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Douro Wines and Portuguese Food: The Perfect Pairings

With the plentiful information we’ve provided about Port and Douro wines, and the beautiful area they originate from this November, hopefully you’re itching to put together the perfect wine trip to the Douro Valley. Lists of the wineries you’re dying to visit are being rapidly typed up. Maps are strewed across your kitchen table. And perhaps you’ve even stumbled upon the perfect location for your eno-tourism accommodation. The only element you may be missing is, what to eat on this fabulous whirlwind tour.

Many are familiar with the dishes in your neck of the woods that pair well with Port and Douro wines, but probably few are knowledgeable ast to the types of traditional foods that the Portuguese (especially the Douro locals) like to have with their wine. So allow us to offer some suggestions.

These are foods that you can easily find at most local restaurants, cafés, markets and grocers, along with the Portuguese names so you won’t need a translator.

Douro Table Wines – Whites

One of the lesser-known styles of wines of the region, Douro whites tend to be drier, smoother and richer than the coastal white wines of the south, trading light citrus notes for abundant floral and mineral ones.  Fuller-bodied age-worthy whites usually spend some time in oak, taking on a golden color with rich tropical fruit flavors. Douro whites are typically produced from a blend of  native Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Malvasia Fina varietals.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Young Douro whites are great with grilled fish dishes. Try a robalo grelhado  (grilled seabass) accompanied by a light salada mista (mixed salad).  Shellfish also pairs well, such as sapateira (stone crab) mexilhões (mussels) and ameijoas (clams).  You can find plenty of these foods when dining in the city of Porto, the gateway to Douro.

Mature Douro whites are nice with light bacalhau (saltcod) dishes, such as bacalhau cozido com grão (boiled saltcod with chickpeas) or bacalhau assado (roasted saltcod) as well as light frango (chicken) and coelho (rabbit) dishes paired with white sauces.

Bacalhau Cozido com Grão – Recipe from Chef Kate 

  • 1 lb salt cod fish
  • 2 cups onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon piri-piri
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 3 eggs, hard-boiled, shelled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

Directions

  1. Prepare Bacalhau.
  2. Soak fish in water for at least 24 hours and preferably 48 hours, changing the water 3 to 4 times per day.
  3. Drain the fish, rinse well and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover.
  4. Bring to a boil.
  5. Taste the water; if it is too salty, drain the fish, add fresh water and bring to a boil again.
  6. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Drain and let cool.
  8. Remove any skin and bones and separate the fish into coarse flakes.
  9. Prepare the stew.
  10. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onion slowly until it is golden.
  11. Stir in the Bacalhau and heat for two minutes.
  12. Add chickpeas, parsley, vinegar, garlic, piri-piri, salt and pepper and cook for another two minutes or until the mixture is completely warmed through.
  13. Serve garnished with the hard boiled eggs and olives.

Douro Table Wines – Reds

Douro tintos, predominately made from a mono-cast or blend of the famous Touriga Nacional, along with Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Franca (or Touriga Francesa) among many others are usually quite robust, full-bodied and tend to be more earthy with hints of mushroom and barnyard aromas compared to the fruitier southern reds of Portugal, but can also exhibit some rich dark red fruit flavors as well. Douro reds have great ageing potential but can also be enjoyed young, with more redder fruit and chocolate notes.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Rich, earthy intense Douro reds demand a rich, earthy meat. Especially at this time of the year, there’s nothing better than local caça (game meat), such as veado (venison) and  javali (wild boar).  The Portuguese enjoy making roasts and stews out of game meats, and if you’re lucky to find them accompanied by some local cogumelos silvestres (wild mushrooms), then you’ve won the lottery! Additionally, any roasted or stewed beef (lombo de vaca assada/estufada) is a nice pairing. Mature reds are also lovely with certain types of cheese, such as the locally produced goat cheese called, Queijo de Cabra Transmontano.

For the younger, fruitier Douro reds, enjoy them with the Northern dish cabrito assado (roasted kid goat), or cabrito in any form - grelhado (grilled) or estufado/guisado (stewed/braised)! Costoletas de vitela (veal chops) and coelho estufado (stewed rabbit- normally prepared with red wine) are also common and a great pairing with young reds and even some types of bacalhau (saltcod) dishes that are on the heavier side, such as bacalhau com natas (saltcod “potato gratin”), bacalhau à gomes de sá (shredded saltcod baked with onions, potatoes and topped with boiled eggs, olives and parsley) or bacalhau com broa (baked saltcod crusted with a local cornbread).  Young reds also pair well with some Portuguese sheep’s milk cheeses, such as Castelo Branco.

Portuguese Rabbit - Recipe by David Leite 

  • 1/2 pound thick-sliced slab bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • One 3-pound rabbit, cut into 8 pieces, liver finely chopped and reserved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil, if needed
  • 10 ounces mixed mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium yellow onions, cut in half and then into thin half moons
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with their juice
  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus chopped parsley leaves for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

Directions

  1. Heat a large pot over medium-low heat until hot. Add the bacon and let it sizzle until the fat is rendered and the meaty bits are crunchy, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  2. Generously season the rabbit with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and sear the rabbit in the fat, working in batches if needed, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  3. If the pot is dry add a drizzle of olive oil. Lower the heat to medium, add the mushrooms, onions, and bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply colored, 18 to 22 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minutes more.
  4. Pour in the wine and let it burble for 30 seconds, then nestle in the rabbit pieces. Squash the tomatoes with your hands over the pot and add them along with their juice, the 2 parsley sprigs, oregano, and sage.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, add the reserved liver, and simmer, covered, until the rabbit is cooked through, about 1 hour. Toss the parsley and bay leaves. Taste the liquid and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
  6. If you’re so inclined, transfer the rabbit to a platter and with a slotted spoon scoop the vegetables into a small bowl. Turn the heat under the pot to high to thicken the liquid. Otherwise, arrange the rabbit in the middle of the platter and spoon the mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with the bacon. Pour a bit of the liquid over the top and serve the rest on the side. Shower the dish with parsley just before serving.

