dip, sip and nibble your way through meaty scallops, fresh lobster and sweet crab, not to mention a wide variety of wines! Contact us today for more information!

Cheers,

Rochelle Ramos

 

Friday Feature Photo: The Secret Waterways of Galicia

Neda, Galicia, Spain

PhotographerJosé Antonio Cartelle

Capture Date: April 2, 2014

Location: Neda, Galicia, Spain

About: Galicia is known as the land of the thousand rivers, many of which flow down from the mountain ranges of Os Ancares, O Courel and Pena Trevinca. As for the River Miño, it crosses Galicia from the northeast to the southwest placidly flowing down to the Portuguese border. If you’re keen to soak up some nature, check out Fragas do Eume – a wonderful natural park famed for its valuable fauna and Atlantic forest, the Baixa Limia-Serra do Xurés Nature Park in the province of Ourense, the spectacular Dunes of Corrubedo Natural Park in the province of A Coruna, and Serra de Encina de Lastra with its limestone peaks, spectacular palas (caves) and deep green valleys inhabited by birds of prey. Word to wise: be sure to try some Albariño while there!

Desktop Wallpaper: To download this image, simply right-click on the image and select “save link as” or “save target as”, then select the preferred location on your computer to save the photo.

Purchase: Please contact the photographer directly if you’re keen to purchase their photo.

If you want Catavino to plan your next visit to exotic Iberian locations, contact us!! 

Our Interview With The Man Behind: Mad About Madeira

Niklas JorgensenRecently, Catavino featured an article on the 12 Essential Tips to Visiting Madeira and a Beginner’s Guide to Madeira Wine – a crash course, if you will, on one of the most under appreciated styles on market! What we didn’t cover, however, is how you can find a Madeira wine that works for you.

Today, we bring you an interview with one of our favorite Madeira experts, hailing from the eclectic pea soup and pancake capital of the world – Sweden, to explain the differences between each of the main producers. We’ve been following Niklas for years, and love both his witty style of writing and his mad obsession for Madeira wine. It won’t take long for you to become an avid follower as well.

Who is this mysterious caricatured Madman passionate about Madeira?

Hi Catavino! Well, I’m not as mysterious as the drawing might indicate, and I have aged since it was made! But to make a long story short (er); I was working for a Danish company approximately decade ago, when on a retreat, a caricaturist at one of Denmark’s biggest daily newspapers was asked to do a quick caricature of each one of us. It took him two minutes to draw this and I just loved it. A few years ago I stumbled across it again and decided to make it into my profile picture. Call it ironic humour if you will, but it’s become a trademark and one I dare to update!

Behind the drawing is Niklas Jörgensen, Swede born Dane. I’ve lived in Stockholm – my self-described home – for over 14 years, alongside my wife and two daughters, working for a country code top-level domain registry. Well, that and contributing editor at one of Scandinavia’s biggest wine magazines, Livets Goda, in addition to my Mad about Madeira site – which is pure unpaid passion.

My wine fascination started over 20 year ago, as a result of my passion for cooking. I had been accepted in a chef’s school at the age of 19, but just before starting, I bailed. Late nights cooking in a stressful environment didn’t sound glamorous at all! So I quit before I started and decided I was better suited as an amateur chef. Cooking is my favorite moment in the evening, a time to relax, think and meditate. Wine became the logical transition, and working a year at a library instead of training as a chef, allowed me to read every wine book on the shelves. Eventually I worked for Kjäer-Sommerfeldt, a well known wine company in Copenhagen where I dove head first into French wines –  Bordeaux becoming my number one.

Madeira WineBut I’m a restless soul and decided to move to Stockholm without a job. At the turn of the century, finding a job was easy, but it didn’t fulfill me. So I took a second job in a wine cellar in Stockholm – insurance businessman by day and wine aficionado at night. My first daughter was born in 2007, a great Vintage Port year, but having two jobs and a newborn didn’t work out so well. I eventually quit, but desperately missed wine. I had never heard of wine blogs and html was Greek to me, but there I suddenly was, blogging about Madeira wine. I also created another site, winevirtuosity.com, but haven’t contributed much due to a lack of time. Since 2014 I contribute to the printed magazine in every issue and also run a blog (in Swedish) on the online site.

Why Madeira? Your adoration could have extended to Port, Sherry or Tequila for that matter. Why this particular fortified drink?

You know, I’m actually mad about Port as well. I also love Moscatel de Setubal and other Vinho Generoso wines from Portugal; but strangely, Sherry’s never grabbed me. I like the wines but they don’t have ‘it’ like Madeira and Port. It’s my own, most subjective opinion, and I know Sherry is kind of struggling in the same uncool league as Madeira, alas, nope. I think I’m simply in love with the ‘sense of place’ feeling you can get when you drink wine. Sure, Madeira is a manipulated product created by man, but there is a uniqueness in it which just keeps on surprising me.

I came in contact with Madeira around 20 years ago. And it was all about age. When you’re new to wine, there’s this fascination when it comes to old wines. And back then even a student like myself could afford a 50+ years old Vintage Madeira. Heck, I even bought Port from the 70’s for no money at all! Sure, I might have sacrificed one or two study books but it was for the greater cause. Besides, taxation law really sucks.

Madeira WineThese wines were a new world to me. It was all so new, and the bouquet! So I grabbed up older bottles., before I discovered today’s Madeira. Between annual visits to the island and tastings, new replaced old. The colheitas for example, are great for Madeira. They don’t collide with the uniqueness of the island wines, and they’re a perfect introduction to Madeira as a whole. Plus, the hospitality and generosity by the producers was priceless, a fabulous motivation to learn more! I know I’ve been a pain sometimes, with all my questions, but hopefully I can now give back to Madeira. Today, when I think of Madeira wine, I don’t immediately associate it with old wines but with wines that has never been better, wines that has such nerve which is unparalleled in the world of wine. And I’ve never been more mad about Madeira than I am today!

As we’ve confessed earlier, Madeira is no easy beast to wrap your brain around, but fortunately for us, there’s only a handful of Madeira Houses. By knowing a general style for each house, one might be able to better navigate the wine shelf. Do you have any simple way to remember the style of each house? Maybe a cheat sheet of sorts?

Today we have Vinhos Barbeito, Blandy’s, H M Borges, Justino’s, Henriques & Henriques, Pereira d’Oliveira, Faria & the latest addition which still hasn’t bottled yet, Madeira Vintners. Some producers also bottle under several labels, for example Blandy’s adds the Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s and Miles labels to their portfolio, respecting their historic differences in style. One could claim that the differences aren’t huge, for someone new to Madeira perhaps none at all; but that would be a lie because when you’ve opened your mind to fortified wines, allowing your senses to not only detect oxidized notes, alcohol and sweetness, then the differences become clear.

I would say three factors differentiates the producers; the level of oxidization, the level of perceived acidity and the type of cask used.

If we start with Blandy’s, their style is quite rich and powerful, yet elegant, and the use of American oak mainly gives the House a unique trademark style. Their popular label, Cossart Gordon, is extremely elegant with even greater acidity than the Blandy’s label. Blandy’s has been a driving force for Madeira wine and their importance can’t be emphasized enough.

Madeira WineA younger house with “only” 70 years in the business, is Ricardo Diogo’s Vinhos Barbeito. The style is quite different compared to Blandy’s. Ricardo works with seasoned old French oak casks instead and the wines are perceived as more acidity driven.

A total contrast to these are of course the wines of d’Oliveiras. No one is in possession of more old wines than these guys and no one bottles later. Last year, for example, they released a 1901 vintage. These wines are more oxidized – very noticeable, and displays loads of tobacco, dried fruits, nuts and concentration.

At H M Borges the style is also traditional but very elegant. Never the power of d’Oliveiras but such fine blended wines. Ivo Couto is a very skilled winemaker and master blender.

Justino’s upgraded a lot of their casks some one or two decades ago, and their quality is constantly increasing as their winemaker Juan Teixeira ups his game. The House style is leaning towards elegant wines and aren’t as acidity driven on the palate. Their Tinta Negra based Colheita is an excellent introduction to fine Madeira for a newcomer.

At Henriques & Henriques you’ll find a more powerful style of Madeira with quite rich wines. They’re becoming a bit more modern in style the last years. The series of 15 and 20 Years Old blends are powerful and elegant at the same time. The last one bottling, Faria, is not only involved in Madeira wine but in stronger liquors as well. They buy from a bigger bulk producers; hence the focus is on simple wines, although they now  have a nice 10 Year Old on the market.

In general, you will notice the difference in style from the Houses with Colheitas, or with wines that have aged, beginning with a 10 Year Old.

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

If someone were to dive into Madeira, where do you feel they should begin?

Every producer offers a wide range of wines, from vibrant three year old Madeiras to Vintage wines with a minimum of 20 years in cask. I’d say, let your curiosity lead the way and not your wallet. Try what attracts you. My main suggestion is avoid buying a lot of young wines. They’re not bad, after all, how many regions in the world demand three years as a minimum age for an entry wine, but to find the Madeira nerve, I’d opt for 10 years old wines. This is where the real action starts. Start with my own favorite, the Verdelho. It’s such a lovely introduction to great Madeira, this semi-dry style of wine which also goes extremely well with several food pairings. The latter is probably one of the main reasons why fortified wines isn’t something you just pick up as we like to have our wine with a meal. Chill it a bit, drink it from your white wine glass, if you don’t have any copitas, and either serve a creamy mushroom soup or some hard cheeses like an aged Parmigiano or Gruyere alongside it. You’ve hereby been warned for a fantastic pairing!

Madeira IslandThen move ahead. Try the drier style of Sercial with some Serrano, Parma, Salame and salted almonds. Geez! And we think of Champagne as the perfect aperitif! For the sweeter tooth, we have the Bual and Malvasia. They’re excellent companions to cheeses as well, but also fruit. In the summertime, one of my favorite pairings is fresh strawberries, whipped cream with some vanilla, and a glass of 10 Years Old Malvasia. Few wines handle the acidity of fruits and berries better than Madeira. And when you feel up to the next step, there’s the Vintage labeled wines, the Colheita or Vintage. The former is a kind of interrupted Vintage and what you often get is a wine of 10 to 15 years of age, a peek into the future and what awaits in a few year’s time. I think that someone new to Madeira will quickly understand the beauty of these wines and notice the unselfishness that comes with being a Madeira producer. The will and need to wait for decades before a wine might be released into the market. Something unique in today’s wine world where it’s all about putting the wines on the shelves as soon as possible, even before it’s bottled in some cases! We need wines that tell us to calm down, to relax. Madeira will do that for you.

Having fallen in love with the island during our last visit, we’re already plotting our next visit back, but would love to know your top non-wine related highlights that we should pay attention to!

What I like with Madeira is the fact that there’s activities for everyone. Both daughters of mine, 8 & 6, loves Madeira. The oldest one has already been four times! If you ask them it’s the great hotels that has caught their attention. The huge swimming pool areas. Myself I must say the skywalk at Cabo Girão. I completely hate standing on this glass ceiling looking almost 600 meters down to the coast line, but at the same time. it’s so fascinating. And the view on a good day is a memory for life!

Thank you so much for such a fantastic interview Niklas! And should you want to explore Madeira’s gorgeous coastline or crave an indepth wine geek tasting, let us know! We’d love to customize a trip specifically for you!

Cheers,

Gabriella and Ryan Opaz

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Romantic Restaurants in Lisbon for Valentines

Romantic Restaurants LisbonIf Lisbon were a guest at a house party, it wouldn’t be in the limelight. And that’s exactly what I adore about this city.

Picture yourself at this house party. Small groups of four or five congregate around bowls of peanuts and glasses of wine. Paris is delicately holding a champagne flute, batting her eyelashes at you while singing praises to the Eiffel Tower, to piqniques by the Seine, to La Vie en Rose. Rome’s the life of the party, Ciaa bella! as it flexes its bronze muscles and smiles, inviting you for a caffè and a swim in the Trevi Fountain. Venice won’t be outdone and seduces you with promises of a gondola ride under the full moon to the music of a violin. Santorini on the other hand invites you to join at the bar, where it’s taking shots of Ouzo with a young, tanned party crowd. And Lisbon? Lisbon is the mystery character dressed in black. Lisbon is understated and enigmatic. The less-is-more type that leaves you wondering long after the party is over. And for this reason, Lisbon will steal your heart.

In its reserved demeanor and restrained elegance, Lisbon epitomizes romance. The city isn’t an obvious one. It invites you to explore in order to get to know it. In this piece, I offer up four great ways to get to know romantic Lisbon – and what better way to do so than by candlelit dinners? I leave you with a list of truly stellar restaurants in the Portuguese capital. Each is spectacular in unique ways, and each shares the unassuming, romantic spirit that’ll have you falling in love with Lisbon.

Hip Hidden Gems

Clube de Jornalistas

Rua das Trinas 129 | www.restauranteclubedejornalistas.com |? ?+351 21 39 77 13

Clube de JornalistasYou might walk right by this gem of a restaurant and not notice. Clube de Jornalistas is nestled in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Lapa in an 18th century building. The restaurant’s unassuming green door won’t divulge much to the unaware passer-by, and that’s part of the restaurant’s charm. Clube de Jornalistas is refined yet low-key, the perfect place for a laid-back candlelit dinner. As you walk into the restaurant, you’ll be greeted by an extremely pleasant host who’ll hand you a glass of Portuguese Espumante in a friendly welcome. Formerly a single-family mansion turned schoolhouse turned restaurant, Clube de Jornalistas has several spaces where its guests can dine. Each has a different décor and ambiance, in all cases tasteful. The best seats in the house are outdoors in the restaurant’s courtyard garden, where you can dine under leafy trees and surrounded by flowers. Enjoy the creative menu of Portuguese-inspired food with a twist. (I’m a fan of the fennel and radish salad with bacon, and the rosemary octopus with sweet potato main is divine.) Fun fact: Clube de Jornalistas’ Brazilian chef Ivan Fernandes was a childhood music prodigy who played the trumpet in a symphony orchestra from the age of 15! Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner; dinner for 2 approx. €60.

O Insolito

R. São Pedro de Alcântara 83 | ?www.theinsolito.pt ?| +351 21 130 33 06

Romantic Restaurants LisbonO Insolito is where you go for Lisbon cool. This Principe Real restaurant shares a building with an uber-hip hostel, but nothing feels budget about dining here. You’ll walk into the reception area and take an old, iron-gated elevator large enough for 3, maybe 4, to the top floor. You’ll love the bohemian, artsy feel up there, where you’ll take in a luxurious view over Lisbon in the company of a chic crowd. If at Insolito around sunset, watch the city’s sky turn from blue to pink to purple. Ask for a table at Insolito’s outdoor terrace, which is covered on colder evenings, allowing for year-round use. Why not make time for a pre-dinner drink at the bar for one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, like the Insolito Gimlet or the 10 O’Clock Tea? Happy hour to the background of laid-back tunes should whet your appetite for dinner, where you’ll experience Insolito’s modern menu inspired by Portugal’s products and culinary tradition. My favorite dishes tend to come from the daily specials, which rotate depending on season and availability. My first time at Insolito, I ordered a delicious Azorean tuna that I to this day have not forgotten! Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner; dinner for 2 approx. €60.

European Glam

Tagide

Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes, 18 & 20 | ?www.restaurantetagide.com? | +351 213 404 010

romantic restaurants LisbonThis elegant Chiado restaurant is as much about the food as it is about the ambiance. Formerly a discotheque frequented by the likes of French musical legend Charles Aznavour, Tagide is glamorous. While unassuming from the outside, the interior is gorgeously decorated with 18th century Portuguese tile panels of blue and white, offset by delicate chandeliers glistening from the ceiling. Tagide sits on a hill, perched over one of Chiado’s most beautiful panoramic views of the city. Ask for a table by the window and enjoy a special meal graced by Lisbon’s waterfront and historic nieghborhoods sparkling in the background. I particularly like Tagide’s view of Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge at night, when the fortified castle is lit in a soft whitish light. Tagide is headed by well-known Portuguese chef Nuno Diniz, who has recently joined from the popular restaurant in Lisbon’s York House Hotel. Tagide’s menu is an elegant spin on traditional Portuguese cuisine, often with an international flare. I’m a fan of their signature cod fish dish, which features a chickpea puree and turnip greens. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner; dinner for 2 approx. €80.

A Travessa

Tv. Do Convento das Bernardas 12, 1200-638? | www.atravessa.com | ?+351 213 902 034

romantic restaurants lisbonDining at Travessa will leave you with the distinct sense of being somewhere unspeakably special. This Madragoa restaurant is located within the walls of a former convent, and its owners have paid attention to every detail in order to create a truly unique atmosphere for its guests. Make the most of Lisbon’s gorgeous breezy evenings and ask for a table outdoors, where you will dine by candlelight under the arches of Travessa’s courtyard. On colder nights, eating indoors is just as pleasant, where you’ll be surrounded by elegant wooden furniture and tasteful European paintings. Arrive at Travessa with an appetite. This restaurant’s hallmark is an 8-course round of appetizers – 4 hot and 4 cold, served one at a time ‘rodizio’ style. While the appetizers tend to change at Travessa, which works primarily with seasonal food and local products, the restaurant is well-known for a few crowd pleasers, like the succulent Portuguese black pork and the scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms (served straight from a cast-iron pan). Make sure to save room for your main meal, as Travessa’s menu boasts outstanding European fare by rockstar chef Nuno Coelho, who formerly worked a Michelin-starred Belcanto in Lisbon. The restaurant’s two owners are Belgian and Portuguese, which explains Travessa’s Belgian-Portuguese twist on sophisticated continental fare. Open Monday through Sunday for dinner only; dinner for 2 approx. €100.

I hope these snippets of some of my favorite romantic restaurants in Lisbon have whet your appetite for more. There is so much to discover in romantic Lisbon! Let us plan a customized itinerary through Lisbon just for you!

Cheers,

Cathy

The Best Places to Eat Calçots in Barcelona

Calcots SpainIn the Catalan countryside surrounding Barcelona, young, sweet onions break ground in mid-winter, growing tall and pale in the rich Mediterranean soil packed around their roots. The fertile earth guards the tender white shoots from the sun, leaving them delicate, delicious, and ready for grilling.

Calçots—as these indigenous winter onions are known in the Catalan language—are one of the most highly anticipated and cherished food traditions in a culture where such traditions abound. They are often found in city restaurants but most authentically enjoyed upon long, outdoor tables of heavy wood at rustic masia farmhouses; the iconic structures of rural Catalan life. Families journey by train or car on the weekends from Barcelona to the nearby villages to feast on calçots beginning in late January until the late days of April. The temperate climate may bring a chill, but the warm fires and profusion of young, locally-produced garnatxa, tempranillo, or cabernet sauvignon wines ably keep away the cold.  (photo by Ryan Opaz)

The calçotada (a calçot feast) begins with bundles of young spring onions charred black on a smoky, sweet hay-fuel grill. Once grilled, the long stalks (about 1’ in length) are wrapped in newspaper to steam tender for some 20 minutes, then released from their tight bundles. The onions are most commonly served to each participant on a traditional clay roofing tile to help retain their heat.

Though the appeal of a calçotada is a delicious, affordable meal of truly epic proportion, the fun of the festa is found in the quirky manner in which the calçots must be consumed. With bold fingertips, one must strip the charred outer layer of the calçot away to reveal the nearly-melting inner core. The juicy stalk is dipped in one’s personal crock of salsa romesco (roasted tomato, onion, garlic, and almond puree), then dangled high above one’s head and lowered into an open mouth with gusto and devoured in one savory bite. Not surprisingly, a calçotada menu price often includes a gigantic bib that reaches from the neck to the knees, shielding one’s clothing from sauce, oil, and the rivers of wine that shoot from the communal glass pitchers—or porró— flowing down from above into thirsty mouths. The best of the best hold the porró at arm’s length and imbibe the perfect, arching, ruby stream without spilling a drop.

L'Antic FornThe second course of an authentic calçotada always includes an array of grilled meats and the quintessential Catalan sausage, botifarra. Then, when you think that you could not possibly eat another bite, rustic earthenware cocottes full of crema catalana arrive; a similar dish to the French crème brûlée, complete with rich vanilla custard, caramelized sugar, and a little spoon to shatter the golden, glassy surface with delightful little whacks. (photo by l’Antic Forn)

While the most traditional way to throw a calçotada is in the fresh air of the countryside, away from the city’s hustle and bustle, there are many excellent offerings in restaurants throughout Barcelona. For your own calçots experience, check out the following:

Restaurants where you can eat calçots in Barcelona:

El Jardí de l’Àpat
Just 250 meters from Barcelona’s famous Parc Güell and with some of the best panoramic views of any restaurant in Barcelona, El Jardí de l’Àpat is a true Catalan classic. They offer special menus all year round, from Christmas and New Year’s Eve to the summer barbecues and birthday celebrations, with grilled meats and snails being star dishes. However, their real specialty is the calçotada!

l’Antic Forn
With the help of a real wood-fire, L’Antic Forn (the old oven) roasts up delicious calçots every winter and spring in the heart of Barcelona center. On a quiet street in El Raval, this old-fashioned restaurant is the perfect place to delve into the world of authentic Catalan cuisine. The menu offers an excellent selection of grilled meats, fish, and seafood, and plenty of traditional starters like stewed baby octopus in onions and “Espinacs a la catalans” (sautéed spinach with raisins and pine nuts). All year round you can find good, honest food at this neighborhood favorite, though the best is between January and April when calçots grace nearly every table.

calcots barcelonaCan Martí
Founded in 1987, Can Martí is the best of both worlds: a countryside feel within the Barcelona city limits. Perched in the green hills above the neighborhood of Sarrià, Can Martí offers daily lunch menus, a space for special celebrations, and even a “cyclist breakfast” of cured meats, sausages, Spanish omelettes, cheeses, and pa amb tomàquet (tomato bread) for the many who choose to spend their mornings pedaling steadily up into the Collserola Park. For the calçot lovers, Can Martí offers two menu options, one slightly larger than the other. Do like the locals and hike up to this rustic restaurant and spend an entire Sunday enjoying the scenic setting.

Can Manel
Found just a few blocks up from the busy Plaça Sants, the restaurant and bar Can Manel is somewhat of a local institution. Sants is one of the most fiercely Catalan neighborhood of Barcelona, and the visitor can clearly see the difference between this politically-charged, vibrant area (that was once its own little town on the outskirts of 19th century Barcelona) and the flashy, over-congested city center. Can Manel serves droves of locals every night of the week with simple but delectable Catalan essentials: grilled meats and sausages, fresh fish in various forms, roasted snails with garlic “a la llauna”, and, of course, heaps and heaps of char-grilled calçots. (photo by Ryan Opaz)

La Llar de Foc
The name of this charming little restaurant literally translates to “the hearth,” and it’s a perfect moniker. Located in the center of Barcelona’s character-rich neighborhood of Gràcia, everything from the wood-fired grill and chalkboard menus to the classic red-checkered tablecloths and farmhouse decor lets you know right from the start that an authentic meal is in store. Specializing in grilled meats, salads, and torradas (open-faced Catalan sandwiches on dense, crispy slices of toasted peasant bread), every winter La Llar de Foc rolls out the romesco and treats life-long customers to true calçot feasts—there’s nothing quite like fire-roasted calçots with plenty of red wine to wash them down! Because of the restaurant’s ideal location, a long stroll through the streets and plaças of Gràcia after your massive meal is virtually obligatory.

Calcots BarcelonaNote: If you have a car and a group of friends, why not do it yourself at one of the many public barbecue spots in Barcelona’s surrounding countryside. All you need is a little courage and perhaps an experienced local to guide you in the art of the DIY calçotada. Here are five places to throw your own calçot feast! (photo by Luis Marina)

Public Barbecue spaces for your own calçotada in and around Barcelona:

1) Santa Creu d’Olorda (in the Collserola Natural Park. 45 minute drive from Barcelona)
2) Torrent de Can Coll (in the Collserola Natural Park. 30 minute drive from Barcelona)
3) El Merendero (in Les Planes. 30 minutes drive from Barcelona)
4) Parc de la Trinitat (in Barcelona city. Trinitat Vella L1 metro)
5) Merendero El Pinar (in Olèrdola. 45 minute drive from Barcelona)

That said, if you’re keen for someone to expertly guide you along the way, taking you to the best Calçotada’s on this side of the Atlantic, then don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love nothing more than to make you feel at home and your stomach at ease on a customized foodie tour of Barcelona!

Cheers,

Sam Zucker

A Beginner’s Guide to Madeira Wine

Madeira WineDid you know that Madeira was poured during Thomas Jefferson’s toast at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or that it was savored at the inauguration of George Washington shortly thereafter? At one time, Madeira was so ubiquitous that it perfumed ladies’ handkerchieves; was given to military personnel for service of their country; and was frequently recommended for sick and overworked people – nicknamed the “milk of the old.” Such a fundamental part of our vinous history, and yet today, we would assume 99.99% of Americans know nothing about Madeira. And of those that do, Madeira is solely a difficult-to-procure ingredient for an obscure French sauce first documented by Escoffier and championed by Julia Child.

To be fair, Madeira is neither easy to find, nor easy to understand. After a week long visit to Madeira, exploring its sweet and sultry flavors, we still can’t give you a solid elevator speech on what it is! So please don’t feel frustrated, or put off, if you can’t sort it at first glance. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth the try!

What is Madeira Wine?

Put simply, Madeira is a fortified wine, aged under heat, and produced in the demarcated region of Madeira from approximately 5 distinct grapes. It’s sold as either Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet or Sweet, all of which are marked by their high levels of acidity.

Madeira WineThis marked acidity is a direct result of its location: an archipelago, just off the northwestern coast of Morocco, composed of two inhabited islands – Madeira and Porto Santo – as well as two uninhabited islands, the Desertas and Selvagens. Of these four islands, only Madeira and Porto Santo grows grapes. On 500 hectares of volcanic soil, located primarily on the north coast, vines teeter precariously on death-defying slopes that have been made into terraces called “poios.” These are harvested solely by hand. To irrigate, water was historically captured from the highest parts of the island (around 1800m) and channeled through 2150 km of man-made canals called “levadas” – many of which date back to the 16th century! If you’re looking for ingenuity at its finest, this is it!

As for the grapes, your main protagonist is Tinta Negra Mole, which is a crossing of Grenache and Pinot Noir. But you’ll also stumble across four “noble” grapes including: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal (also known as Bual) and Malvasia (aka Malmsey). On rare occasion, Terrantez and Bastardo grapes might pop in to say hello, but their meager plantings make them unicorns hidden on the fringes. You might also find the Yeti of Madeira grapes (a lottery win if you find them):  Carão de Moça, Caracol, Complexa, Deliciosa, Listrão, Malvasia Babosa, Malvasia Roxa (black grape), Moscatel de Málaga, Rio Grande, Triunfo, Valveirinho and Verdelho Tinto. But don’t worry about those for now.

If you’re now panicking that your next wine shopping adventure will result in sweaty palms and stunted prose when you can’t remember said Madeiran grape, don’t worry, because the process of making Madeira wine tends to strip much of the varietal characteristics when it’s finally bottled and sold. So getting too hung up on the grape characteristics won’t help that much. What’s important to know is which grapes are used to create each style of wine.

Styles of Madeira Wine

Madeira WineThis is by far the easiest and hardest part to explain about Madeira wine. Madeira is often made as a monovarietal, which due to legislation, determines the wine’s sweetness level. Below we’ve listed the sugar levels associated with each grape. But how we define “sweetness” is not only by the grape and its sugars, there are levels of nuance and balance that must be factored in.

There are four levels of sweetness marked on every Madeiran wine label: Dry (Seco), Medium Dry (Meio Seco), Medium Sweet (Meio Doce) and Sweet (Doce). (measurements are in grams of sugar per liter)

  • Sercial – Dry (Seco)  – ? 59,3 gr/L
  • Verdelho – Medium Dry (Meio Seco) – 54,2 – 78,1  gr/L
  • Boal – Medium Sweet (Meio Doce) – 78,1  –  100,04  gr/L
  • Malvasia – Sweet (Doce) – > ?  100,04  gr/L
  • Tinta Negra Mole, makes wines at every level of sweetness

Easy, right?! Now you simply head to your local shop and pick out a Madeira wine based on your preferred level of sweetness, right? Nope! Here’s the rub, “Dry” is not always the “Dry” you think it might be. The minimum sugar level is approximately 20 grams/liter, making every single one of these wines technically sweet.

That said….

Within the study of “taste”, there is something called balance. When you have a liquid or food that is very sweet and cloying, we try to balance it with enough acidity to make it palatable and fresh. Honey and lemon in hot water is the easiest way to experience this. The hot water with only honey gives you a sweet drink yet when you add the lemon its acidity quickly acts to balance the flavor to make it less cloying and more harmonious. This contradiction of something sweet appearing less so can also be experienced in another way. When we smell peach aromas in a wine, we often think it’s sweet even if there’s zero sugar within. Our mind associates peaches with sweet, so then after smelling the fruit, our mind tricks us into tasting what we believe to be a sweet drink. The mind is a very powerful and manipulative place, which is why we need to be cautious of our assumptions.

mountain peak madeira, portugalHaving tasted over 100+ Madeira wines, our perception of Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet often didn’t match what was on the bottle. More than once, we found Seco (Dry) to be rich and sweet, while Meio Doce (Medium Rich) seemed dry and austere. How could this possibly happen? Enter “acidity” stage left!

Strangely, a subtropical island is not the ideal place to ripen grapes. We thought the opposite! Consequently, come harvest, the grapes retain varying levels of acidity – some of which could remove nail polish! Sounds sketchy, but this is exactly what’s needed to help balance the sugar. The more acidity, the drier you’ll perceive the wine.

Unfortunately, there’s no way for you to know how you’ll perceive a particular Madeira wine without being familiar with the specific house and style, but lucky for you there’s only a handful of Madeira Houses, making the learning curve somewhat reasonable. (see below)

To give you an idea of how much sugar is in each wine, check out the following chart. Rule of thumb is that 60 grams of sugar is equivalent to around 16 sugar cubes:

Madeira wines Baumé Scale (ºBé) Sugars(g/l)
Extra dry < 0,5 ? 49,1
Dry < 1,5 ? 59,3
Medium dry 1,0  ?  ºBé  <  2,5 54,2  ?  Sugars(g/l)  ?  78,1
Medium sweet 2,5  ?  ºBé  ?  3,5 78,1  ?  Sugars(g/l)  ?  100,04
Sweet >  3,5 ?  100,04

*The Baumé scale is a measure of a solution’s specific gravity, not its concentration.

Sweetness, grapes and acidity aside, will you like these wines? The answer: YES! Think rich, earthy flavors of dried fruits, honey, coffee, molasses and spices (curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc). Then toss in fresh peach and red fruit every now and again, and you have an ever evolving wine, layered with complex flavors. These wines are special, other-worldly and unpredictable. Most importantly, they’re addictive! Like Sherry, once you dive in, it’s impossible to curb your curiosity and desire for more.

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Making Madeira Wine

An über interesting part of the story: Madeira is unique not only due to its wonderful sweetness and textured palate, but also for its ability to endure. The majority of wines in the world (in fact, all we know of except Madeira) will oxidize when left open, leaving you with a flavorless, insipid liquid better fit for your spaghetti bolognese. And that’s the cool part – Madeira doesn’t change, alter or shift when left open…at all! Don’t believe us? We tasted a Madeira wine that had been opened for…30 years! You read that right…30 years in a bottle and on a shelf! It was fresh, alive and full of character – something I would gladly purchase on the spot!

How is this possible?

The formula for Madeira is a simple triad: oxygen, time and heat. Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, those are your run-of-the-mill nemeses to any wine!” And you’d be right…generally. Amontillado Sherry and Tawny Port are oxidized, allowing the wines to mature and show rich caramel notes; hence, oxygen has its exceptions. We can also name thousands of wines that are meant to age and evolve over time, displaying more complex characteristics. But never, ever, are we told to heat our wine, unless…it’s Madeira!

To make Madeira wine, the pressed juice is fermented then quickly fortified with alcohol from grape origin alcohol. The timing of fortification is relative to the grape. The must from the Malvasia grape is fortified at the beginning of fermentation, while Boal and Verdelho get spiked on the fourth day and Sercial about a month after the fermentation started. The timing allows the resulting wine to be sweet or dry, depending on when the fermentation of the grape’s sugar was stopped, but all the wines will have high alcohol content.

The fortified young wine is then heated in one of two methods: estufagem or canteiro. An estufa is a large container – usually stainless steel – lined with pipes. The pipes circulate hot water around the container until the wine reaches a max of 50 degrees Celsius or 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s then kept at this temperature for approximately 3 months before bottling. These wines may never be bottled or sold prior to the 31st October of the second year following the harvesting. As the heating process is rather quick in the estufagem method, the resulting wine tends to show burnt caramel flavors.

In the Canteiro method, young fortified wines are transferred into wooden casks and placed onto a rooftop attic where they’re exposed to the heat of the sun as it beats down on the tile roofs. As the time needed to heat the wine is considerably more lengthy (we’re talking 20 to 100 years of storing!), the end result is less of a caramel profile and more fresh fruit aromas and flavors.

The process of heat, oxygen and time leaves you with a wine that is so beautifully abused that absolutely nothing can destroy it. Think of it as toughening up the wine.

When choosing a Madeira wine based on its age, here’s a cheatsheet as to what you should look out for:

  • Reserve (five years) – This is the minimum amount of aging a wine labeled with one of the noble varieties is permitted to have.
  • Special Reserve (10 years) – Wines are often aged naturally without any artificial heat source.
  • Extra Reserve (over 15 years) – A style that’s rare to produce, with many producers extending the aging to 20 years for a vintage or producing a colheita. It is richer in style than a Special Reserve Madeira.
  • Colheita or Harvest – This style includes wines from a single vintage, but aged for a shorter period than true Frasqueira Madeira. The wine can be labeled with a vintage date, but includes the word Colheita on it. – This style must be aged at least 20 years.
  • Finest has been aged for at least three years. This style is usually reserved for cooking.
  • Rainwater a style of Madeira that’s mild and tends to be made with Tinta Negra Mole.

Madeira Houses

Depending on who you talk to, there are anywhere from 5 to 8 producers, which is accurate depending on how you define a producer. Do you include the producer who’s still building their stocks and has no product on the market? They’re making Madeira, but are waiting for it to age enough to be sold as Madeira wine. What about the producer who bottles finished wines? Is he a producer or a marketer?

For the sake of ease and convenience, we’ve provided you with a list of Madeira Wine Houses to seek out at your leisure, but expect a more indepth article in the near future summarizing the style of each House.

Madeira WineWhere to find Madeira?

This is the challenging part, but less so every day as IVBAM (Madeira Wine, Embroidery and Handicraft Institute) is working diligently to try and get Madeira available internationally! To date, around 80% of Madeira wine is exported off the island – sort of a no brainer if you consider the population is equivalent to Anchorage, Alaska. From this, 81% is sold in Europe, mainly to France (for that famous sauce!), Portugal, England and Germany. Outside Europe, Japan and America are the largest consumers.

The great part about Madeira is that storage is not an issue. Hence if you find it, anywhere, it’s most likely in good condition. That said, tasting Madeira on the island itself ups the game to a whole new level, because Madeira island is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever visit. Paired with a skewer of freshly grilled meat while overlooking the volcanic islands terraced landscape is surreal, if not life altering. Trust us, we know, because we almost set up camp on Madeira permanently – it’s that beautiful! If you’re keen to experience this for yourself, drop us a line and let us customize a guided trip for you!

Cheers,

Ryan and Gabriella Opaz

Beyond the Tagus Part III: High in the Alto Alentejo

Alto AlentejoWelcome to the final installment of Beyond the Tagus! In our first piece, I introduced the fascinating, eclectic region of Évora. We then headed south to the Baixo Alentejo for Part II , and will now conclude in the north with the stunning Alto Alentejo.

Mind you, this story doesn’t kick off with a gushing adoration for the region, as it played a coy apprentice to a rather horrific mishap. My husband and I were dining at a restaurant in Lisbon’s Doca do Santo Amaro, an old dock that’s now lined with attractive, young-crowd restaurants. It’s a great place to venture for outdoor eating and drinking with a first-row seat of the Tagus and an up-close-and-personal view of Lisbon’s Golden Gate lookalike, the Ponte 25 de Abril. On this particular evening, we ordered our favorite bottle from Alto Alentejo, Terra d’Alter Reserva Tinto, and watched the waitress pour us each a glass. “And to eat?” she politely inquired, but as predicted, I needed more time. While playing with my wedding band in rushed discomfort, I debated the pros and cons of arugula salad versus grilled squid; when suddenly, my ring flew off my finger and onto the dinner table where it slowly rolled to the edge and concluded with a subtle plunk into the Tagus. I repeat, I dropped my wedding ring into the Tagus River because I couldn’t sort my meal options! The only silver lining to this story is that I could finally scream the handful of Portuguese expletives I’d learned since moving to Lisbon. (photo by José Carlos Babo)

As for the wine, let’s just say that I was incredibly thankful for that excellent glass of Terra d’Alter’s Reserve in front of me. And as a result, I’m going to pay honor to a glass that soothed my woes with an adventure into the largely unexplored northern region of the Alentejo.

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Getting There

I’m afraid I don’t have great public transportation suggestions for you this time. You’ll do your best exploring if traveling by car. From Lisbon, expect about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive. If you’re traveling from Évora, you’re only 75 minutes away!

susana_esteban_cvWine Scene

Wine may be the best place to start when it comes to the Alto Alentejo – says the woman who gushed about Terra d’Alter’s wines. The Alto Alentejo’s wine scene is one of the most exciting in the region, in large part because its vineyards are planted in the foothills of the Serra de São Mamede mountains. While it undoubtedly gets hot in the Alto Alentejo, temperatures are tempered by the Alto Alentejo’s distance from sea level and the moderating, cooling effect of the mountains. If the landscape seems greener in the Alentejo’s north than in the south, that’s because the Alto Alentejo gets more rainfall.

If you haven’t heard of award-winning winemaker Susana Esteban, seek her out! Since making her own line of wines in the Alentejo, alongside Dirk Niepoort, she’s become a hot commodity. She’s been awarded ‘Best Winemaker of the Year’ in Portugal’s Revista de Vinhos, and has considerable play in the media for her Procura, a white wine that has a refreshing minerality, crisp citrus flavors and a fantastic, prologued acidity. While not what novices would expect from the Alentejo, Procura is just one example of the unique, elegant wines that are coming out of the Alto Alentejo region.

Finally, head to Estremoz, about 40 minutes from Évora, for a visit to Quinta Dona Maria winery. Your guided tour will include a visit to the cellar, which will end with a wine tasting that’ll also feature local breads and cheeses. Make sure to build-in time to see the estate’s gorgeous gardens and 18th century chapel. Dona Maria’s wines are a joy to discover, so pick a tasting that works for you, from an entry-level one to a tasting of the estate’s top wines. The Amantis Range is a personal favorite! Book in advance here.

A Cheese Break

In Part II of Beyond the Tagus, we looked at Queijo Serpa, a signature cheese of the Baixo Alentejo. Make sure that your visit to the Alto Alentejo carves out some time to get to know Queijo Nisa, another DOP Portuguese cheese. Queijo Nisa’s ‘DOP’ status means it is subject to strict production guidelines and controls. It may only be produced in a few Alto Alentejo towns, including in Nisa, its namesake. Nisa is a relatively mild, slightly nutty cheese made from raw sheep’s milk. It’s neither runny nor hard, but has a consistency somewhere in between on the harder side. Plan a visit to Monforqueijo, an award-winning cheese producer located in Monforte that makes a highly acclaimed Nisa. Wine Spectator touted Monforqueijo’s Nisa as one of the world’s 100 great cheeses in a 2008 feature. Factory visits include a sampling of delicious cheeses. Visits take place daily between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. Contact Monforqueijo for an advance booking!

Hilltop Villages

Castelo de VideIf there is one visit you must do while in Alto Alentejo, it’s the white-washed walled town of Marvão. Perched on a granite crag of the Serra de São Mamede at 3500 feet, this city has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries – and it shows! This quaint hill town, still largely unknown, is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate, but also included in the #1 New York Times bestselling book, ‘1000 Places to see Before you Die’. In short, it’s gorgeous! From the walled town, the views of the rolling hills and undulating plains are spectacular. And let’s not forget Marvão’s 9th century Moorish castle, a true highlight during your visit! If time permits, jet over to Castelo de Vide, also known for is hilltop vantage point and white washed houses.

Luxurious Living in a National Park

Book a stay at Cabeças do Reguengo, where the accommodation isn’t just a place to sleep, but in and of itself a unique experience in tourism. Cabeças do Reguengo is a country house located within the Serra de São Mamede National Park. Run by a former professional dancer from the prestigious (now defunct) Gulbenkian Ballet dance company, this boutique hotel has 8 comfortable bedrooms featuring breathtaking views (starting at €75 in low season). For a more private option, or for larger groups, book one of the 3 available apartments (starting at €125). The estate boasts almost 8 hectares of land, with just over half dedicated to a high-altitude vineyard. Visitors during the grape harvest can participate in it, including in the traditional foot-stomping of red grapes known as the pisa da uva. Be ready to explore other aspects of the estate. Guests are free to gather produce in the estate’s organic vegetable gardens, lounge by the pool, explore the vast cork and olive groves or enjoy a tasting in their wine cellar which is located smack in the middle of the house.

Rates include a delicious country breakfast spread. For those wishing to have lunch or dinner on site, Cabeças do Reguengo can arrange for intimate traditional meals at the estate, which must be booked in advance. If you’re hoping to get to know local eateries in the area, check out the following recommendations:

  • Solar do Forcado; Rua Candido dos Reis 14, Portalegre
  • Tomba Lobos; Bairro Pedra Basta, Portalegre
  • ?Restaurante O Álvaro; Largo Capitão Antonio Manuel Simão Redondo 8, Urra

A Goodbye

In this third instalment of Beyond the Tagus, we’ve just begun to touch on the marvelous sites, wines, food and escapes to be found in the Alto Alentejo. As we conclude this series, we truly hope we’ve inspired you to get to know Portugal’s Alentejo region. We are here to help! Contact us for help organizing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the Alentejo.

Cheers,

Cathy Fisher

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Portuguese Chocolate Rivals Belgium’s Finest

chocolate mousseSmooth bittersweet chocolate on the tongue is one of the more indulgent treats to enjoy. It has a richness that the lighter, milkier counterpart just can’t seem to compare to. Luckily for me and all the other dark chocolate lovers out there, Portugal has a similar love for this sort of dark velvety confection, often with a flair for marrying the traditional bonbon and flavors that are all Portuguese.

When I say “marrying” the two, I’m referring to the unlikely combinations such as wine or port mixed into chocolate that doesn’t seem to affect the taste as much as the texture. Think solid ganache that melts quickly in the mouth, leaving little to no bitter aftertaste. This obviously makes it more likely to reach for another! Another such pairing is chocolate and olive oil, a buttery, almost soft toffee like texture as it melts on the tongue, but still includes all the same taste of a good virgin olive oil; lightly fruity and pungent in the best way possible.

Chocolate isn’t just about mixing the two most ubiquitous Portuguese products out there; it’s also about injecting it into the pastries and treats that have, up until recently, been all about the Portuguese egg desserts! For instance, walking through the international chocolate festival in Óbidos will introduce you to such treats as the most famous of Portuguese sweets, the Pastel de Nata, but instead of the plain egg yolk custard filling; it has been chocolate-ified! Another such pastry would be the soft pillowy doughnut like Bola de Berlim with the egg filling having been replaced with ganache. The chocoholic can now rejoice when getting their Portuguese pastry fix!

Famous Portuguese Chocolate Producers

Outside of your ordinary pastelaria chocolate fusion, there are still the elegant chocolate confectionaries such as liquor or fruit filled delights, linguas de gato, and bombokas.

Arcádia is one of the most famous chocolatiers in Portugal. Found in Porto, they have been in the chocolate business since 1933 and boast a few interesting types of chocolates such as the cherry and orange flavors, nuts, liquors with some produced without added sugar. They have also managed to maintain the traditional way of making their chocolates since opening!

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If you’re looking for something that seems more familiar, try Imperial. In 2002 this brand merged with Regina, another famous chocolate producer in Portugal. They are known for their bombokas, a chocolate covered meringue bonbon, but that’s not all they make! Chocolate bars studded with nuts, fruit flavored bars, truffles and pralines can all be found among the ranks.

Don’t let the big guys fool you into thinking that there are no artisanal or specialty brands in Portugal. Cacao di Vine is all about wine and port infused chocolate. They produce what they call “wine bites” and come in sixteen different sweets that celebrate all natural ingredients in their recipes. Each “bite” package uses wine from different regions of Portugal in order to showcase the delicious differences between the vinho varieties across the country with chocolate.

And let’s not forget about one of the oldest chocolatiers in Portugal, Avianense. Founded in 1914, it’s one of the few remaining chocolate factories still in existence making exceptional chocolate in Barcelos.

portuguese chocolateWhere to find and enjoy Portuguese Chocolate

Chocolate is found everywhere. It’s in every restaurant in the form of a rich egg heavy chocolate mousse for dessert, in the form of cookie peppered fudgy salame de chocolate in stores and kitchens around the holidays, and when it’s cold outside as a thick hot beverage made with real melted chocolate and milk, none of that powdered stuff! Chocolate is even found at nearly every festival throughout the country at any given time of year, in the form of little cups used for sweet Ginja.

A good spot to start out for any chocolate lover would be to hit up the yearly Óbidos International Chocolate Festival. They cater to both adults and children with cooking classes for young and old, fun candy inspired characters, shows and plenty of chocolaty things to taste. There is even the art element included with an all chocolate sculpture gallery to see.

If you’re diehard chocolate lover, you could book a stay in Portugal’s first chocolate-themed hotel in the northern town of Viana do Castelo. Hotel Fábrica do Chocolate is a four star hotel complete with a restaurant. Housed in an old Avianense chocolate factory, the restaurant features dishes with chocolate ingredients produced on premise. And like all good “themed” hotels, such as wine, you can experience chocolate-based treatments and therapies in the form of facials and body wraps, or peruse their on site museum.

Arcadia in Porto also has its own tasting experience, which allows groups to witness how chocolate is done their way. This includes a presentation, tasting and even a workshop!

More and more often, chocolate is now being made with the element that people already equate with what makes Portugal so interesting, its very own home grown products! This gives a unique take on an already beloved food can be found only from Europe’s western most country.

If you’re interested in a customized chocolate tour in Portugal, let us know! We’re more than happy to find an excuse to enjoy chocolate alongside you!

Cheers,

Rochelle Ramos

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Beyond the Tagus Part II: Gastronomic Baixo Alentejo

Baixa AlentejoJust before the Holidays, I kicked off our three-part series on Portugal’s Alentejo region, with a trip to Évora. For the foodies and wine lovers among you, not to mention history buffs, this should not be missed! Today, however, we’ll be heading to the southernmost region, Baixo Alentejo, for a trip that’ll inspire the laid-back, country-living foodie in you! 

Our story begins at a culinary fair, in the heart Lisbon, where I was tasting through a wide variety of regional wines, olive oils and cheeses (talk about an affront to my cholesterol levels!). Sneaking through the crowd to get my lips on a glass of Dona Maria Vinhos Garrafeira, an exquisite Alicante Bouschet monovarietal, I overhear a group of guys to my left say, “Weón.” Weón is the hallmark of Chilean expressions – an entry-level dirty word that only we use. I know this because I’m half Chilean and spent many a summer in Chile being “educated” by my numerous cousins. (photo by Jose Carlos Babo)

Elated, I asked them what brought them to Lisbon. “We’re working in a winery in the Baixo Alentejo!” Like an adopted family, we toasted to our fortunate and fate to run into one another, as well as the extraordinary nature of some of the region’s simplest gastronomic products – olive oil and cheese, and of course wine!

Delicious edibles are just the beginning of the fun, as the Baixo Alentejo makes for an authentic country escape that showcases some of rustic Portuguese living at its best. While it’s impossible to give you a complete snapshot of this vast region, here are our best tips for unique gastronomic experiences to inspire the perfect Portuguese rural getaway.

Getting there

Lisbonites crack jokes about the leisurely pace of life in the Alentejo. Indeed, things down south can move in slow motion. This includes traveling via public transportation! Traveling by car is your best bet for exploring the Baixo Alentejo, and will give you the flexibility you’ll want to do some back country off-roading.  The Baixo Alentejo is about a two hour drive from Lisbon on excellent roads. If you’re traveling from Évora, you’re less than an hour away! (photo by Rochelle Ramos)

Carne de Porco à Alentejana‘Sacred Oil’

Olive oil is omnipresent in Portuguese cuisine. Used as dip for bread, splashed over grilled fish, basted over pork chops, used to season potatoes … it’s a challenge to find a dish on a Portuguese menu that hasn’t seen olive oil. Olive oil has long had a prominent place in Portuguese culture. Consider it the Queen of Condiments. As far back as the 500s AD, olive trees were protected by the Visigothic Code, which punished their uprooting. Historically, olive oil was also burned for illumination. Amongst Catholics, it was even considered sacred! 

This golden liquid continues to be important to Portugal, particularly to the Alentejo. The Alentejo is responsible for over half of the country’s olive oil production. The Baixo Alentejo has its own special claim to olive oil fame! Get to know the region’s Azeite de Moura, a DOP olive oil native to the villages of Moura, Serpa and Vila Verde de Ficalho. DOP is a status that gives agricultural products a certain protection and quality control, ensuring local production and packaging in accordance with strict guidelines. When it comes to DOP, rest assured that what you’re getting is up to snuff.

Start your olive oil education at the Lagar de Varas do Fojo in Moura. Here, you’ll visit a 19th-century olive oil mill that has been transformed into a small museum. At the museum, you’ll walk through the primary aspects of olive oil production. Have fun looking at centuries-old pressing and milling machinery and equipment!  The museum, on Rua São João de Deus, is open from Tuesday through Sunday (9:30 am – 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm to 17:30). 

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After learning about olive oil production at the Lagar de Varas do Fojo, drive to nearby olive oil cooperative Cooperativa Agricola de Moura e Barrancos for an insider’s view of olive oil production in action. While the cooperative doesn’t conduct regular tours, call in advance in order to request a visit to the cooperative’s production facilities (+351 285 25 0720), which can be arranged at no cost. Follow your tour with an on-site tasting at the cooperative’s store, where you can purchase your favorite olive oils. Cooperativa Agricola de Moura e Barrancos is located on Rua Forças Armadas 9 and is open from Monday through Friday (9:00 am – 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm).

Serpa

Alentejo serpa cheeseIt would be impossible to speak of the Baixo Alentejo’s best gourmet products without mentioning cheese. While you’ll have the opportunity to taste all sorts of delicious examples of it, the region’s most renowned cheese is Serpa. Some might say it’s the all-star cheese of the Alentejo generally! This designated DOP product is an excellent introduction to Portuguese queijo. As Catavino’s Andrea Smith puts it in her Ultimate User’s Guide to Portuguese Cheese, Serpa is “not too soft, not too hard and not too stinky.” Just right – the Goldilocks of cheeses. Andrea Smith describes it best in her Ultimate User’s guide:

“This award-wining cheese of lower Alentejo is made from raw sheep’s milk and aged for a minimum of 4 months to 2 years. The consistency can then range from very soft and creamy to hard dotted with small holes. The rind has a very distinctive brick-orange color, resulting from its regularly brushing with olive oil mixed with paprika and is produced in small to medium sized rounds. The flavor is a unique mix of strong, spicy and slightly sweet-tart, as a result of the paprika, and has gained distinction from the Slow Food movement as one of the most extraordinary products in the world.” 

Being the hands-on adventure foodie I know you are, check out a Serpa factory! Drive to the town of Serpa, the cheese’s namesake, for a visit to Tradiserpa (R. do Cano 6, Tel: +351 284 549 302). If you’re lucky, you’ll see cheese production in action. Make sure you call in advance to schedule a bespoke tour of the factory, which is open from Monday through Saturday. You’ll also be able to purchase cheese on site to take home with you! If you have time, be sure to stop at neighboring Queijaria Guilhereme (Monte Vale de Faia, Apartado 728) to pick up a few blocks of their award-winning cheeses.

Herdade da Malhadinha NovaThe Wine Scene

There is no appropriate way to eat cheese without having an accompanying glass of wine. Or so would the Portuguese say! Follow-up your trip to Serpa with some heavy duty wine tourism – the highlight of my previous trips to the Baixo Alentejo. There are dozens of winemaking gems to discover, and luckily, some of my favorite Baixo Alentejo wineries also boast superb accommodation!

I made my first visit to Herdade dos Grous after tasting this winery’s Moon Harvested wine, made from Alicante Bouschet, over dinner at a restaurant in Évora last year. Moon Harvested blew my mind. It is full bodied and velvety, concentrated on the palate with flavors of ripe, black cherries and plums, sweet spice and dark chocolate. As ‘Moon Harvested’ implies, the grapes for this wine are picked at night. Harvesting is done by hand. The grapes arrive for pressing at Grous’s modern winery cloaked in darkness and protected by cooler nocturnal temperatures. Think of the process as extra TLC for the grapes, resulting in extraordinary quality wine. Schedule a visit to Herdade dos Grous’s state-of-the-art cellar and winery and complete your tour with a tasting of your choosing. Make sure to book your tasting in advance (+351 284 9600), as only two are conducted daily. 

Less than half an hour from Herdade dos Grous, you can taste the highly acclaimed wines of Herdade da Malhadinha Nova. This winery has seen repeated Parker scores above 90! Schedule a visit (+351 284 965 210) to Malhadinha Nova’s sophisticated cellar, which was inaugurated 15 years ago – the very year of Malhadinha’s first harvest. Decide how far your taste buds can go and then take your pick of a 3, 4 or 5-glass wine tasting. Are you a wine novice hoping to learn the basics? Ask about an introductory tasting course led by Malhadinha’s sommeliers. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned wine aficionado hoping for a challenge? If so, arrange for a blind tasting by Portuguese grape variety or region. Each of these tastings costs €25 per person and will last about an hour.

There’s nothing better than a little nap time after a good wine tasting session. The great news is that you can do just that at each of Herdade dos Grous and Herdade da Malhadinha Nova!  These estates have tasteful, understated and distinctly luxurious country hotels on site. Double rooms start at €150 at Herdade dos Grous and at €250 at Herdade da Malhadinha Nova. Both of these hotels boast an on-site restaurant featuring traditional Alentejo fare where you can order estate-produced wine with your lunch or dinner.  

Until next time

Living to eat and eating to live can become blurred in Portugal. This is certainly the case in the Baixo Alentejo! I hope this piece has inspired you to seek out some of these amazing flavors wherever you are in the world! But keep in mind, these are just the tip of the iceberg! If you’re keen for a first person experience, where you can savor these flavors first hand, let us plan a custom-made tour for you!

In the meantime, stay tuned for our final post on discovering the Alentejo, where we’ll explore the region’s exciting north!

Bom apetite,

Cathy Fisher

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Happy New Year from Catavino Tours!

Christmas Porto

2015 was an amazing year for us! It was our first full year offering custom tours throughout Portugal and Spain! Having lived on the Iberian Peninsula for over a decade, it has been an incredible feeling to share our favorite back alley cafes, isolated beaches, sunset drenched vineyards, and of course, mountains of insanely delicious foods with new friends from around the world!

Why not put Spain or Portugal on your 2016 travel list?! We’re offering an incredible 8 Day Food Tour through Portugal that will change your palate forever! Don’t believe us? Take a moment to explore the Top 20 must try Portuguese dishes – many of wish will be featured on the tour!

Stay tuned for our “Love Letter to Portuguese Wine” when we announce our 2016 Harvest Tour. More details soon, but if you are wine lover, this is the trip for you!

Cheers to all of you for an exciting 2016! Hoping our paths cross many times this year ahead.

The Catavino Team

Our Expat Holiday in Portugal!

Portuguese OctopusAs an immigrant living on the other side of the world, the Holidays conjure up nostalgia, a desire to be close to the people you love. It’s a feeling of longing, of saudades, imagining my Dad’s tight loving embrace, the gentle sound of Beethoven floating across the living room, and the rich, intoxicating aroma of roast beef. I LIVE for this! But this year, we’ve opted to avoid chaotic Chicago airports and congested city streets by staying home…in Portugal. Was this an easy decision? No, but it has opened our eyes as to why Portugal is an incredible place to spend the Holidays!

Food

Portugal has some of the coziest winter cuisine on the planet. For a country that prides itself on its summer fare, let me just say that this pales in comparison to what they cobble together in frigid temperatures. If you enjoy stews, you’ve come to the right country! From the northern tip of the Minho region to far southern border of the Algarve, there are dozens of rich, flavorful stews to choose from. These might include octopus (polvo), goat (cabrito), beef (feijoada) and rabbit (coelho) stews, not to mention the wildly popular Portuguese Cozido. This generically termed dish, meaning Portuguese stew, ranks as one of the most visually unappealing dishes on the planet. If a dish could qualify as frumpy – old school grandma in neutral pantyhose and loafers – this would take first place! But just one bite, one single slurp of its sweet, seductive broth, and you’ve signed over your soul for eternity! Consisting of beef, pork, chicken and a variety of pork derivatives (blood sausages and smoked pork parts), alongside a medley of garden vegetables, it’s heaven on earth!

If you’re the type of person to stand wide-eyed next to the cook (like me!), whimpering softly for a tiny sliver of freshly roasted suckling pig, octopus, salted cod or goat, than simply stalk a Portuguese grandmother! These little gray haired master chefs have perfected the art of retaining a juicy, flavorful interior with a delicate, crispy exterior.

Portuguese wineWine

Having the internationally acclaimed Douro Valley at your fingertips is gift enough, but so is the fact that we don’t have to haul our cellar with us to the USA! If you’ve never experienced the horror of watching your holiday attire come sauntering down the airport conveyer belt in a pool of Port wine (yes, this really happened!), then you may be indifferent to said situation. But…if your prized bottles have either be confiscated by Grinchy security guards, or exploded at ten thousand feet, you’ll sympathize with our joy!

And let’s not forget the fact that we have an enormous, and affordable, diversity of flavors to choose from! To be honest, it wasn’t until we moved here that we grasped how insanely good Portuguese sparkling wines were. Called Espumantes, those at the top end are hearty contenders to quality Champagne, but at half the price. For mealtime, let’s just say you won’t suffer. There are heaps of light, crips whites, hearty reds and full bodied whites to choose from, not to mention the obligatory Christmas nightcap of Port wine or Portuguese dessert wines. This year, we’ll be popping open Espumantes from Portugal, and magnums of rich reds with our bone-in Roast Beast!

Beaches

Normally at this time of the year, we’d be shivering in negative 10 degree weather while building snow forts, snowmen and tobogganing down wee midwestern hills. Granted, there is that snowy Holiday appeal; but now, in just under 5 minutes, we’re basking in gorgeous winter light as we picnic beachside in 50 degree F. weather! Instead of scraping a thick, slab of ice off our windshields, we’re drinking Port and Tonics on sunny outdoor terraces. Really? Who wouldn’t be elated? This time of year gives a special light to the sea where sunsets stare back at you with an intensity that hypnotizes.

People

Christmas PortoPortugal has some of the nicest and most welcoming people on the planet. I simply cannot emphasize this enough. If there was ever a country to be awarded for kindness, Portugal would prevail, which alone is a reason to celebrate our Holiday adventures. But this year, we’ll be spending our Holidays with a ragtag group of immigrant families who have created a tight nit family of love and support. After more than 10 years abroad, we’re drawn to our fellow explorers. Expats have a way of adapting that makes them very special. From the far corners of New Zealand to the northern stretches of the UK, we’ve united together to create enormous feasts garnished with heaps of wine. Lucky? VERY!

With that, everyone here at Catavino wishes you the very best Holiday Season! And if you’re an expat spending the Holidays in either Spain or Portugal, let us know how you’re faring! We’d love to hear your experiences!

Happy Holidays and Happy Eating and Drinking!

How adventurous of a Portuguese foodie are you? Take the quiz!

We all love food, some of us considerably more than others, but the Portuguese take it to an entirely new level. To be an outstanding foodie in Portugal requires an unbelievable stamina to both talk and eat for hours upon end, a capacity to consume anything even remotely edible and the wisdom to never EVER say no to another helping. Why? Because Portuguese food is not only unbelievably good, but it’s their way of saying, “Let me show you how much I care.” To refuse that last dish, no matter how insanely weird it might be to you, is sacrilegious. Hence the question is, how bold of a foodie are you?!

Friday Feature Photo: Baking Bread in the Algarve

Portuguese bread

PhotographerNicola Holtkamp

Capture Date: September 9, 2012

Location: Olhão, Portugal

AboutBread baking in Portugal is just as an important part of the culture as is wine,  cheese and pastries. The Algarve is no different! Normally enjoyed with butter or olive oil, dipping and dredging in sauces is completely acceptable.And even though most Portuguese consume all of these on a daily basis, bread is the only one that plays an integral part to every meal, and in some regions, the entire meal! 

Desktop Wallpaper: To download this image, simply right-click on the image and select “save link as” or “save target as”, then select the preferred location on your computer to save the photo.

Purchase: Please contact the photographer directly if you’re keen to purchase their photo.

If you want Catavino to plan your next visit to exotic Iberian locations, contact us!! 

The Ultimate Guide to Ordering Coffee in Portugal

cafe PortugalDrawing a long drag from his cigarette, he leans back, smiles and takes a gentle sip of his espresso. Despite the bitter chill, he revels in the bright winter sun, offering just enough warmth to tan his weathered cheeks. Gypsies draped in mismatched layers of multicolored apparel bow their heads for loose coins, while mothers sip their milky coffee between gentle coos to their babies. The neighborhood cafe is his jaunt, his place of respite from life’s pressures, a place where he can detach and let life’s chaos happen around him, rather than in him. For João, this is his second home.

Like much of southern Europe, the cafe is the heartbeat of the community. It’s where neighbors, grandmothers and businessmen convene to catch up on neighborhood gossip or banter political distress. It can also be one of the most intimidating places on earth as a foreigner for two reasons. One, every cafe has their own tribe, and finding one that speaks to you is a serious act of patience. And two, knowing what to order, or how to order it, is a regional affair in Portugal. So regional, and so very very personal, that it’s difficult to have two people agree on the definition of any one coffee style!

Now, although we can’t particularly help with the first – that’s all you baby – we can absolutely help with the second! For coffee lovers visiting Portugal, let this be your comprehensive guide to enjoying outstanding Portuguese coffee!

COFFEE WITHOUT MILK

UM ABATANADO

Served in a 6 oz cup, it’s made like an espresso but allowed to run long to extract heaps of earthy goodness from the beans. If you’re looking for a creamy smooth texture, this may not be your desired coffee, but perfect for those who adore the flavor with a touch less viscosity.

UM AMERICANO (um café de saco)

For Americans, this might be a good fit. Ground arabica beans are placed inside a cloth bag and steeped in hot water until the desired intensity. The only drawback is that it’s usually made with the same beans as your espresso; hence, the flavor is less nuanced than you would find in a lighter roast. While you can enjoy a full cup that’s lighter than an espresso, the flavor might not be what you’ve come to expect.

UM CAFÉ (um cimbalino / uma bica) 

A shot of espresso (2-3 oz) is the most ubiquitous style of coffee you’ll find in Portugal taken in heroine addict quantities – we’re talking 3-4 times a day! – and often paired with a pão simples or pão caseiro (crusty roll) or a Portuguese pastry. But if this isn’t enough to soothe a late night hangover, double it with a “um café duplo” (double), “um café lungo” (long), “café comprido” (long)  or a “café cheio” (full). The opposite is also true if you’re just needing a taste without the commitment. Here, ask for a “um café curto” (half shot) or “um café cheio com agua” – espresso watered down with a shot of hot water.

Portuguese espressoUM CAFÉ EM CHÁVENA ESCALDADA

Coffee purists will adore this request, as will people with frigid hands on cold winter days. It literally translates to a scalding coffee cup. Your demitasse is first warmed in scalding hot water prior to the addition of espresso. It’s a great way to enjoy the warmth and flavor over a longer period of time. For steamy hot days, feel free to ask for the reverse as well “um café em chávena fria”

UM CAFÉ ITALIANA

This is the name for a very short shot of espresso, what might be known as a ristretto in other countries: normal quantity of grounds but extracted with about half the amount of water. If you’ve been to Rome, you’ll surely recognize the style.

UM CARIOCA

For a Brazilian, this is the name for someone who lives in Rio de Janeiro. In Portugal, however, it means a very weak espresso. It’s the second shot of the last espresso the machine has served – or put another way, the leftover of “uma sem ponta”.

UM NESCAFE

I’ll be honest, I have zero idea who would ever want to drink instant coffee in a country that prides itself on its gorgeous beans, but for those of you who enjoy the “flavor”, be sure to ask for  “um nescafe”. For the rest of you, avoid it at all costs.

UMA SEM PONTA (sem principio)

If you love the flavor of espresso but need a touch less caffeine, this is the drink for you. The espresso is drawn without the first few drops, which some say, contain the greatest kick. In reality, the second half of the shot is simply a little less bitter, not necessarily less caffeine. As caffeine is slow to extract, the longer the draw the more caffeine you will get. Either way, you may very well adore this!

Coffee MachineGOT MILK?

UM GALÃO

For the milk lovers among you, this warm latte-esque beverage is served in a tall glass with a shot of espresso and 3/4ths milk. For an even milkier version, try a “um galão clarinho” – or clear.

UM GAROTO

A close cousin to decaf, “um garoto” (little boy) is weak, milky espresso that’s commonly given to children. Served in an espresso cup, or 6 oz coffee cup, it’s made with either the first half or second half of the espresso shot (varies by region), then topped with milk.

UMA MEIA DE LEITE

Paired with a uma torrada (grilled bread smothered in butter) this is your typical morning fare. Served in an 6 oz coffee cup with a handle, expect a shot of espresso in a heap of milk. If you need a little more kick, ask for a “meia de leite escura” (dark)

UMA PINGADO

If pure unadulterated coffee isn’t your…ahem…cup of tea, then why not add a drop or two of milk.  Served in an espresso cup, it’s a great way to tame the intensity of the rich espresso. Most people will know this as a macchiato.  For something even creamier, ask for…

coffee portugalUM CAFÉ PINGO (um cortado)

For something a touch creamier, ask for “um pingo”. It’s served with half espresso and half milk in an espresso cup.

Ordering Coffee (or just about anything in a café):

“Bom dia! Um café, faz favor.” -“Good Morning! One coffee (espresso), please.” Then, when the coffee is served, say: “Obrigada!” – “Thank you!” with an “a” because I’m female. For you gents out there, say “obrigado”. On your way out, make sure to say good day or good afternoon, because it’s your default phrase in every situation to just be a kind human being. (Bom Dia/Boa Tarde)

As for the bill? You can always make the international sign of tracing something on the palm of  your hand as if you’re signing a check, but why not get all crazy and practice your Portuguese?! If you’re standing at the counter, ask: “Quanto é?” – “How much is it?” And if you’re sitting at the table, you can call over your waiter and ask: “Pode trazer a conta,  se faz favor.” – “Could you bring the bill/check please?”

Done! You’re now proficient in Portuguese cafe culture! For the historian and foodie buffs around you, take a moment to read our backstory on Portuguese coffee. It’s a great read for people keen on understanding how and why coffee became a Portuguese mainstay. And if you happen to be in the area, why not check one of these 8 fabulous Porto cafes?!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Thank you to Café Guarany for helping us with our research, not to mention our caffeine levels!

The Spanish Wine Holiday Survival Pack

Cava Wine ChristmasThankfully, the joyous stretch of time known as “the Holidays” come once a year and last only a few weeks. Seeing old friends and family can be really great and this makes it a favorite time of year for many; on the contrary, social expectations and family traditions can also bring forth mixed emotions and become quite stressful. A way to make your holidays more manageable is to spoil yourself and just do what feels good. For someone who adores wine, nothing feels better than finding new bottles to enjoy and share. With over 1 million hectares of land dedicated to grapevines, Spain is certainly the largest vineyard in the world and has options to suit every budget and every drinker.

Whether you want to surprise your guests, or just abscond from holiday stress, here are our Spanish wine recommendations to make your “Twelve days of Christmas” more memorable…Or simply a little more bearable.

THE EASY TO PROCURE SPANISH CLASSICS

The wines from DOCa Rioja, DO Cava and DO Jerez are the best known and most widely available Spanish wines in export markets. Any consumer approaching Spanish wines for the first time must try the juice coming from these three “classic” wine producing regions. 

Cava is definitely Spain’s sparkling wine of choice for the holidays. This multi-regional offering is produced mainly in Cataluña using the Mèthode Champanoise, which entails a second fermentation in the bottle, but using indigenous varieties. These traditionally were Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel.lo. In the recent past, other varieties have been included in the mix, including Chardonnay and Malvasía. Its styles vary in dryness from Semiseco (sweetest) to Brut Nature (driest); in ageing (Cava -aged 9 months-, Cava Reserva -aged 15 months- and Cava Gran Reserva -aged 30 months-); and in color -Cava and Cava Rosado- with the inclusion of the Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell and Trepat varieties in the blend. Originally labelled “Champaña“/”Xampany“, Cava is considered Champagne’s affordable cousin. This idea has left such a mark on consumers that some producers, like Raventós i Blanc for example, are abandoning the D.O. due to its positioning in the budget category. For those discovering CAVA, there are plenty of offerings at or under $9.99 from the larger producers, like the “Codorniú NV 1872 Brut” ($9.99). Furthermore, for those interested in the higher-end catalogue, Agustí Torrelló Mata’s Kripta Gran Reserva competes directly with its French cousins at the $90 and over price point. If you’re into pink bubbly, the “Freixenet Trepat Rosat 2013”, from their Cuvee de Prestige line ($10.99-$13.99), is one of the best values in the region. 

Sherry WineFortified Wines from the Jerez (Sherry is the anglicized name) in southern Spain are some of the most overlooked and disregarded Spanish wines in the US market; mainly because it’s hard to become proficient in its complex vinification process –the solera and criadera system – and wide range of styles -which is precisely the reason why wine geeks love it-. From the bone-dry and briny Fino to the gooey and lusciously sweet Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez styles, the wines from DO Jerez certainly deserve a fighting chance. If interested in the drier offerings, try the affordable ($11.99-$14.99) “Non-Vintage Tío Pepe Fino” from Gonzalez-Byass, a true Spanish icon. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a good starting point would be the delectable “A.R. El Candado PX Valdespino” (a half-bottle can go for between $11.99 and$15.99); try it as a dessert wine or do like the locals: pour it over vanilla ice-cream like you would chocolate syrup.               

Rioja is probably the most stylistically diverse wine regions in Spain. Marketed as “the land of a thousand wines“, the offerings from this reputed region vary from the traditional regional styles -Generic Rioja Cosecha, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva- with a focus on process, to the new and modern Riojas -oriented towards location and a reflection of “terruño”- and the Vinos de Autor or Alta Expresión -an opportunity for Rioja winemakers to shake off the burden of traditional process-. Among the larger producers, the Cosecha category “Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2012” ($9.99) is an easily found and affordable introduction to the modern take on region’s style and its main grape variety. For those enamored of the old-world style, the most paradigmatic winery among the Rioja classics is López de Heredia: look for their “Viña Cubillo Crianza 2007” ($24.99) for a taste of what gave old-world Rioja the reputation it enjoys today. Lastly, a prime example of the Vinos de Autor or Alta Expresión, the Remírez de Ganuza “Trasnocho Reserva 2011”($65-$80); a wine that exemplifies the heights the region can reach with the use of innovative winemaking techniques. 

OTHER DESIRABLE SPANISH REDS 

Spanish WineDespite the fact that Rioja is considered the bastion of Spanish wines and some claim it’s had the Spanish domestic market on a choke-hold for decades (8 out of 10 bottles sold in the Spanish On-trade is labelled Rioja; it’s not the only quality wine region in the country. Spain has over 70 DO’s that, thanks to having quickly embraced modern vineyard management and winemaking technology, are rapidly becoming staples in the category and are redefining Spain as the bridge between the old world and the new world wine styles. 

Ribera del Duero and its star variety Tinta Fina (the local clone of Tempranillo) brings about wines with firm tannins and wonderful black fruit aromas. Represented by revered wines like Vega Sicilia “Unico” and “Pesquera“, two essential references in the region. For a more affordable option, give “Hacienda Monasterio Crianza 2011” ($34.99-39.99) a chance. Originally owned by the Lecanda family (who possessed the first Vega Sicilia vineyards) it’s certainly one of the most consistent reds in the region.

Another example of the multiple facets and versatility of the Tempranillo variety is the Tinta de Toro clone, native to the province of Zamora in Castilla y León (Mid-western Spain). The wines made here can acquire a lushness unlike any other growing region in the Iberian peninsula. The Toro, with vineyards at between 650 and 750 m. above sea level, is an archetype of high altitude winemaking in Spain. The 100% Tinta de Toro “Flor de Vetus 2013” bottling ($14.99-$18.99) by the Rioja-based Artevino Group, is a celebrated and affordable example of the region’s tipicity. 

Nevertheless, Tempranillo is not the only star variety among the quality wines of Spain. Priorat, one of the 12 appellations in the Autonomous Community of Cataluña, shares a common history with Rioja. It’s the second region where Bordeaux winemakers and négociants raced to source wines after philloxera ravaged the vineyards in the Médoc in the mid-1800s. Instead of the widely planted Tempranillo, the grape of choice here is Garnacha, which thrives in the licarello (black slate) soils, imparting the resulting wines with a characteristic mineral and fruit-forward character. A great introduction to the style is the Garnacha and Cariñena blend “Les Crestes 2014”, from Cellers Mas Doix ($24.99-$29.99) a fruity and fresh young wine that accurately displays the region’s signature style.

The mountainous Bierzo is another appellation that has made a name for itself making wines with what was at the time an obscure indigenous variety of unknown origins: Mencía. Originally planted in the fertile Sil river valley, where it thrived and yet yielded flimsy wines, with light tannins and a crisp almost raw acidity. In the last twenty years, a score of young winemakers decided to re-plant it in the gargantuan Bierzo basin, where it suffers from lack of water and more extreme Atlantic temperatures.  Here, it brings forth vigorous wines with muscle and zip yet well balanced and fresh. One of its most widely distributed representatives is Bodegas Pittacum owned by the Galician Terras Gauda producer in Rias Baixas. The 2009 is the latest release of their high-end “Pittacum Aurea” ($50-$55), a big boy with the fruit-forward nose of redcurrant and cherry characteristic of the Mencía variety and the earthy and stony mineral aromas of the Bierzo mountains. 

If family stresses are extra “exotic”, explore my list of Top 10 Spanish Wines of 2014. It just may have that very wine to make a holiday dinner tolerable, if not sensational.

There are plenty of good Spanish wine choices at every price point for you not to enjoy what you are drinking this holiday season. Seize the opportunity to treat yourself or send your true love a great present; something that will beat the famous partridge on a pear tree…that said, if you’re keen to gift something extraordinary, why not book a trip to Spain?!

¡Salud y felices Fiestas!

John Perry

Beyond the Tagus River: In and Around Évora – Part I

Portugal Alentejo MonsarazI’m writing, between sips of my morning bica, from a tiny coffee shop in the sleepy Lisbon neighborhood of Lapa. I look up from my computer screen and the Tagus River opens before me. Today the river is brooding and dark, swept up by strong winds. The water is choppy. I find freedom in Portugal’s 300 annual days of sunshine, but even Lisbon isn’t immune to the onset of fall. The Tagus isn’t glistening in the sun’s light today, but still, it is imposing. The Tagus is a powerful, silent presence in Lisbon. It plays a part in how I experience this city. On morning runs by its banks, the Tagus makes me feel small, reminding me of the power of nature and the relative insignificance of my little life. When I think about this country’s history of intrepid explorers, I’m struck by the water’s role in making the Portuguese an adventurous people. Portuguese poet, writer and philosopher Fernando Pessoa famously wrote “Pelo Tejo Vai-se para o Mundo.” Via the Tagus, one goes to the World. It sounds better in Portuguese. (photo by Francisco Antunes)

Exploring Portugal’s land beyond the Tagus is precisely what this article – the first in a series of three – is about. Brownie points if you guessed we’ll be delving into Portugal’s Alentejo region, as ‘Alentejo’ quite literally means ‘Beyond the Tagus’.

You may have heard of the Alentejo. After all, it does account for about one third of Portugal’s landmass. More and more, the Alentejo is the subject of excellent press internationally. Earlier this year, The New York Times called it ‘a land finely aged like wine’. Last year, USA Today called it the world’s best wine region. The UK’s The Guardian says it’s the new, more affordable Tuscany. Here at Catavino, I’d say we agree. We are big fans of the Alentejo. From food to wine to history to beaches to good-old-fashioned country living, the Alentejo seems to have something to please all kinds of travelers.

In this series, we’ll give up our best tips for exploring this vast region. We’ll do it in snippets, starting smack in the heart of it all – in and around the city of Évora. We hope you enjoy this glimpse of what’s Beyond the Tagus.

Around Évora

Évora happens to be the name for many things – a city, a district, a municipality, and the capital of the Alentejo region. We recommend visiting both Évora and its surroundings! In the walled city of Évora, expect enchantment. The city is a magical one that 57,000 lucky people call home. In my first visit, I was most struck by Évora’s unique character. Discovering some cities can feel straightforward, but in Évora, a surprise hides around every bend and behind every church door. Évora is textured, and unearthing its layers is a thrill. The city will charm you with its eclectic identity. It is ancient in its history, diverse in its architecture, youthful in its university life, humble in its demeanor, exquisite in its gastronomy and dynamic in its political identity (my first visit coincided with a huge Communist Party open-air concert in the city center). Outside of the city you’ll find sleepier outskirts. Slow-paced villages where locals all know each other. Roman ruins are replaced by grape vines, spacious plains and small white houses bordered in blue. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, take the time to discover rural Évora and revel in its food, wine, olive oil and cork plantations.

EvoraArriving to Évora

Excellent public transportation will take you to the heart of Évora stress-free. If traveling from Lisbon, taking the train may be a good option. A round-trip ticket will cost about €30, and you can expect a clean and comfortable ride. You’ll be in Évora in about an hour and a half – just long enough to watch a good movie on your iPad or take a soothing nap. When you step off the train, you’ll be less than a mile away from the city center. (photo by Guy Moll)

The train will work seamlessly if your sights are set within Évora’s city walls, but there’s so much to explore beyond the city! If you have the time and budget, I’d recommend renting a car and exploring the Évora region more broadly. The heart of Évora is a gorgeous 90 minute drive from Lisbon through quaint white-washed villages, rolling wheat fields and cork tree plantations. Expect to see a few farm animals as you share the rustic landscape with horses, pigs, donkeys and cows. For a cheeky laugh as you prepare for your road trip, check out our tips for driving in Portugal!

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

City Tourism

Let’s start with the highlight, the city of Évora itself. The walled city is a delightful journey through history. It dates back over 2,000 years and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, which calls Évora a ‘museum-city.’ In the architecture, you’ll see vestiges of the people who inhabited and controlled Évora for the past two centuries, for example: Renaissance influences at the Moura’s Gate Square, the Roman-Gothic architecture of the city’s cathedral, the Gothic-Manueline-Moorish style of the Loios Convent and Roman ruins. I was humbled and awed by Igreja de São Francisco’s blue-and-white tiled walls. The Capela dos Ossos, or Bone Chapel, is striking. It houses the skulls and bones of tens of thousands of deceased monks. The stuff nightmares are made of.

For Foodies

Food Alentejo PortugalI recently posted about the joy of eating fish in Lisbon, but eating in the Alentejo is an entirely different gastronomic experience. The Alentejo is known for its hearty, bold cuisine. The region’s food is flavorful and intense, making ample use of condiments to create full-bodied meals. Traditional dishes are based on what is plentiful locally. The Évora region, smack in the middle of the Alentejo, relies heavily on meat, especially pork. I’ve mentioned the crop fields you’ll see in rural Évora – plantings of wheat, corn, potatoes and green beans. Don’t be surprised to find these ingredients on the menu during a visit.

Just as the city of Évora brings together a mix of cultures that reflects its history, so does the food. Arab influences from the Moorish occupation in the early 700s trace their way through local gastronomy (ignore the plentiful consumption of pork!). Examples include bean-based dishes, bread-based stews and almond-based sweets. Tomatoes are also culinary protagonists. These were introduced by Spanish explorers returning to Iberia from Mexico. You’ll find coriander used liberally in local dishes, as this popular ingredient was used by the Ancient Romans inhabiting Évora in its earliest days. In sum: as you eat your way through Évora, brace yourself for a delicious journey through its history. (photo by Infinite Ache)

Fialho (Tv. Das Mascarenhas 16, Évora?)
Before my first visit to Évora, I researched where to eat. Extensively. It seemed that anyone I asked recommended Fialho. I had dinner there and wasn’t disappointed. This family-owned restaurant was founded in 1945. It serves up sophisticated, traditional Alentejo fare in a relaxed, intimate and understated environment. The tapas-style petiscos that preceded our meal were a highlight. I recall that the asparagus topped with eggs, cured acorn-fed ham and aged sheep’s cheese were outstanding.

Taberna Típica Quarta Feira? (Rua do Inverno, 16/18, Évora?)
The appeal of Taberna Típica Quarta Feira is its authenticity. Here, you’ll eat and drink like a true Evoran in a relaxed, rustic environment. Taberna Típica Quarta Feira is a short walk from Fialho, in the heart of the city. It’s closed on Sundays, but otherwise open daily for lunch and dinner. Be careful to check opening times! The lunch service begins at 1:30, so best not to show up on an American schedule. Let yourself be tempted by the exceptionally tasty house specials, which change daily.

l-and vineyardsL’And Restaurant ?L’And Wine Hotel, (Montemor-o-Novo)
Yet again I present you with an opportunity to splurge. L’And Restaurant is a modern, foodie-inspired take on the cuisine of the Alentejo and Portugal at large. The food is seasonal and locally sourced, either from organic or biodynamic producers. L’And Restaurant boasts a Michelin Star, and I’m afraid the price tag is commensurate. Book a table at L’And for a refined culinary perspective that in a subtle way highlights the various Eastern influences on Portugal’s cuisine. If you have a healthy appetite, you may want to opt for the 7-course tasting menu (€90). L’And’s wine list is a joy to read and may inspire ideas for your home cellar! Consider ordering L’And’s excellent-value house wine. With a full body, creamy palate and rich black fruit profile, it’ll pair excellently with some of the Alentejo’s bold gastronomic flavors. Ask for a table with a good view of the Montemor-o-Novo castle, which dates back to the 13th century.

For Wine Lovers

The Alentejo wine region is for wine lovers. With approximately 22,000 hectares of land under vine, the Alentejo’s wine scene is diverse. If forced to find a common thread, I might point to what I call the ‘boom factor.’ The Alentejo’s wines are bold and full of character. In a September article, I compared Dão wines to Audrey Hepburn. If we’re keeping the metaphors going, Alentejo wines might be a Jennifer Lawrence or a Scarlett Johansson, a Tom Hardy or a Hugh Jackson…

Don’t miss:

Pera Manca CartuxaAdega Cartuxa (Évora)?
Cartuxa is a ten minute drive from the city of Évora. Visit this modern winery for a tour of its cellars and a tasting of both wines and olive oils. Cartuxa is famous for its Pera Manca red wine (which I’m afraid I can’t vouch for given its outlandish price tag), but has excellent wines across its product ranges. Buy a few bottles at the winery for a nice discount from store prices.

Herdade da Maroteira (Redondo)?
Drive 40 minutes east of Évora to enjoy a tasting at Herdade da Maroteira, a small estate in Redondo. Book a tasting in advance and please, please do your best to sample the Cem Reis. It’s made in both red and white. Both are excellent, but the red stands out as extraordinary. This 100% Syrah-based wine has been all the rage in Portugal in recent years. Its first commercialized vintage was 2005, and each year, Cem Reis seems to get better. I recently planned a visit to Maroteira. I’d looked forward to the round, rich and well-balanced Syrah with much anticipation, only to find out that the Cem Reis (in both red and white) has been out of stock for months!

Herdade do Esporão? (Reguengos de Monsaraz)
Head 45 kilometers southeast of Évora to Reguengos de Monsaraz for a visit to Herdade do Esporão, one of the Alentejo’s iconic wine producers. Book a tour of the cellar followed by a tasting. Esporão’s Branco Reserva is a personal favorite. If you need to let out your inner Wine Geek, here’s the place. The team at Herdade do Esporão can guide you through a varietal tasting, for example. In the alternative, ask for one of my favorites – a vertical tasting of one wine across various vintages. Herdade do Esporão also makes excellent olive oils, which you can enjoy at a tasting on site or over lunch at their restaurant. Just remember to book in advance of your visit.

convento do espinheiroWhere to Stay

Convento do Espinheiro (Évora)?
Formerly a XVth century convent, this super lux Évora hotel will make you feel like you’re going back in time. Enjoy a complementary guided tour of the convent, complete with a brief wine-tasting at the end of your visit. This discrete and very sophisticated hotel is about a ten minute drive from both the city of Évora and Cartuxa winery.

L’And Vineyards (Montemor-o-Novo)
I’ve already recommended splurging at L’And’s restaurant. Spending a night at this ‘wine hotel’ would be another memorable splurge! The sky suites are the hotel’s claim to fame. Think of a hotel room with a ‘sunroof’ of sorts, opening the ceiling to the Alentejo’s brilliant starry nights. Ask about L’And’s wine club, which gives members access to their very own small vineyard plots and communal use of winemaking facilities. I booked a wine tasting with the sommelier at L’And’s restaurant, who walked us through local wines and paired them with delicious local cheeses, charcuterie and sweets.

Herdade da Maroteira (Redondo)?
For a more rustic but equally unique experience, stay at Herdade da Maroteira, a farm with private cottage accommodation for small groups. Herdade da Maroteira is about 45 kilometers away from Évora. Exploring the estate’s vineyards is just the tip of the iceberg. Maroteira is a full-on rural tourism experience. See the estate’s Iberian pigs roaming free on farm property. If visiting in May or June, you might catch the annual cork harvest.

As you can see, Évora is not a run-of-the-mill country escape. It’s got something for all sorts of interests! History and architecture, city tourism and rural life, authentic rustic eats and luxury food experiences, and of course wine galore – together, they make Évora truly unique. Touring Évora is unspeakably memorable! You’ll be delighted by how friendly and accessible Évora tourism is, in particular if you already find yourself in Lisbon. I must confess that I’m a regular! When I’m lucky enough to have visits from friends and family who live overseas, a weekend escape to Évora is at the top of my list.

In this first installment of Beyond the Tagus, we’ve offered up some of our favorite places in and around Évora. We hope these whet your appetite … but if you’re keen for a bespoke itinerary, let us craft a customized tour just for you!

Cheers,

Cathy Fisher

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

Alghero: Where Catalan and Sardinian Cuisine Merge

Alghero SicilyImagine a social event in Italy or Spain and you are likely to conjure up images of long lunches over copious glasses of wine, children running amok among 1,001 family members, a powerful mother figure who unequivocally has the final word, and ridiculous amounts of food.

While these two countries share linguistic ties, a rich and textured history, heaps of amazing art and music and enough stunning nature to make the heavens weep for joy, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the existence of a town in Sardinia that spoke Catalan! (photo by Alessandro Caproni)

Alghero, in north-eastern Sardinia is known locally as L’Alguér, a Catalan name that captures the many facets of a culture with which this small town is impregnated. Its streets (such as Carrer del Bisbe, Carrer de Pepi Gallo), cultural heritage, traditions and gastronomy are echoes of Alghero’s Catalan past. Even the Town Hall proudly flies the red and yellow striped flag high in the air to announce their allegiance and kinship.

When Nations Unite

Italy has many local stories of conflict, conquest and political upheavals. Dialects and local traditions have been forged and molded by a wide range of historical influences and dominations. But the heritage left by Catalans in Alghero is astonishing.

Founded in the XII century by a family of merchants from Genoa, Alghero’s strategic position in the Mediterranean was a major draw for the Catalans. Under the Aragon Crown, they eventually overthrew the Genoans in the XIV century and ruled, prosperously, through the XVIII century. Their impact was social, political, cultural and economic, fostered by fiscal privileges and customs exemption on commerce. Simultaneously, Catalan became the official language, surviving as the local language even after the fall of Aragon.

Over time, the linguistic ties that bound the two nations evaporated. Catalans were unaware that their own language was still spoken in the village of Alghero, while the people from Alghero came to believe they were speaking a local Sardinian dialect. It wasn’t until the 1860s, when a Sardinian activist acknowledged their common cultural heritage during a conference in Barcelona, that the two nations rekindled their “friendship”.

Much like Cuba, the geographic isolation of Sardinia helped to preserve cultural influences, with the language being only its most obvious element. Today, the dialect of Alghero is officially recognized as a variant of Catalan.

Alghero CuisineTies that Bind

Alghero’s “Catalanity” appears in the dialect, but also in local family names such as Roich, Garau, Pons, Cardona, Brau, Masia, Pau; or in the names of local Saints, such as Aleixi (Catalan: Aleix), Bardili (Catalan: Baldiri), Gordi (Catalan: Jordi). The religious hymns called Goigs – sung in Catalan during pilgrimages and celebrations – are a prime example of how the language was kept alive through the centuries thanks to the oral tradition. (photo by wine harma)

Historical monuments in the center of Alghero also display strong Catalan influence. Saint Mary’s Cathedral looks to the late-gothic Catalan style for inspiration, while the Saint Francis Church and the many historic buildings such as Palazzo d’Albis, Palazzo Machin and the L’Esperò Reial Tower more soundly revive the Spanish legacy.

In this artful mosaic of cultural influences, gastronomy is by far the most popular. Among Alghero’s specialties, you shouldn’t miss the Aragosta alla Catalana, a gorgeous boiled lobster served with tomatoes, onions, salt, pepper and olive oil. Although, despite being named “alla catalana”, the recipe seems to have no direct Catalan link, though rumors have it that the people of Alghero proudly ascribe its creation to a local restaurateur who wanted to recall its great Aragon past.

Cassola de Peix, a rich soup made of various types of fish and seasoned with chili pepper and other spices, on the other hand, is undeniably Catalan in its roots; as is Polpo alla Catalana. There is nothing more refreshing and savory than this octopus-based salad mixed with raw peppers, Pachino tomatoes, Tropea onions, carrots and basil, served with a sauce made of olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper, under the summer sun.

Lamb is certainly the other star with Spanish origins, as is the Paella Algherese, a regional version of the Spanish one, made with bottarga (fish eggs) and the typical Sardinian pasta – fregola – instead of the traditional rice.

If you love a meaty, flavorful truffle, you can find it in Alghero! Truffle hunting is an art, and one that’s been perfected in both Catalonia and Alghero. Come Autumn and Winter, seek these out!

 Wine Resort Leda d'IttiriThe crema bruciata can be a good choice to finish the meal properly: a puff pastry roll filled with cream and covered with burnt sugar, reminiscent of the more famous Catalan crema catalana.

And for wine lovers there are interesting local white wines produced with grapes brought by the Catalans. Torbato, a grape almost extinct as recently as 1970, is the base for both still and sparkling Alghero DOC wines. These refreshing and vibrant white wines have notes of white stone fruits and floral and sea scents which is good either as an aperitif or as a companion to fish.

Vermentino is the other white grape originating from Spain. Although Vermentino di Gallura DOCG and Vermentino di Sardegna DOC are the better known wines, Alghero produces its own DOC called Alghero Vermentino Frizzante, a characterful dry or off-dry fruity sparkling wine ideal with pasta, white meats and as an aperitif.

For red wine enthusiasts there is Alghero Cagnulari DOC. Made from the Cagnulari grape, probably introduced to Sardinia by the Spaniards, it is an intense ruby wine with notes of jammy wild berries and balsamic hints. Perfect with red meat and some rich pastas.

Nowadays, the link between Alghero and Catalonia is so undeniable that in 2009 a branch of the Generalitat de Catalunya was created in Alghero to operate as a Catalan consulate. It aims to reinforce the political and economic relationship while promoting, at the same time, many cultural initiatives between both countries. This was even underpinned by the official recognition of Catalan as a local language by the Italian Law (1997) and its protection as a linguistic minority. Its promotion is the responsibility of several public and private associations, such as l’Ateneu Alguerès, Centre di Recursos Pedagògics Maria Montessori, Centre de Recerca i Documentació Eduard Toda and Òmnium Cultural. Thanks to the commitment of many local bodies, Catalan can now be taught in schools, such as the in “La Costura”, where the Alghero dialect is learnt together with Italian and English.

Anyone curious to experience this language can read the local magazine L’Alguer, totally written in Catalan, or watch the Catalan TV, broadcasting half of its programs in Catalan thanks to a collaboration with the Spanish Corporació Catalana di Radiotelevisió.

Keeping an ancient culture and its language alive is a significant claim of identity. Looking back at our past helps us better understand who we are and what makes us tick. What Alghero and Catalonia are doing to preserve their common past is not only admirable, but a powerful boost to their roots.

Nevertheless, the risk of extinction is always around the corner, unless older generations proudly commit to handing this past and language down to youngsters.

Cheers,

Tommasella Perniciaro

Friday Feature Photo: Mushroom Season in Spain

Mushrooms Spain

PhotographerGabriel González

Capture Date: Februrary 28, 2014

Location: Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

AboutCome fall, as humidity sits upon our valley like a thick wet blanket, fruit stands come alive with various plastic containers filled with exotic mushrooms. Many of these Spanish mushrooms are so incredible ugly that your wondering if your local vender isn’t trying to pull over your eyes, selling you something more fitting for your compost heap than your evening meal. Trust me, they’re not! They’re selling you gorgeous, meaty delectable fungus! If you can plan a visit to Spain during the mushroom season, November to February, do it! Let Catavino take you on a mushroom tour you’ll never forget!

Desktop Wallpaper: To download this image, simply right-click on the image and select “save link as” or “save target as”, then select the preferred location on your computer to save the photo.

Purchase: Please contact the photographer directly if you’re keen to purchase their photo.

If you want to have your want Catavino to plan your next visit to exotic Iberian locations, contact us!! 

Old Portuguese Ox – A Stunning Gastronomic Experience!

III Jornadas Gastronomicas do Boi de Tras-os-MontesComing from the heartland of the USA, the city renowned for its stock yards and steaks, I’m no stranger to a thick slab of meat. Even as a professed vegetable lover, the aroma of chargrilled transports me back to Chicago where my father would serve up enormous grilled potatoes slathered in butter, a crisp garden fresh salad and, of course, the ubiquitous raw steak dripping in blood. It’s my heritage, part of my DNA, but nothing quite prepared me for the Portuguese Minhota Ox.

Once a year, Vinum, the restaurant of Graham’s Port Lodge, operated by the Basque group Sagardi, hosts the “Jornadas do Boi de Trás-os Montes,” featuring two meticulously selected oxen by Imanol Jaca, a renowned meat supplier. The concept was developed in 2013 as a means to highlight the best cuisine from the North of Portugal; but this year included two gorgeous farm raised Minhota oxen!

Native to the lush, green northern pastures of the Minho, Minhota cattle can also be found in Trás-os-Montes, as well as the Spanish region of Galicia, where it’s known as the Gallega or Rubia Gallega. With its thick, muscular hind legs and long, intimidating horns, this is not a beast you’d want to encounter on a deserted pasture late at night. Weighing in at 1200 kilos, I can safely say that you’d lose the battle. Fortunately, 82 year old rancher, Armindo Oliveira, took it upon himself to raise these 7 and 9 year old oxens exclusively off the land with only natural feed. After slaughtering, the meat dry ages for approximately 20 days before being flash grilled and lightly seasoned with salt. The end result…some of the most herbaceous, flavorful and succulent charred meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It may have been “old”, but hot damn, it was delicious!

Now maybe you may be thinking, Lady, my cat is about 8 years old and is far from old! Aren’t you being a bit hyperbolic? It’s a fair question, but if you consider that the average age of your store bought steak is approximately a year old, these oxen are ancient. This is a romantic endeavor for Armindo, a craft of love, not money. The amount of grass, oats and straw he needs to feed these mini dinosaurs over a half decade is monumental and far from economically viable. It’s an act of passion, that provided us with a very rare gastronomic experience.

1977 Grahams vintage portOther highlights from the Festival included the “Feijão branco com bacalhau e amêjoas” (white beans with salted cod and clams) paired with the 2012 Quinta do Vesuvio. For those of you not familiar with Quinta do Vesuvio, get to know it! Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the great Quintas of the Douro and owned by the family Symington since 1989. Located in the Douro Superior (the warmer, drier section, up river from Pinhão), 120 km east of Porto, they’ve gained an international reputation for their single-quinta Port wines, but their still wines are equally exceptional. The 2012 – made with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela – could easily make your holiday menu. Pairs well with fowl, enhances red meat and could easily be enjoyed fireside simply on its own. This is wine to age if you have the patience.

The meal lasted for 5 courses, and 4 wines, but the dessert wine was a rare treat: Graham’s Vintage 1977 Port. On this particular occasion, it was paired with a host of traditional cheeses, as well as their hot chocolate mousse (admittedly, not my favorite dessert of the North), but could easily hold up to any number of sweets. With aromas of licorice, plums and dried fig, followed unctuous spice and mulled fruit aromas, it’s a lovely wine to sip into the wee hours.

For those of you interested in savoring a succulent old draft ox (you’ll have to trust us on this one!), book your trip to Porto around this time every year, because Vinum just might feature it on their menu around the end of November through the beginning of December. If not organically grown ox, you’ll surely find another gastronomic treat from the North worthy of tasting.

Huge thanks to both Graham’s and Sagardi for inviting us to this stunning meal, and we look forward to more surprises coming out of their kitchen in the near future!

Stay tuned for a full feature article on Portuguese beef!!!

Cheers

Gabriella Opaz

Dinner in Viseu: Chewing Over Identity

Magnum VinhosThough it had been one of the rainiest and foggiest weeks I had ever spent in Portugal, on this particular day, the dreariness gave new meaning to the word “melancholy.” In no way was this suicidal ambiance any match for my mission to discover! I was booked for a trip to Viseu and absolutely nothing was going to deter my journey.

I was invited by the legendary winemaker Carlos Lucas, a fellow foodie, who produces notable wine in the Dão (his Ribeiro Santo Branco 2014 sits regally on Gordon Ramsay’s wine list in London) as well as other regions throughout Portugal and abroad. This was undoubtedly an excellent incentive to visit! But there was more to it…

Though most of my family is originally from Castelo Branco, my father’s maternal side comes from Viseu. What these two cities have in common is that they’re both part of the Beira region in Central Portugal – the latter is in Beira Alta (upper) and the former in Beira Baixa (lower). I grew up visiting the lower region, but never the upper where we no longer have family. This fed my intrigue about the area for years… It felt like a family member I’d never met, a missing link to my story. This, I realized later, was in fact what was fueling my deep desire to visit Viseu. It was a matter of identity.

In the end, I didn’t get to see much of the city, or the rest of the area due to the poor weather, but it worked out really well for my taste buds a.k.a my compass to exploring identity. You see, this visit included one of the most satisfying and soulful meals I have ever had in Portugal, paired beautifully with wines produced and poured by the charismatic Carlos.

Earlier in the day, we met up with Carlos at a small factory dedicated to producing the region’s prized Serra da Estrela cheese, then made our way to his Quinta do Ribeiro Santo in the town of Carregal do Sal, where he took us on a personal tour of the spacious and elegant winery. The fog unfortunately veiled its bucolic mountain backdrop of the Serra da Estrela. In good weather, Carlos says it’s a lovely location to go bike riding and exploring nearby Roman ruins. We bet!

For dinner, Carlos reserved a table at one of Viseu’s beloved restaurants, Santa Luzia. Housed in a contemporary space, I would never have guessed that what’s served inside is complete comfort on a plate. Open for more than 30 years, much of what this family-run restaurant offers its patrons is grown and raised right on their very own farm. The freshness of the food is mouthwateringly memorable…

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

I can’t get the juicy slices of Coração de Boi (giant tomatoes) doused in fleur de sal and drizzled in extra virgin olive oil out of my mind. The black eyed peas and shredded toothy kale covered in crumbled Broa (cornmeal bread) is unforgettable – an ideal wintry salad. And my favorite, rice with wild Miscaros, mushrooms so meaty I kept confusing them with the slivers of pork belly. Along with a bevy of wholesome dishes, our feast was replete with locally smoked meats and sausages, mountain cheeses and a medley of olives. The region is a must for meat and vegetable lovers!

Viseu Food TourWe finished with the staple pairing of Requeijao from the mountain village of Seia – a ricotta-style cheese that in the Beira region is produced with the upmost quality – and silky pumpkin jam. I fell so head over heels for this combo that I searched for it everywhere else I went in Portugal after that dinner, but nothing came close to the creaminess of that night’s cheese and the earthiness of that jam.

Each bite was enriched with Carlos’s personal selection of graceful red and white wines including his Vinha da Neve 2011, a mineral yet mouthfilling white made from the Dão’s emblematic Encruzado. The Dão is the only region making white wine with this grape. “Encruzado is THE varietal of the Dão. We should continue to promote it, because it does extremely well here,” explained Carlos, a passionate host on par with the high quality of everything on our table.

Throughout this emotive meal, I couldn’t help but connect the gastronomical dots between this region and the Beira Baixa, which fascinates me as the bridge between north and south with its influences from Alentejo below and Beira Alta above, sprinkled with bits of Serra da Estrela. Eating in Viseu helped me put in place yet another piece in my food identity puzzle.

The off-the-beaten-path menu that Carlos carefully and appropriately selected for our late harvest dinner that night also confirmed what I had so often felt in the Beira Baixa: there’s so much more beyond the summertime and the coast (that understandably sell Portugal so well) to discover. These hidden places, many at the foothills or in the cradle of enchanting mountains, are in significant need of some serious exploration.

Viseu, we’ll be back!

Are you as hungry as we are to explore Viseu? Let us take you on a customized tour through the gastronomical gems of this bountiful region.

Cheers,

Sonia Andresson-Nolasco

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

5 Cozy Places to Eat & Drink in Barcelona in Winter

Ziryab RestaurantThe winter months in Barcelona are fast approaching, and with them will come humid cold and a touch of rain. While the typical tiled-floor, big-windowed, wooden-chaired restaurant or bar is the norm in Barcelona, you can also find plenty of places to pass a cozy afternoon or evening with a plate of great food and a tea, coffee, wine, beer or cocktail in hand. Below are five great choices for those looking for a bit of comfort in Barcelona this winter.

Ziryab
Just because you’re in Barcelona doesn’t mean you have to eat classic Catalan or Spanish food at every meal. Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that owes its identity to the last 2000 years of people coming and going; passing through this land and leaving their tastes and traditions behind. If you’re looking for a romantic (or just comfortable and inviting) place for a casual dinner, then Ziryab is it.

Self-dubbed as “Arabian Fusion”, Ziryab has two intimate location in the Barcelona neighborhood of El Born. The original location (Carrer de Grunyi, 4), once a full restaurant, is now a lavish hookah lounge with hanging chairs, big pillows, dim lights, tapestries, and great cocktails (try the Zibaretto Sour, a classic Amaretto sour with an Arabian twist, thanks to the addition of Jordanian Date syrup). Bars for smoking shisha in Barcelona aren’t that common, so this is a great find for those who are looking for a flavorful puff.

More recent is Ziryab’s second location (Carrer dels Ases, 16), which is where you can try their full restaurant offering of “tapas and mezze”, including the Pumpkin Ginger Fig soup (my personal favorite), assortments of delicious Lebanese dips, grilled turkey shish kebabs, Christmas Spiced Lamb, and much more. Ziryab prides themselves on their interesting and accessible list of both Catalan and Middle Eastern wines, and the friendly staff can definitely point you in the right direction in finding a great wine to pair perfectly with your meal.

Ziryab
Carrer dels Ases 16. 08003 Barcelona.
(+34) 932 681 774
http://ziryab.es/

Bar 33|45Bar 33|45

It doesn’t take long to realize that the Raval neighborhood is one of the hippest and fastest-evolving pockets of Barcelona. What was once a far-from-desirable area code has now become entirely cool, with dive bars, speakeasies, art galleries, international restaurants, trendy shops, and young businesses popping up all across this the most ethnically diverse area of the city. The main artery of the Raval, pumping energetic blood through the barri, is the Carrer de Joaquin Costa. Connecting the MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) and the wide and leisurely Rambla del Raval, this street never sleeps. There is a variety of affordable drinking options along Joaquin Costa, but my favorite (and hands-down the coziest) is called 33|45.

While the front section of this bar looks like any other, with high, communal tables and vintage vibes, the back area is packed with a mish-mash of couches and arm chairs, grouped around low coffee tables with soft lighting overhead and work by local artists gracing the walls. The whole place looks a bit like a garage sale, but it is the perfect, cheap spot to get a drink in the afternoon or evening while out in the Raval. They also serve breakfast and lunch, but the food isn’t what you come to this bar for. Packed on the weekend with a mix of locals and internationals, Bar 33|45 sees themselves as a community space where drinks, events, and art all come to hangout.

Bar 33|45
Joaquin Costa, 4. 08001 Barcelona
+34 931 87 41 38
http://3345.struments.com/

Bar Andorra
Bar Andorra Walk into Bar Andorra on any given night and it feels a bit like stepping back in time. Sure, there are modern amenities throughout this little-known restaurant at the fringe of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, but a lot hasn’t changed here since the 1950s when the business was first launched on Sant Pere Més Alt. Retro booths that barely fit four people line the narrow entryway of this beloved local restaurant where everything is made from scratch, right down to the sausages and boquerones en vinagre. Even the typography on the bar’s outdoor sign brings to mind decades past. The back of the restaurant is a separate, larger dining room, though it is well worth the wait to be seated in the front where the charm of this classic spot is on full display.

Bar Andorra is by no means “fancy” in their culinary offerings, but they do pride themselves on always serving excellent food—and they don’t disappoint. From the whole, grilled, Mediterranean seabass with potatoes to the roasted vegetable flatbread (coca de escalivada) with anchovies and blood sausage (My favorite. I order it every time), it’s hard to go wrong when there is a kitchen team so dedicated to pleasing regular customers day in and day out. Bar Andorra is also a great place to partake in a classic “vermut”—red vermouth on the rocks with an orange slice, an olive, and a bit of soda water to top it off. Paired with their excellent assortment of marinated olives, canned clams or other conservas, and a bit of hard goat cheese, there’s no better way to pass a chilly Saturday afternoon in Barcelona.

Bar Andorra
Sant Pere Més Alt, 74, 08003 Barcelona
+34 931 77 35 09
Bar Andorra on TripAdvisor

teterias alterioTetería Salterio
Barcelona is not a tea city, nor is Spain a tea country. Coffee reigns supreme. That being said, the long legacy of North Africans in the Iberian peninsula has lead to little pockets of culinary influence that often come in the form of sweet almond pastries and mint teas.

Tetería Salterio offers one the splendid opportunity to pick from an unrivaled (in Barcelona) list of teas and infusions, as well as juices and smoothies, beer, and wine. This warm little tea house is literally a “hole in the wall”; a narrow door on a narrow street in the dark and often dank center of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic—the Medieval Jewish Quarter of El Call. Grab a spot on one of the long, cushioned, wooden benches that line the ancient stone walls of this tranquil gem and share a tiny table with a close friend, for this is the perfect spot for an intimate conversation; possibly “third date” material. Sit back and enjoy your steaming tea, bathed in the glowing lights that reflect off of polished metal teapots and sheltered from the cold.

The tea is the star at Salterio, but whatever you choose will surely be served with care and a smile by the friendly staff. The food offering is by no means extensive, with just a few snacks available (the best of which being the “Four Seasons” Sardo, a thin, crispy flatbread with mushrooms and spinach, other veggies, melted cheese and a tangy sesame sauce). Salterio isn’t a place to go when you’re in a rush, one because the service is relaxed and without haste, and two, because you’ll surely want to prolong your stay, allowing your teapot to be refreshed with hot water again and again as you sit back and appreciate this little den of calm in the heart of the hectic city center.

Tetería Salterio:
Carrer de Sant Domènec del Call, 4, 08002 Barcelona
+34 933 02 50 28
Tetería Salterio on Facebook

Frank’s Bar
Franks BarWhen it’s winter in Barcelona, heading to the beach may not be at the top of your to-do list. However, though the wind may be strong and the air chilled, there is plenty of warmth and merriment to be had down by the Port. While numerous restaurants, bars, and hotels stay busy all year in the area surrounding the “Port Olímpic”, none is quite as emblematic and desirable as the Hotel Arts and its lobby bar.

The level of luxury at the surprisingly mundane sounding “Frank’s Bar” is well up to the standard you would expect from the Hotel Arts Barcelona, a Five-Star jewel in the Ritz-Carlton crown. This place is anything but cheap, but with plenty of plush chairs, sofas, and banquets, this top-notch bar and lounge is the perfect winter hideout. With a beautiful, inviting fireplace and views of the famous “Golden Fish” of the Barceloneta beach (designed by Frank Gehry, the namesake of the bar itself), there is really no other place in Barcelona quite like it.

Frank’s is known as a meeting point where one can indulge in flute after flute of the finest French bubbly, but if you’re wanting something harder, go for one of their signature “Gin Tonics”, or a whiskey from their extensive list. With luxurious decor, five-star service, loads of natural light, swanky cocktails, and numerous in-hotel dining options (including the 2-Michelin-starred Enoteca restaurant with their celebrity chef Paco Perez and a list of some 700 wines by the bottle), Frank’s Bar is a must-visit for anyone looking to get cozy while classing up their stay in Barcelona.

Frank’s Bar (Hotel Arts Barcelona)
Carrer de Marina 19–21. 08005 Barcelona
+34 932 21 10 00
http://www.hotelartsbarcelona.com/es/Gastronomía/Franks

That said, if you’re keen for someone to expertly guide you along the way, providing the tastiest, warmest morsels on this side of the Atlantic, then don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love nothing more than to make you feel at home and your stomach at ease on a customized foodie tour of Barcelona!

Cheers,

Sam Zucker

(Feature photo by Matthias Ripp)

Michelin Chef Elevates Rustic Portuguese Cuisine in Manhattan

George MendesThere’s a little slice of Lisbon’s vibrant food scene in New York City these days thanks to Michelin star Chef George Mendes. For anybody that’s been to Lisbon lately, you’ll instantly pick up on the similarities between the haute cuisine hotspots chefs like José Avillez have created in the recent past with his acclaimed Belcanto and several modern reinterpretations of Portuguese tascas (taverns) and cervejarias (beer halls) with places like Cantinho do Avillez and George’s own two contrasting NYC restaurants – Aldea and Lupulo.

Interestingly, as Lisbon’s Michelin restaurant scene bubbled and eventually erupted so did George’s own success story on the other side of the Atlantic, where the chef was raised as a child of Portuguese immigrants. Must be those Michelin stars aligning! Whatever the magic, George gives New Yorkers and travelers to the city two distinct Portuguese experiences that mirror closely what Portugal’s top cities, Lisbon and Porto, offer today with the revival of recipes that twist tradition for this generation of discerning foodies. Originally Mediterranean, Aldea morphed into a fine dining Portuguese restaurant.

On the other hand, Lupulo (hops in Portuguese) is George’s take on a casual cervejaria decorated with nautical ropes and blue and white tiles paying tribute to some of his favorite beer halls in Lisbon with tiny special touches like quirky dessert plates by the revered Portuguese artist Bordalo Pinheiro. Lupulo features rustic Portuguese flavors with a stamp of sophistication, something the talented chef emphasizes isn’t on purpose. George jokes, “It’s the only way I know how to do it.” No complaints here! George’s Bolinhos de Bacalhau (codfish cakes) is a concoction of crispiness, creaminess and fluffiness served with dollops of Piri-Piri mustard, a winning combo of inspiration and comfort in what is essentially a peasant Portuguese finger food of cured codfish scraps, mashed potatoes, onion and parsley frittered into an egg-shaped bite. George takes Portugal’s trademark of transforming frugal into fantastic to new heights. “It’s my interpretation,” he says, “not necessarily by the book Portuguese but with Portuguese flavors.”

With two restaurants in the big apple, a breakfast counter called BICA (paying homage to the espresso shot) and a beautiful cookbook, “My Portugal,” George started out simply by wanting to run a successful restaurant in NYC – no small feat in such a competitive market. But he’s certainly outdone himself! Despite introducing Aldea as Mediterranean not specifically Portuguese, his strong roots ripped through passionately with memorable dishes like the Arroz de Pato, his signature duck rice. It didn’t take long before the media picked up on all the signs that George had an undeniable Portuguese identity that voiced itself through his dishes, proclaiming Aldea a Portuguese restaurant.

Bacalhau a Gomes de sa“Aldea was an opportunity to introduce some Portuguese dishes, but I was careful because nobody really knew what Portuguese cuisine was and I had to run a business, so I had to make sure that whatever I did was understood by the New York City public.” No need to explain, George, we get it! If you think Portuguese food is misunderstood today, think nearly 10 years back folks. Often overshadowed in the U.S. by Spanish cuisine – the sister cultures share similar base products – George can confidently claim that today Portuguese cuisine has its own voice. Probably the most obvious differences between these two Iberian cuisines, he points out, is Portugal’s greater use of bacalhau (cured codfish) as well as pork. And, less straightforward but nonetheless significant, Portugal’s unique culinary worldliness (the country was, after all, the first global empire) which shows up at the table in ways unseen in any other Mediterranean country. Portuguese cuisine embraces a gastronomical legacy laced in an early Roman and Arabic occupation, the Age of Discoveries (you’ll find references on Lupulo’s menu to Portuguese navigators like Magellan) and long lasting colonies in Africa and Asia with ties to Brazil. The result is a Mediterranean base infused with global, exotic flavors that include birds-eye chillies, cilantro, curry, coconut and cinnamon – to name a few … What’s been interesting about generating awareness for Portuguese cuisine, says George, is that once people discover it they can relate to it immediately because we’re using ingredients that they’re already cooking with regularly.

At Lupulo, you’ll discover all of these flavors in thoughtful dishes with a nod to some of the most rustic flavors in the Portuguese culinary repertoire, such as Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (codfish, potato, onion and egg casserole) and Pâté de Carapau (mackerel mousse). This very Portuguese characteristic of unexpected blending is what awaits you at Lupulo.

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

“Aldea was inspired by a lot of recipes from Portugal, but it was more Mediterranean with French technique and lots of farmers’ market ingredients. Eventually, it evolved into more dishes that were closer to the Portuguese than anything else. As Aldea grew and evolved, I gained the confidence to take the project and push it forward and start thinking about another restaurant that would be even more authentic, and a reflection of my ancestry, my family and rustic Portuguese cooking.”

LupuloThis time, George also wanted a restaurant that reached more people in a larger space with lots of seating and a big bar in a high trafficked location. On a corner just south of Herald Square, Lupulo delivers on all with its newly-opened BICA breakfast counter (the Pasteis de Nata – eggs custards are a huge draw) as the cherry on top.

To maintain an authentic tie to Portugal, George imports as many ingredients as possible. His canned sardines come from the beach town of Nazaré; he whips up his Arroz de Polvo (octopus rice) with Arroz Agulha; and at the top of his beer list is Sagres, a staple of Portuguese beer, which he hopes will gain mainstream exposure with a little push from Lupulo. For the future, George is hoping to get some Portuguese artisanal beers on the menu to shine a light on that currently evolving industry. These old country ingredients keep George even more deeply connected with his identity. Through them, he can paint a picture of his Portugal on a plate.

“I don’t have any other way of describing myself. It’s about creating an identity, creating my voice. I think that as a chef you want to distinguish yourself from others. A really good chef is a craftsman, he’s also an artist. But as an artist you need to have a definition. Just like you identify a Pablo Picasso, a chef’s work has to be recognizable with his own voice and his own history, so that it has feeling, emotion and meaning. Chefs interpret all of this through their work, and I think that’s what I have done with Aldea and Lupulo – they are an extension of me,” shares George, taking a generous bite of his Filet de Bacalhau, a cured cod filet sandwich topped with spicy pickled ramp mayo in a potato bun. “If I were just cooking food without any meaning, history, reason, or connection to my childhood and the flavors that I’m familiar with then it wouldn’t have any depth or longevity. When I go to a restaurant I like to know the chef, I like to learn about him, and that’s basically what I set out to do with my restaurants.”

Though George has no plans to replicate his upscale Aldea, he does share a desire to pepper a few Lupulos and BICAs beyond NYC. Hey, you know what they say, George, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!” It’s up to you.

If you’re keen to explore the culinary treasures that inspired George, drop us a line! We’d love to craft a customized and mouthwatering tour through Portugal!

Cheers,

Sonia Andresson-Nolasco

Photos by Anna Webber

Custom Wine Tours Portugal

5 Fantastic Hikes in Catalunya for Food Lovers

Hiking CataloniaBeyond the urban hive of Barcelona, the natural wonders of Catalunya await. Mountains, vineyards, forests, and coastlines; the region has it all! Hiking is a popular pastime here and should be at the top of the list for any visitor with a passion for both recreation and authentic cuisine, as the best hiking destinations traverse towns and villages of incredible cultural and gastronomic importance.

Hikes near Barcelona
Capturing the food culture of Barcelona in a lone paragraph is impossible, as it would be for the complex culinary history of any region. Let’s just say that in this amazing city there is a wealth of gastronomic experiences at your fingertips, with endless flavors to explore. You’ll taste the food, drink the wine, see the sights, and soak up the sun, but when nature calls, a short trip out of the city, full of impressive views and lush greenery, is just the ticket.

One of Barcelona’s greatest natural assets — and one that is rarely experienced by short-stay visitors— is the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Collserola. The park covers over 8,000 hectares of green, mountainous terrain at the inland limits of Barcelona (the green hills visible from nearly every part of the city) and is very easily accessible, making it a popular place for residents to run, bike, walk, and picnic. To access the many foot paths and the useful information center, head up to Baixador de Vallvidrera from Plaça Catalunya (use one of the FGC train lines) and inhale a breathe of fresh air. If you’re a mushroom lover, there are heaps of gastronomic tours available to distinguish which of Catalunya’s flavorful fungi are available for the eating. (Photo by Ferran Jordà)

Hikes around the La Garrotxa (Besalú)

La Garrotxa, an area of northern Catalunya within the province of Girona, which butts up against the plains of the Empordà and the mountains of Rippolés, is a land of fertile, volcanic soil renowned for its unique landscape and rich culinary tradition. After an exquisitely scenic hike through the forests of this Medieval county, feast on local specialties such as aged, raw sheep’s milk cheeses (“Serrat” and “La Bauma Carrat Borreda” are some of the most famous), various cured meats (notably “Piumoc”, a hard salami made from pork ribs), suckling lamb, beans, peas, turnips, and the local herbal liqueur, Ratafia. Of all the towns in La Garrotxa, the beautifully-preserved medieval village of Besalú is a must-visit—both for the charming ambiance and the excellent restaurant options. Check out Can Quei and Curía Reial for a leisurely Catalan lunch.

One of the most picturesque hikes through the Parc natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa stretches from Sadernes to the monastery of Sant Aniol d’Aguja. Sadernes is a mere 25-minute drive from Besalú, and this 10 km round-trip route (which is quite easy) takes you along a quiet river valley up into the zone of the “Alta Garrotxa.”The park has many trails and if you fancy a longer/more challenging hike (a moderate rating), choose the route which includes the Puig de Bassegoda, one of the most emblematic mountain peaks of the region. From this vantage point, you’ll enjoy a stunning view of the Pyrenees and surrounding terrain.

Hiking La Garrotxa Hikes in the Costa Brava (Cadaqués)
No trip to the Empordà region of Catalunya (within the province of Girona) would be complete without a visit to the gorgeous and enchanting seaside town of Cadaqués, famous not only for its old streets and whitewashed walls, but also for its location within the Cap de Creus Natural Park. Cap de Creus is a rock peninsula formed by the Pyrenees Mountains as they finally meet the Mediterranean at the most easterly point in Spain. The natural park —which extends above and below the cove of Cadaqués, is accessible by car via a paved road, and by foot on the old Camí de Ronda, a coastal path that leads from the town of Port Bou on the Spanish side of the French border all the way down to the town of Blanes some 235 km later.

From the late 1800s until after the Spanish Civil War, the Camí de Ronda once served as a foot path for government bodies to police contraband and black market activity along the Costa Brava. The stretch of this route that leads from Cadaqués to the famous Cap de Creus lighthouse is about 7.3 km each way, taking a total of 4.5-5 hours to complete at a moderate pace. The Cap de Creus restaurant has been a local institution for 20 years, but with long waits in the high season, if you don’t have a reservation, you’re better off eating back in Cadaqués. Regardless, a cold beer or coffee on their terrace is the perfect way to enjoy the incredible views of the peninsula before embarking on the return trek. (Photo by Ramirez de Gea)

Hikes in the Pyrenees (Val d’Aran)
Though within the limits of the Catalan province of Lleida, the mountainous region of the Val d’Aran — which borders France, high in the central Pyrenees — is very closely tied to the food and culture of Gascony. This is the very definition of Mountain cuisine, with typical dishes, ingredients, and flavors of the Val a’Aran that include patés, foie gras, roasted and stewed wild game, cured meats, and cow milk cheese (protected under the D.O Val a’Aran). Whereas southern France is famous for oil and northern France is known for butter, this terrain —which stretches from the middle of the Pyrenees mountain chain to the Atlantic Bay of Biscay — is the land of lard. Dishes cooked in duck and goose fat represent some of the most beloved recipes of the region, and the Val a’Aran has absorbed much of this tradition. However, the cuisine of the Val d’Aran reflects some Catalan influences, as well, mainly the embutits (cured meats). In the capital city of Viella Mitg Arán (also known as Vielha), all of these rich delicacies (and another local favorite, cassis liqueur) are plentiful and can be found with ease.

Hiking CatalunyaMoreover, this wide valley is one of the best ski areas in all of Spain, but that doesn’t mean it is a “winter only” destination. Spring, Summer, and Fall are all great times to explore these picturesque peaks and quaint alpine towns. Of the many hiking routes available in the Val d’Aran, one of the best is the “Setau Sagèth,” a five-stage hike that winds through the mountains, taking trekkers through virtually all of the sites and towns of historical interest and natural splendor. The total trail is 103 km long and can be completed in five days with hotels and lodging along the way (though it can also be enjoyed in stand-alone segments). Yet another route with scenic and varied landscapes awaits as you step onto the Camin Reiau (Royal Path), a 150 km path that was used originally by the Romans and connects all 33 of the villages of the Val d’Aran. This route can be conquered through a multi-day commitment, but can also be done in independent leisurely day hikes. (Photo by Jordi Corominas)

Hikes in Tarragona (Montblanc)
Hiking in Catalunya is by no means limited to the North. In the southern province of Tarragona, you’ll discover terrific hiking opportunities around the enchanting medieval town of Montblanc, with its old city center, impressive Basilica of Santa María la Mayor, and its unique Tarragonés gastronomic tradition. Many treasured culinary facets of Catalan life derive from Tarragona, including vermouth (in the nearby town of Reus), and the famous calçots of Valls (a grilled spring onion that is a must-try local specialty). In addition to the local vermouth, excellent red wines from the D.O Priorat region (just an hour south) and the D.O Conca de Barberà (within which Montblanc is located) are readily available. For an extra special local libation, sample one of the Conca de Barberà’s 100% trepat wines — a red varietal with elegant red fruit aromas and a slight spice on the tongue (look for a wine called Cuca de Llum, made by the Succés Vinícola).

Of all the trails and hikes available in the inland regions of Alt Camp, Conca de Barberà and Urgell, the Ruta dels Cisters (The Cistercian Route) is a true gem. This 105 km route (also known simply as Gran Recorrido 175, or GR 175) is ideal for casual hikers and mountain bikers alike, and its name pays homage to the three magnificent Cistercian Order monasteries it connects. When traveling by foot, through the forest paths, lush vineyards, and expansive fields between the monasteries of Santes Creus, Poblet, and Vallbona de les Monges, you can really absorb the culture and tradition of this ancient land. The path can be done in stages, in its entirety or merely in parts. Starting and ending in Montblanc, the Ruta dels Cisters is a unique view into the old world of Tarragona’s interior.

If you’re keen for a customized hiking and foodie adventure, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’d love nothing more to guide you to our favorite gems deep within the mountains of Catalunya!

Cheers,

Sam Zucker

Friday Feature Photo: The Evolution from Mosque to Portuguese Cathedral

Igreja de Santa Maria Maior,   Lisbon Portugal

Photographer: Bert Kaufmann

Capture Date: June 5, 2009

Location: Sé de Lisboa, Portugal

About:  Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon cathedral) was built shortly after the reconquest of Lisbon from the Moors in 1147. Many years later, having being significantly modified after the 1755 earthquake and restored at the beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries, the church remains on the site on which it was originally erected as a large Moorish mosque.

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If you want Catavino to plan your next historical visit to Lisbon, contact us!!