Friday night Hamilton Reis, one of the winemakers at Cortes de Cima, was hosting a tasting dinner at the restaurant Portobeer, in Boavista, a district of Porto. We spoke on the phone in the morning, he told me to be there at 8:00 pm.
Duly arrived at 8:00, went upstairs to a private room as directed by the maitre d’ and found an echoingly empty room, albeit set with tables beautifully laid for about 50 people. I caught the sound of voices, and called out – Hamilton darted out from behind a screening wall, welcomed me, and dragged me into the kitchen, saying, help me check all the wines, make sure they aren’t corked or anything.
What a lovely start to the evening! Turns out he deliberately told me to come early for just this. Every bottle of every wine was in perfect condition, but I have to say I probably wasn’t much help to him, I still get too distracted by the wines’ flavours to just assess and spit in a truly business-like and professional manner. And yet, as fast as he was working through a quick sniff and taste from each bottle, Hamilton kept up a running commentary on each wine and how it was showing, and his favourite flavour notes from each, as well as talking about some other wines, notably the Petit Verdot that has just been bottled, and how excited he is about those, too.
By 9:00 the other guests had arrived and we settled to dinner. The restaurant manager, Miguel Ribeiro, introduced Hamilton, and Hamilton introduced Cortes de Cima and their wines.
The food was excellent, and the combinations with the wine were good, and thought provoking.
Every Portuguese meal begins with Petiscos sobre a mesa – choice tidbits for the table – an array of hors d’oeuvres, exquisitely presented. Four different dishes were served in turn, together with the Chaminé Branco and Chaminé Tinto, both 2009. The four dishes were:
Crocante de alheira de caça – alheiras are a type of sausage from north-eastern Portugal, de caça means of the chase, so game meat, probably some kind of fowl in this case, served on a crunchy spun nest.
Espetedinhas de chouriço de Porco Preto com abacaxi – another type of sausage, this one a firm spicy smoked sausage, on a little skewer with a chunk of pineapple – fantastic combination of flavours.
Queijo de cabra envolto em massa kataffi e geleia de marmelo – goat’s cheese in pastry with quince paste – a favourite combination of mine.
Tapas de Francesinha – small portions of francesinha, a specialty of Porto which comes in dozens of variations, but this was the classic – a layer of bread, topped by sliced meat, topped by cheese to envelope the whole, rather like frosting over an entire cake, and a savoury gravy poured over the top.
Chaminé is Cortes de Cima’s entry level wine, both red and white are very clean clear fruity wines, very cheerful and with wonderful supple body in the mouth. Both were good partners for all four of the dishes – occasionally I preferred one or the other, but there were no bad combinations here.
Both wines were refilled to see us through the first course:
Bacalhau fumado com salada de alfaces e emulsão de coentros – bacalhau is the word for cod of all kinds, not just the dried salted version. In this dish, we had slices of fresh cod which had been smoked (think smoked salmon, only cod), with a salad of sharp lettuces and a sauce of coriander (or cilantro). Again, both wines worked, though my preference – and the usual preference in Portugal with any bacalhau – was the red.
The main course served with the Aragonez 2005, a wonderful deep rich red wine with spice notes mingled in with the red and black fruit and lovely tannins. Aragonez is the Alentejano name for the grape which is Tempranillo in Spain and Tinto Roriz in the northern Dão and Douro regions.
Tornedó de Porco Preto com migas de espargos verdes, enchidos e reduçao de vinho tinto – porco preto is an Alentejano specialty – a black pig which is raised free range and lives on the acorns from all the oaks (holm and even cork is a type of oak, and swathes of the Alentejo are covered in forests). The meat has a much more rich flavour than your usual pork. I still haven’t figured out Portuguese meat cuts, but I am guessing this was from the loin. Miga is the word for bread crumbs, here the meat was served surrounded by bread crumbs and small pieces of asparagus, all soaked in a red wine reduction. The meat was cooked to perfection, and being much more savoury than your usual pork was a wonderful combination with the wine.
Finally, for dessert… the wine was one of Cortes de Cima’s top reds, their Reserva 2004. As we were checking each bottle in the kitchen, Hamilton remarked how he loves the balsamic notes of this wine. This was served, very startlingly, with a cold mint bavarois custard atop a soft chocolate biscuit and a scoop of cassis sorbet alongside (colours on the plate were gorgeous – an icy pale mint green and an intense red-pink like a cyclamen). With a big, full bodied dry red wine? Yes indeed, dear reader, and boy was it good. The mint played up the mint, eucalyptus and balsamic notes of the wine, whilst the cassis of course drew out the rich fruit flavours. Absolutely stunningly divine.
What a wonderful meal. What really pleased me was that the courses celebrated both traditional Porto and northern products (alheiras, francesinha) and traditional Alentejo foods (porco preto). Hamilton is a native of Porto, working in the Alentejo, the dinner was served in Porto to accompany Alentejano wines.
Learn more about Cortes de Cima’s wines in a couple blog postings of mine
My day long tour of the vineyards and winemaking at Cortes de Cima last April: Cortes de Cima
Meeting Hamilton the first time at Essência de Vinho and tasting some of their wines: Portuguese Wines Day One
And my introduction to their wines – in Denmark: From Denmark to Portugal
As well as at their own site, Cortes de Cima
The restaurant is Portobeer at the Hotel Porto Palacio, on the Avenida Boavista. The Responsável (literally the person in charge) is Miguel Ribeiro, who told me they have this kind of wine-producer-hosted dinner each month, except August. The space is rather strikingly designed, the food was well prepared and beautifully presented, and the service was excellent, definitely a restaurant to check out when you are in Porto. Portobeer is on Facebook, which I am told is the place to stay in touch with their special events.