For those of you who haven’t been to Portugal, you should go. It is an amazing country with something for everyone: friendly locals, a crazy selection of UNESCO world heritage sites, beautiful beaches, amazing seafood (which makes sense given its 1,794 km or 1,115 mi of coastline), and delicious and affordable wines. So affordable in fact, that on our first night in Lisbon, we ordered a 7-euro glass of wine. But when the server arrived with our order, we realized that the price was for the whole bottle! Of course, I was immediately smitten with Portugal. I don’t think we paid more than 10 euros for a bottle the whole week we were there.
We unfortunately arrived in peak season, when all Europeans are on vacation, so all the tourist sites are PACKED with people. In Sintra, we waited an hour just to get inside the architecturally stunning Palacio da Pena.
Even once we got in, it felt like we were being herded single-file through each of the rooms, and most of the interesting parts were under construction. After that, we gave up on playing tourist and headed south to the Alentejo Coast. If you ever have a chance to check out this part of southern Portugal along the Atlantic coast, DO IT. It is a small, undiscovered region littered with amazing beaches, fishing towns, and small family restaurants serving local products. There, we were able to just hang out, go to spectacular beaches framed by jaw-dropping cliffs, and eat our weight in seafood. And of course, drink wine.
While in the Alentejo, we mostly drank local whites, which were young, light-medium bodied, high-acidity wines, perfect for pairing with that day’s catch. Did you know that when you choose your fish dish at a restaurant, they come over with a bin of three or four fish to choose from? The Portuguese are serious about their fish!!
We also drank vinho verde, which a few years ago I described as the perfect beach wine. Light and slightly effervescent, it is a great pre-dinner wine to get the salivary glands going. In the picture below, we had a bottle of O tal vinho da Lixa at a restaurant called Sagrada Familia, located in Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon. It was great on its own, as well as with the octopus salad and ham croquettes we had as an entrée. Besides its refreshing effect on the palate, vinho verde is made even more attractive by its price, with the most expensive bottle coming in at around $10.
Because it was quite warm, we were mostly drinking whites. However, one night it turned cool and we decided to forego our beloved octopus. Sidenote: we may or may not have had octopus nearly every day in Portugal. Forget any preconceived notions you may have about octopus being tough or chewy. Octopus in Portugal is something else entirely. Our first night in Lisbon, we ordered a dish where the octopus came sliced in slabs that practically melted in your mouth. We were hooked!
Back to that one cool night, my husband ordered steak and I ordered clams in a tomato-based sauce, so we thought a red might be in order. We were in a small restaurant-bar where all the locals ate, so the prices were definitely on the lower side. I’m no connaisseur when it comes to Portuguese reds, so I asked the server for a mid-range recommendation (i.e. 8 euros), and this is what she brought.
We had hesitated between getting a half bottle or a full one, but in the end ordered the full bottle…and had absolutely no trouble finishing it. Dark ruby red in colour, the wine wafted aromas of dark berries (black cherry, cassis and blackberry), with a hint of leather and cigar box. On the palate, it had a round mouthfeel, medium tannins (perfect for steak), good acidity, and lots of spicy black pepper and dark berry flavours. This wine from the Alentejo region is a blend of local varieties, including aragonez, trincadeira, touriga nacional (which is a main grape in port) and some syrah for good measure and black pepper notes.
It ended up being one of those romantic evenings where everything was just right: the food, the ambiance, the wine and the company.
If this trip has taught me anything so far, it is that I have an obsessive personality when it comes to food and wine. Once I realize I like something, I will have it as often as possible. Like octopus. Or Portuguese wine. So if I am able to share any wisdom from all this, it is that when it comes to value for money, