When the days become short and the nights long in Portugal, it also becomes the cold season. We don’t get snow in my area, south of Lisbon, but sometimes in the mountain regions and the northern rock studded areas where the homes are made of dark blocks of granite and rows of low stone walls that separate each quinta, a dusting of snow can be found. That doesn’t mean wrapping my frozen fingers around a warm mug of vinho quente is just a way to reminisce about cold days back in the states!
No, the cold isn’t just a fantasy in the rest of Portugal. The Atlantic waters to the west of Portugal turn the air humid, and combined with some of the mildest winter temperatures (16°C or 61°F on average) you get something that can only be called as “bone chilling”. In the light of the sun, it can be pleasant at those degrees, but once the sun has retired for the day or disappears behind a cloud that’s when the search for comfort becomes an urgent need. The best places to find it are in a warm cozinha cooking comfort food or snuggled under a thick blanket before the glow of a wood fire with a warm drink in hand.
When it comes to warm drinks, you have the same choices here as anywhere amongst Portuguese coffee, tea and hot chocolate, but if you want something that hits the right chord between comfort and cheer look no further than vinho quente!
Vinho quente (mulled wine) is a warm red wine rich in spices, citrus fruit, and honey or syrup. The Romans were the first to write down this technique in the second century, and then spread it across Europe as they conquered and traded with its people. This is why we often hear about mulled wine in northern European countries, where the winters are harsher, more so than in the south. I’s still enjoyed in the southern countries and throughout the Iberian peninsula as well, and comes with a variety of different recipes that are only limited by the imagination.