Port Wines – Ruby, Reserva, LBV and Vintage

These are the non-oxidized styles of Port, matured either in stainless steel tanks or within the sealed bottle to prevent exposure to air to keep their signature, deep, ruby-red color. They exhibit sweeter, fruitier flavors than Tawny Ports with Ruby being the lightest and becoming bolder and richer in intense fruit flavors as one progresses up the line through Ruby Reserva, LBV and Vintage Ports.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Non-oxidized styles of Port are excellent with Portuguese raw milk amanteigado or “smooth like butter” style cheeses, such as  Serra da Estrela and Azeitão .  These Ports, especially the LBV, are also great with chocolate desserts and the Portuguese are fond of making mousse de chocolate, found in local restaurants either as its own dessert or commonly mixed with sweetened condensed milk, cookie bits and whipped cream in the doce da casa (house dessert). Dark chocolate is the best for these Ports; hence, if you want to pair them with just chocolate, try one of the many selections from Porto’s Arcadia chocolate, the most famous Portuguese handmade chocolate in the country.

Port Wine – Tawny, Colheita and Aged Tawnies

These are the oxidized styles of Port, matured in oak barrels and being exposed to air, allowing the wine to lose its bright red color to develop a golden brown or “tawny” color. This color also gives these wines their nutty, dried fruit characteristics and syrupy texture, becoming more pronounced as the get higher in quality and matured longer in the barrel, such as in the Colheita and the 10, 20, 30 and 40 year Aged Tawnies.  These Ports are also higher in alcohol than the Ruby style.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Tawnies go great with anything nutty, especially almonds and walnuts, so try one of the many Portuguese almond-based desserts such as a tarte de amêndoa (almond tart) or serradura de amêndoa (like a mixed cookie and almond mousse – my favorite!), and for walnuts, a slice of bolo de noz (walnut cake) would be an excellent option. 10- year Tawnies in particular are also good with orange-based Portuguese  desserts, such as a tarte de laranja (orange tart) or  bolo de laranja (orange cake) or caramel-based desserts like baba de camelo (thick caramel mousse). 20-year Tawnies are better with leite creme - the Portuguese version of creme brulée. Both also go well with Portuguese doces conventuais – classic conventual desserts made from a base of egg yolks and sugar, such as touchinho do céu - a type of moist egg tart/cake that you can normally find in many restaurants.  As for the 30 and 40 year Tawnies, most Portuguese prefer to drink it as a dessert on its own.  With cheese, Tawnies do better with harder, cured cheeses, such as an aged Serra da Estrela or perhaps the nutty Queijo da Ilha.  Finally, Tawny Ports are just simply delicious paired with your after-dinner Portuguese café.

Moscatel do Douro

Moscatel is a fortified wine made exclusively from the Moscatel grape and has a slightly less alcohol content than Port wine.  With the exception of the White Moscatel , the Moscatel do Douro is similar in style to the more widely known and produced Moscatel de Setúbal , but made from a different Moscatel variety called Moscatel Galego. It’s golden sunset color and velvety texture come from several years ageing in oak barrels, giving it beautiful honey, caramel and orange peel flavors. When Moscatels are aged, they take on more dried fig and walnut flavors.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Moscatel makes for an ideal dessert wine, pairing well with almost any type of Portuguese almond, walnut, orange and egg-based desserts like the ones mentioned above with Tawny Ports, including pudim, the Portuguese version of flan, as well as chocolate, coffee and hazelnut based desserts. If you make to Portugal during the holiday season, Moscatel is delicious with a slice of bolo do rei – king cake, which is like the Portuguese version of fruit cake (only much, much better!).

Other Douro Wines – Espumante (Sparkling) and White Ports

Espumantes are bascially the sparkling versions of the Douro whites, normally made from the same blend of varietals and tend to be more full-bodied in general. White Ports are also made from many of the white wine varieties among others and matured in a similar way as a Tawny, but having both dry and sweet styles along with indicated ages.

Portuguese Foods to Pair

Both of these types of wines are great just as an aperitif at the beginning of the meal, but also pair well with heavier types of peixe grelhado -grilled fish, and marisco - shellfish, like sapateira (stone crab), lagosta (lobster) and camarão/gambas (shrimp/prawns). Espumante brut and meio-seco (half dry) are also traditionally used as a toast for birthdays in Portugal and thus pair well with egg-based cakes used for birthday cakes.

Happy wining and dining in the Douro!

Andrea

If all this food and drink porn has got you lusting after the real thing;  then check out Catavino’s recommended gourmet tours of Portugal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000724554560 Maria Dias

    Hi Andrea, Thanks for the great article. I learned so much!
    Maria –

    • http://twitter.com/AndreaInWine AndreaInWine

      You’re welcome Maria, it really means a lot to hear good feedback from my Portuguese neighbors about the stuff I write about their delicious country I live in.   I have to thank all of you though for giving me these wonderful food and wine experiences over the years, this is what motivates me to continue to write :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/roberto.hansted.7 Roberto Hansted

    gostei

  • Jacques L’Heureux

    Excellent article Andrea!  I’m longing to go back to Douro…

    Jacques