Life has a strange way of making us put things into perspective. Who would imagine I would be writing this post over the Atlantic Ocean, on another flight to San Francisco? I certainly wouldn´t, if you had asked me one year ago.
And yet, here I am, writing this text after a long silence. One of these days, someone asked me what prompted me to write in the first place, and particularly about wine. And was it laborious? The answer is quite simple actually. I write because I have to. Sometimes the words just come rushing, other times a sentence takes days. But the need is always there, that yearning to capture life in words, as if that was possible or could make it justice. And wine, well, wine just makes life so worthwhile. Not only that but, in essence, a glass of wine contains life in itself, adding emotion and depth to our existence. Yes, there is life beyond wine (at this point the doctor in me is forced to speak through the writer), but none of us can deny that many of the best moments in life are those shared with friends and family around a glass of wine and a plate of food.
All of this comes to mind as I finish this glass of brandy, from a brand I will never recall, but which is being shared with a great friend, on our way to a future yet unwritten. May this future be bright to my unborn sun!
And as I move further and further away from my country and from those I left there, an untranslatable feeling called “saudade” strikes me hard. Many would say that it is the equivalent of “missing someone/something”. It is much, much more than that. It is an indistinct feeling of yearning. For someone, even if they are there. For something, even if it is within reach. For a place, even if we are there. The interesting thing is that, for us, it is not a bad feeling. All Portuguese were all born from it.
I wonder if it this is why Portugal is so fascinating and intriguing for foreigners. I have travelled near and far, and visited many countries. I have witnessed majestic landscapes, met fantastic people, tasted exquisite food and, however not that frequently, drank great wines in many places. But I have never found all of those things combined in such a small country like Portugal, where everything is at the distance of a fingerbreadth. Apparently, this is not only my bias speaking, as I have recently had the opportunity to discuss with several natives of the country I am about to enter - USA (yes, I am opting for the word country instead of a confederation of states, both because it is much more literary, but because it more accurately translates the sense of belonging and of shared culture that makes up a nation).
There is one thing I love about Americans in general, and which reminds me of the Portuguese. The warmth of their accent and their informality makes you instantly feel like family. And I do think that, besides the reasons I presented you with in the last paragraph, this is what truly makes Portugal a special country - no one is a foreigner, and everyone is invited to become a part of a big family.
And I truly believe this is why, on the last FTLOP tour, two-thirds of the participants were return guests. Once you get into the family, you are hooked up for life. This is what I felt when I finally had the opportunity to meet Roy Hersh in person, along with Mario Ferreira and the participants of the 2016 Fortification Tour on a fantastic dinner a fortnight ago. I entered the restaurant as a distant acquaintance for some, a complete stranger to others, and I left the restaurant in the midst of strong embraces and with friends for life. This is what happens at family dinners, I thought. You always leave with your heart full, (and your stomach too … and with too much wine by the way).
Seeing this from afar, while crossing the Atlantic to the other side, I am now realizing that this is probably why so many people cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction, many of them year after year, heading towards my country. It is not for the wine, or the food, or the landscape, or the people. It is in search of that magical combination of all of that with the feeling of belonging. May you all feel welcome!
That dinner, that night, was not about wine or food, it was about life, and that is why I am writing about it. But it would be most unfair not to mention the food and the wines, as they played a central role in bringing us together and in providing solid and liquid happiness.
At this point, I must state beforehand that I am skeptical of franchises, and that this restaurant happens to be a franchise. Still, I must raise my glass to José Avillez, the Portuguese chef that is behind Belcanto, the two-Michelin star restaurant in Lisbon, as well as for Cantinho do Avillez in Lisbon and Porto (among others). This franchise turned out to be one exception to my rule. The starters were stunning, particularly the cherry tomato dip-sauce and the “farinheira” (a very difficult to describe Portuguese sausage). As to the main dishes, everyone was overwhelmed; my veal with curry sauce was as good as it gets, the risottos were perfectly cooked and the king prawns were simply unbelievable.
We started off with a fantastic local beer brand call Sovina, which produces a fantastic IPA, before moving on to wine. The first wine as Soalheiro 2015, a very fine example of Alvarinho, the queen grape variety from the Vinho Verde region, which we will explore in more detail in future posts.
After such an auspicious start, we then moved the stars of the evening, as we were blessed with the company of Oscar Quevedo, his lovely wife and their adorable son (Oscar, can you please give me the recipe?). They treated us with their Rosé, their top red and two fantastic Ports, which I will describe below, along with my tasting notes.
Oscar’s Rosé 2015
This is an unusual rosé in that it is made from Touriga Nacional, a ubiquitous red grape variety that produces well structured and deeply scented and flavored wines. The grapes for this Rosé were picked sooner, before peak maturity, to capture the acidity. On the nose the floral notes from Touriga are obvious, combined with a green, vegetal scent. On the palate it is well structured, not your typical lean Rosé, with a pronounced acidity. It is definitely not the typical Portuguese fruity, light and one-dimensional Rosé with short after-palate. A much welcome change and great with the main dishes too, not just with the starters!
Claudia’s Reserve 2013 (Douro red)
This wine is made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and a small percentage of Sousão. It is fermented in stainless steel vats and then aged in oak casks for 12 months. On the nose, the floral, violet-like aroma from Touriga Nacional is immediately apparent, as well as red and black fruits from both Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. On the palate it is very elegant, with finely grained tannins (rounder than I was expecting, given it is a very young wine!) and with a good acidity to counterbalance the fruit. A great Douro wine by all standards, despite coming from a very difficult harvest. That left me wondering what their 2011 is like …
(Enter “Hazelnut”, one of my favorite deserts of all time, a combination of hazelnut ice cream, hazelnut foam topped with caramel and salt. Absolute food porn.)
Quevedo 30 year old white Port
“The first duty of Port is to be red” is a common saying. Except it is not. There have always been white grapes in the Douro, but apart from Moscatel (Muscat) they have largely been overlooked. What a mistake. We all know the wonders of Madeira wines, which are made from white grapes. Some, albeit few, Port producers honor white grapes with the same reverence they honor red grapes. And when they do, beautiful wines are born. This is one of them. White grapes bring a much welcome acidity into wines, making them more lively and fresher than their red siblings. This is crucial to create an old tawny. This “30” nails it to perfection. On the nose, I sensed hazelnuts, caramel but also a vegetal element, like green tea leaves. On the palate it was very elegant, with a marked acidity and a very long finish.
Quevedo 40 year old Tawny Port
Quite simply the best 40 year old I have ever tasted. As I have stated before at least twice, once you get past the 20 year old tawnies, the difficulty is balancing the sweetness and richness of the older wines with the necessary acidity that brings youth and liveliness to the wine. And only a few achieve this. Quevedo is one of the few. And my god, what a wine! This was a perfect match for the desert, with its never-ending woody and hazelnut bouquet and its full-bodied sweetness, offset by a great acidity.
My deepest gratitude to Roy for inviting me to this family, to Oscar Quevedo for the wines, and to all of those I had the pleasure and honor of meeting. A toast to all of you, and may we all meet again soon!