The past weeks, no, four months, I’ve been both distracted by personal matters and flat out with work projects, and the combination has created a near-death experience for this blog. But it’s also my fault.
My fault because I tend to think that I need to write Big Articles. For example, last November I visited several quintas and tasting rooms with my friend Nicola. I meant to write up the three quinta visits, but my mind got all distracted and disordered by those other things and I didn’t settle down to it straight away. When I did try to write, I realised I hadn’t taken in all the details I wanted to be able to write the envisioned Big Articles, but I couldn’t spend the time to do more research, so I didn’t write at all.
But tonight as I was making my own humble dinner, I was thinking again about the meals we enjoyed with the winemakers, and decided, oh to heck with it, I’m writing about those. I’ll research and tell you all about their vineyards and varietals and wine making methods some other time.
But these two meals still stand out in memory, for the perfect combination of company, food and wine.
We visited Quinta de Gomariz in the Vinho Verde region, near Santo Tirso, and spent the morning with Vitor Mendes, their marketing guru, and António Sousa, the winemaker, tasting pretty nearly every vat of wine they had! Very generous of them, and great fun. I had never before tasted whites from vat so soon after harvest, so I was slightly startled to be handed a glass of what looked a bit like an ice cream soda – sort of frothy and vanilla-ice-cream coloured and icy cold.
After working through every white varietal they made, including several different lots of each, we tasted their rose-coloured Padeiro and the most beautiful orangey rose colour Espadeiro (photo), and finally ended the spectrum with their pitch-black-red Vinhão. All the wines were fascinating to taste – after a month or more of tasting nothing but Douro reds (both before and after fortification for Port), these wines were incredibly crisp and refreshing and presented totally different flavour sensations.
And then we went to lunch, and took the Quinta de Gomariz Vinhão with us. The starter was thick-sliced mushrooms perfectly sautéed, shining with olive oil and tossed with lots of fresh finely chopped parsley, and the main course was rojões, a casserole of chunks of pork, chouriço and potatoes. So the food is all incredibly rich – the flavourful olive oil on the meaty mushrooms, and the rich savoury pork and spicy chouriço – and the Vinhão was perfect, cut right through it, and yet pointed it up. Mentally savour the effect on your palate of good fruity olive oil and a balsamic vinegar – it was like that, only pork and Vinhão.
If you ask about red Vinho Verdes, you may be warned off them, told they are thin and acidic and vinegary. Not the good ones, and most importantly they are a food wine – appreciating them on a stand alone basis is a bit challenging. But I can’t think of a better wine to have with the rich roasted pork and sausages. I had also had Vinhão last summer with Arroz de Sarrabulho, another rich, savoury meat dish and again the food makes all the difference in your enjoyment of the wine (though I definitely rate the Quinta de Gomariz Vinhão higher than the one last summer – more body, more complex flavour, and not so astringent).
For afters, the chef brought out a massive platter of freshly roasted chestnuts, and we just sat over the chestnuts and wine and enjoyed one another’s company for another hour or more. It never ceases to amaze me how a shared passion, good food and good wine can bring together people who just a little while ago were strangers.
A few days later, Nicola and I visited Quinta da Falorca in the Dão, just south of Viseu. Mário Rui Ferreira and Pedro Barros de Figueiredo are close friends as well as business colleagues in the wine trade and spending time with them was a joy, the warmth of their own friendship seemed to open up to embrace myself and Nicola as well. We walked through the vineyards nearest the winery and house, till the rain forced us into the car to continue our tour to another vineyard on the other side of the village, and back to the winery. We’d had a sharp cold snap that week so tasting their red wines from stainless steel vats was out of the question, just too cold. So, Pedro and Mário gathered together a few bottles and we drove up to a private huntsmen’s club in Viseu for lunch.
You know that “rule” that you never should drink red wine with fish? Forget it. The wines we had with lunch were TNac – a pure Touriga Nacional aged only in stainless steel, no wood; another Touriga Nacional which has had some oak ageing, and their Garrafeira 2003, Touriga Nacional with some Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro, also oak-aged. We did have a petisco (pre-starter starter course!) of sausages, but after that it was fish all the way.
First sardininhas – small sardines which have been panfried I think, shining golden and strung crosswise on a skewer. Being paranoid about fishbones, I began to work with knife and fork to try to peel or scrape the flesh off the skeleton. Mário made me jump out of my skin by suddenly and laughingly asking, WHAT are you doing? Like this: and proceeded to demonstrate how to eat the whole fish in one bite. I explained my aversion to fish bones, and not wanting to put anyone to the trouble of a Heimlich Manoevre, so he told me to put down the silverware and showed me how to flex the fish so the flesh sort of popped off the uppermost side so you can grab it neatly with your teeth. The sardininhas and the TNac were wonderful.
Next was bacalhau lagareiro. This version of salt cod involves steaks of salt cod in or on a bed of crushed potatoes with some onion, garlic and lots of olive oil, and a few odd olives. I think we drank the oaked Touriga Nacional and maybe even started the Garrafeira with this. I admit I can’t quite recall if we had a dessert or just finished the Garrafeira, I think the latter.
All three wines are wonderful: full bodied, complex, with very supple tannins, and different balances of fruit, spice, floral and/or mineral notes on the palate. All three worked with the fish, I think the key being sardines are quite fatty and bacalhau, though made from cod which is a lean fish, is quite meaty and salty. I admit you may not want a red wine with a delicate lemon sole, but with fatty or strongly flavoured fish, they are wonderful. Reds are traditional with bacalhau, generally, I’ve had them with various creamy versions of the dish, and it still works better than a white for me.
Again, we lingered over the end of our meal finishing and enjoying every drop of the wine and every minute of the companionship.
Wine really is magic.