The other day someone told me: You should talk about wine on your blog! Everybody loves wine!
Well, but I’m not a wine expert. What can I tell you about Portuguese wine?
First of all, the complexity of wine, generally speaking, is astonishing to me. Wine is the end result of a complex alchemy, from the grapevine to the moment the wine touches your lips. More than just growing grapes, pressing them and waiting for the grape juice to ferment, making wine involves real mastery and there are a lot of aspects that come together to make a good wine. If you plant the same grapes year after year in the same land you’ll get different results depending on weather conditions, soil and neighbouring trees. Then there are all the aspects concerning temperature, ageing, letting the wine “breathe” and knowing how to savour it.
Then there are all the strange, not to say bizarre, things regarding wine production. Like that one time when I visited a big wine producer in the South of Lisbon in which you could actually enter some of the cellars. One of them was filled with big barrels of Moscatel and I could hear… Gregorian chant! What?! The explanation given to me by the guide was that apparently the vibrations of this type of music helped the wine to mature better. Fascinating!
The typical rabelo boat and Porto historical district in background. These were the boats that used to carry Port from several places along the Douro river to Porto (Photo credit: Wikipedia).
In our case it all started with the Romans, I guess: they produced wine across the Lusitanian territory (which corresponds, roughly, to the South of Portugal) and this wine was not only consumed locally, but also sent to Rome. However, before that, Tartessians had already planted vines in the valleys of the Sado and the Tagus rivers.
Grape varieties came and went with the centuries and, today, Portugal has about 285 indigenous grape varieties – more than any other country. Some of them are considered rare, like the Moscatel roxo. Why is it rare? Because some years ago this variety was so badly attacked by a pest that only 14 hectares of it exist today (that’s about 34.5 acres). And I happen to be the happy owner of a bottle of Moscatel roxo. 🙂
We also have two wine producing regions which are protected by UNESCO as World Heritage: the Douro Valley Wine Region (Douro Vinhateiro) and the Pico Island Wine Region (Ilha do Pico Vinhateira). The first one produces what the world knows as Port and the second one produces vinho da Madeira or, as my English friends call it, “Madira”. People love Port so much that the Douro Valley was the world’s first official demarcated wine region, back in 1756.
Apart from the two mentioned above, wine produced in Portugal can be white, green, rosé, red, sparkling or moscatel. And then, there are the wine regions.
It’s not my intention to deliver a lecture about wine but, in my humble opinion, if you really want to enjoy Portuguese wine, you have to drink it here. Sure you can drink vinho verde in, let’s say, Leeds. But trust me on this: if you go for a walk under a hot sun and then sit down for lunch with a nice bottle of this wine you’re likely to end up saying in your best Portuguese “Vinho verde é refresco!“*.
So, if you want to learn to
drink wine like a boss taste wine I suggest you take some workshops and/or visit some cellars. Alternatively, you can visit a website with info on the topic. If you happen to visit some of the most famous Portuguese wine producing regions, you’ll find that it’s very easy to find places where you can taste wines and enjoy a visit around the property (usually with a guide, of course). If you have the possibility of taking two weeks off in September and have no idea of how to spend that time (but you don’t want to be very far from wine) you should know that there are places in Portugal where you can pay to stay in a nice room in a cute farm and take part of the vindima. Yes, some people actually pay to pick grapes and experience one of the most characteristic times of the year to those working in the wine industry. It’ kind of holidays with activities, plus some serious calorie burning and minus the kids screaming in the pool. While pressing grapes with your feet you might also learn a few songs which will make you the life of the next party. Here’s a bit from one of those songs in a loose translation: “It was the wine, my God, it was the wine./ It was the thing I loved the most./ Only by death, my God, only by death,/ Would I let go of wine./ Oh, I’ll die in a cellar/ Oh, with a glass of wine in my hand/ Oh, the must will be my shroud/ Oh, the barrel will be my coffin”.
And to finish this post beautifully here’s your trivia tidbit of the day: Who was the famous dictator with a funny moustache said to have his vaults stockpiled with Mateus Rosé? Was it Hitler? No! Stalin? No! Franco? No! It was Saddam Hussein!
*Loosely translated this means something like “Vinho verde is soda pop!”. Why? Because it’s fresh and light and you might just not notice how much you’re drinking until it is, well, too late.