Francis Coppola

February 24, 2009

Recently, my friend Holger from Berlin had given us a bottle of “Francis Coppola wine”. I had never tasted anything from this producer though I have read a couple of reviews on the net. Therefore, opening this bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoying it with a Sunday roast (chicken this time) promised to be an exciting experience.

The ‘2006 Francis Coppola, Diamond Series, Silver Label Pinot Noir’, originates from Monterey County, a cool climate wine region in central California. During an Agricultural Economist Conference in 1997 I had the opportunity to visit this wine region. It’s a marvellous place and I treasure my memories of tasting various delicious boutique vineyard wines.

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The ‘2006 Francis Coppola Pinot Noir Diamond Collection Silver Label’

So tasting wine from this part of the world was exciting indeed. We do not drink very many wines from California so this wine extended our experience with USA-wines. Ratings of the 2006 vintage vary (87 or so points), but it is definitely not one of the best Californian Pinot Noirs. However, the price of US$ 20 in the USA indicates that there is quite a market out there for this “very drinkable” drop.

The medium-bodied wine showed plenty of fruit on the nose (cherries, raspberries), it felt silky in the mouth with some forest flavours, and displayed a nice finish. No bitterness could be detected as some tasters have reported earlier. To my taste buds the pairing of lemon chicken with Pinot Noir worked well.

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Port wine from Portugal helped us to digest the meal

What a pleasurable tropical afternoon on our terrace we had. The 38 degrees Celsius did not feel that hot but the dry-hot seasons has definitely started. After the meal I had a port wine. I always liked port. Our visit to Porto last summer re-enforced this passion.

With the port (10 years old), I smoked a cigar from Nicaragua, a hand made ‘Casa de CT Torres, Nicaragua, Hecho a mano’. The “smoke” was very pleasant, not to heavy; the tobacco was mild but distinct. I should buy more cigars from Nicaragua.

Cigars relax me and that is what I needed between two very busy work weeks, some relaxation. Also the bad news that we would not have a vintage this year at Two Hills Vineyard needed to be digested. Well, so is nature, unpredictable, unsteady, volatile, but marvellous.

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Portugal – Along the Douro river

November 8, 2008

One of our day trips from Quinta de Gatao, near Penafiel, was a day trip to see the famous Douro river valley. It was a Sunday morning when we set out, the sky was high and very blue, in short, a terrific day.

We took the rural roads not the highway and descended to the Douro river through a narrow valley on a winding road. It was a wonderful drive. I love driving through almost any rural landscape, then my heart opens up and I feel free. There is so much to see for an agricultural engineer like me: the forests and trees, the fields and the crops, animals, houses, agricultural machinery, irrigation and rivers and of course the peasants.

It was mesmerizing when very of a sudden the river cam into sight for the first time. Majestic it was, large and blue, and of course a cruise ship could be seen slowly making its way down to the city of Porto.

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A terrific landscape is the trademark of the region.

Vineyards are all over the place, to be found on narrow terraces, usually just a few rows. Farm houses are also scattered among them. Here and there an olive orchard can be spotted.

Around midday we decided to visit Peso da Régua, a small town and the centre of Port in the upper Douro valley. Our guide book pointed us to Quinta do Castelinho, a winery cum restaurant where we planned to have Sunday lunch.

Since we do not speak Portuguese it was not easy to find the place. Though it was listed in our travel guide, the description how to get there was rather nebulous. After a very friendly man showed us the way, we made a stupid wrong turn and ended up on the freeway into the opposite direction. The rest was easy, we “chucked a u-ie” (no idea what the orthography says about this expression), as we say in Australia, and soon drove right into the yard of the Quinta do Castelinho Winery.

It was a beautiful Sunday lunch; we ordered a kind of continental cuisine. The waiter was very friendly, the service terrific. We had a bottle of their white, still wines which matched the food perfectly. The wine was fresh, clean and crisp, not complicated but a straight forward, excellent table wine.

After lunch we were shown the winery. We watched a introductory film and wandered through the large storage facilities with huge tanks and barrels. The gift shop offered all kinds of local produce and other very attractive items.

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With our guide We walked through alleys of huge metal bins.

The wooden storage bins were also enormous.

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Some of the items on offer in the gift shop.

Only much later did we learn that Quinta do Castelinho is one of the largest producers of fortified wines in the Douro. The winery is owned by Saraiva family and managed by Manuel António Crúzio Saraiva, the son of the founder who had started the business in the 1960’s. Many of the vineyards are classified as “A”-grade, the best for the production of excellent fruit for fortified wines. This part of the Douro valley is the first ever demarcated wine region in the world. The Marquês de Pombal, prime minister of Portugal, ordered in 1757 that the borders of the valley be marked with solid granite markers. This demarcation coincided with the efforts of navigating the Douro river so that the wines could be shipped down to the port city of Porto.

We tasted also the above two fortified wines.

The Quinta do Castelinho Porto LBV 1997, Castelinho Vinhos (Portugal), left in the picture. The grapes used are: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa

The wine has a dark, ruby red colour. The nose reveals intense and persistent aromas of black cherry, cherry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry and blackberry, some people detect the aroma of violets.
The wine is round in the mouth, well balanced and displays a beautiful finish. We have still one bottle here in Bangkok and treasure it which means that we treat it like medicine until we find a new source of supply.

The wine on the right hand side in the picture above is the Quinta do Castelinho Porto Tawny 10 Years, Castelinho Vinhos (Portugal). The grapes used are the same as the first wine.

The wine shows a deep orangey colour. The nose is rich and intense with aromas of black cherry jam, cherry jam, almond, licorice, cocoa, leather, dried fig and some vanilla. Also this wine is elegant and complex with soft tannins. The finish is also long. It was difficult to decide which one we preferred. Therefore we bought bottles of both of them.

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What a beautiful colour

And of course, we tasted some of their famous port wines. We bought a couple of bottle of different port wines as well as some bottles of the white wine we had for lunch which had appealed to us so much.

Because I was the driver, I had to limit my tastings but we left the Quinta do Castelinho wholly satisfied, very cheerful, well fed and with a lot of bottles in our possession.

Address:
Quinta do Castelinho Winery
Castelinho Vinhos S.A.
5054-909 Peso da Regua
Portugal

Tel: +351 254 320 100
FAX:+351 254 320 109
E-mail: castelinho@castelinho-vinhos.pt


Portugal – Quinta da Aveleda

October 18, 2008

The first bottle of vinho verde I bought in my life came from a small local supermarket in S. Martinho de Recesinhos near Penafiel about 40 km east of Porto. We had just put up at Quinta de Gatao and went to shop for some groceries. I browsed the shelves of the wine section and bought a selection of local wines from EURO 1.50 to 5.50. And the bottle in the picture above was one of them. Quinta da Aveleda said the label. It did not mean anything to me.

I also bought cheese produced by Quinta da Aveleda (picture above). There were two varieties of it on offer. Only much later would we learn that Quinta da Aveleda is a rather big wine and cheese producing enterprise nearby in Penafiel (in fact one of the biggest in Portugal). By the way both cheeses, the soft and the hard one, are delicious and we should eat many more of them during our week long stay.

One afternoon, we went to visit the place and check it out. We came just at the right time for the last guided tour. We were shown the bottling plant, and a kind of museum before settling for the tasting which was held on a large veranda on the backside of one of the buildings. We did not visit the enormous park and the gardens.

The family enterprise has a long history going back to 1671. But it can be assumed that the place is much older. In the Celtic tradition of Lusitania, the women who predicted the future, were sacrificed and called “Velledas”. That’s most probably were the name comes from. The place and the family business has a long and winding history and experienced all the ups and downs typical for the wine industry, from phylloxera to international wine awards, from expansion to contraction everything can be found.

The cellar door and gift shop offers not only wine and cheese but various kinds of local produce from the Minho and Douro wine regions.

A newly planted vineyard can be seen from the tasting terrace.

Vinho verde is being offered in various variations, but together with the self-produced cheese and some bread. The wine is fruity and fresh, young and bubbly, ideal for hot summer days. Alcohol is about 9-10%.

This is the light vinho verde (branded as Casal Garcia) mainly produced for the US market (even lower in alcohol, about 8%) where Quinta da Aveleda sells millions bottles. I forgot the exact figure, but the number is mind blowing for a small vintner like me who produces just a couple of thousand bottles a year. I found the winery tour interesting (tough I prefer visiting smaller establishments), the staff was friendly and accommodating. Take your time, and explore the gardens.

Address:


Portugal – Quinta de Gatão

October 10, 2008

This summer we spent a wonderful week on Quinta de Gatão (www.quintagatao.com), near Penafiel, about 40 km east of Porto. “Quinta” is either translated as “Farm/Vineyard/Winery” or “Manor house”.

Quinta de Gatão is owned and managed by Mr. Jorge Coelho da Silva, a very lovely man who’s day job is being a professor at a teachers college in Porto. The property has been with the family since four generations. Five peasant families used to live and work there. Today, the vineyards are only cultivated every other year to produce vinho verde., a bottle of which waited for us in the fridge. In the mornings, fresh bread is delivred and you can find it hanging on the door. What a treat! The horse stable and the riding school were the main attractions for our daughters. The old folks were equally attracted by the vineyard feature.

The Quinta de Gatão consists of a manor house with a chapel surrounded by various farm buildings. Some of these were converted into cottage type accommodation. We had rented one of them. Because of its elevation one has a magnificent view of the area which is quite densely populated. In comparison to the rural Australia we are used to around Glenburn, the housing sprawl in Penafiel is a bit too much. However, it does not seem fair to compare quasi empty rural Australia to the vicinity of a bustling port city such as Porto.

The Manor house from the backside

The entrance to our cottage

We loved our cottage. With its rustic rural charm it put a spell on all of us. The walls consisted of big granite stone blocks. It has a fire place in the kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom with a loft (just as our home in Australia).

This is the place where we prepared delicious country meals

The vines are providing shade, originally to produce vegetables and other crops underneath.

A typical snack in the afternoon consisted of Vinho Verde (here ni rose), country cheese, some sausages, olives and bread.

An Australian vintner in a Portugeuse vineyard

The swimming pool with a great view of the surroundings

Apart from the riding stable and the riding arena, Quinta de Gatão has other facilities to offer its visitors. Among them is the beautiful swimming pool, a tennis court, and a large field to play all kinds of ball games; indoor entertainment such as kicker etc. and billyard is also available. One can have long walks in the vineyards and the surrounding forests.

The entrance to the chapel

We had a great time there and I can only highly recommend the place. Actually, we plan to return next year and spend some more time in this region. We had juts not sufficient time to explore the region. There is so much to see. The Douro is close by. Porto less an an hour away. But it is the hospitality of Mr. da Silva and his family which will draw us back. There are no words to describe the welcome we received on Quinta de Gatão.

Address:
Quinta de Gatão


Vinho Verde – Portuguese delight

September 11, 2008

Vinho Verde wines are unique among the blended white wines of Portugal (and the world) attempting to harmonize delicate aromas and flavours. The name, Vinho Verde, is somehow misleading. Vinho Verde wines are not made of “unripe” grapes as some people say, but are rather “young” wines in contrast to “aged” wines. There are red and white Vinho Verde wines available. The red ones are often a challenge to our culturally determined palates. During my recent trip to Porto, Portugal I had ample opportunity to taste and explore the wines of Northern Portugal. Among them the famous Vinho Verde wines of the Minho wine region.

It is not easy to find a “pure”, varietal wine in the Minho wine region of Portugal. Traditionally Vinho Verde is a blend consisting of several grape varieties (www.vinhoverde.pt) such as Alvarinho, Arinto, Azal, Avesso, Trajadura and Loureiro.

However, with a bit of luck I found some bottles in the café next to the cathedral in Amarante, a small town at the (Rio) Tamega river, about 50 km east of Porto. The wines came from Quinta da Lixa (www.quintadelixa.pt), a well known producer located in the village of Vila da Lixa about 20 minutes northwest of Amarante.

From left to right: 2007 Quinta da Lixa Loureiro, Alvarinho and Trajadura

The tasting notes for the three wines you can find on the websites which I mentioned above. Average production for the three varieties at Quinta da Lixa is bout 7 tons per hectare. The wines are low in alcohol (10 to 11.5%) and show an acidity of about 6.5 g/l.

The Trajadura grape has, in contrast to Alvarinho and Loureiro, a rather plush character and is less acidic than the other two varieties. It is often used to soften the blended Vinho Verde wines.

The Loureiro grape provides the fragrant character of the blended Vinho Verde wines. The single varietal wine of Quinta da Lixa which I tasted was slightly “sparkling” and very aromatic (more aromatic than the other two single varietal wines of Quinta da Lixa). All three wines showed citrus, lime and green apple aromas. They were very fresh and clean, served at the right temperature they are wonderful summer wines. Earlier vintages of Quinta da Lixa Loureiro and Trajadura received 89 and 90 points by some tasters. I loved them as single varietals as well as in the blended incarnation.


The best restaurant in Northern Portugal: Quinta da Lama

August 27, 2008

The red entrance of the country inn Quinta da Lama

Quinta da Lama is not easy to find. If our host of Quinta de Gatão, Mr. Jorge Coelho da Silva, would not have guided us. He drove with his big BMW motorcycle in front of us so that we could find it otherwise we would not have a chance to experience this unique place.

Quinta da Lama is located in Vila Meã, near Peñafiel, the centre of Vinho Verde in northern Portugal.

Outside the main entrance construction is still going on

The restaurant is domiciled in an old olive oil mill and renovations are still ongoing. The millstone is at the centre of the restaurant and very picturesque. Rural equipment including tools from an old distillery can also be found. The interior is simple country style, extremely charming and very appealing. Rural folk all over the world will recognize its authenticity immediately.

The mill stone

One of the three female proprietors is Susana, an energetic young woman who speaks perfect English. The day we visited, she took our orders and served us the food. She made us feel at home. And as at home, we ate splendidly. To say it from the outset: this was quality food; fantastic rural dishes you won’t find elsewhere.

It was our last evening in rural Portugal and we had cause to celebrate. Looking back on a wonderful week in the countryside east of Porto.

The starter platter of Quinta da Lama

As customary in Portugal, a platter of appetizers is put in front of the diners. It consisted of home produced ham, local cheese, a sausage made from chicken and beef, melon and olives, all very delicious. We devoured the home made sausage made from chicken and beef. We drank the house red with the meal, a solid “Landwein” (table wine) as the German say.

The size of the portions is for (very) hungry workers

Our girls ordered a mixed grill type of dish with potatoes. I had a pork dish with chestnuts. As customary in Portugal rice and potatoes are consumed simultaneously. We had various desserts. I show you two of them, a ‘Crême brulée’ and the “secret” of the house, Papa’s D’Anjo.

The pork in chestnut

Crême brulée

Papa’s D’Anjo

Papa’s D’Anjo is a local dessert made of eggs and sugar syrup as far as I can recollect. It is very intense and one needs a lot of stomach space left to leave the plate behind empty. But what a delight this dish is. The fruit flavours are just incredible.

The end of the meal was celebrated with a “digestivo” which was equally a local invention. It’s the “trademark” of Quinta da Lama and is called Xiripiti, consisting of brandy home-distilled, with honey and cinnamon.

There is only one thing I can say, come to rural Portugal and visit Quinta da Lama in Vila Meã near Peñafiel just about an hour east of Porto in the Minho Region.

I will let you know more about rural Portugal soon. There are so many wonderful things we saw and experiences we were able to make. The hospitality of the people is just unbelievable, especially at Quinta da Lama.

Address
Quinta da Lama
Restaurante Tipico
Real
4605-348 Vila Meã
Tel.: 255-733-548


Simple Eating: Local Inns in Portugal

August 19, 2008

Portugal is a country shaped by catholicism and any town and village is literally “littered” with churches, many of them in beautiful architecture. There is a lot of interesting things to be detected behind curtains and other visuals blocking the general view.

While looking for restaurants in Porto we were faced with the same camouflage but managed finally to find some small eating places, usually narrow, corridor-type cafes with a dining room in the back, which were extremely charming. One of them I would like to introduce to you. “Pirilampu” is its name and it is located in Rua Firmeza, the same street where our hotel – Hotel Menfis – was located.

The dining room of “Pirilampu” all in blue

The food on offer is simple, harty food, home cooking so to say, not expensive but very tasty and usually served in large portions. Rustique food as above is served usually with potatoes and rice.

Favourite wine in northern Portugal is Vinho Verde, the young, fizzy wine, characteristic for the Minho Region. ‘Muralhas’ is one of the more common Vinho Verde wines on offer in many restaurants and cafes in Porto.

After the meal, cafe is served and then: it’s “Port wine time”, mostly Tawny and Ruby in small eateries and bars and less often vintage port. Delicious, delicious.

Needless to say that the waiters (often the owners themselves) are usually very friendly and that most of the guests are regulars. The homely atmoshere makes you fell very welcome. Try it out if in Portugal.

Address:
Rest. Churr. Pirilampo
Rua Firmeza,
155-Porto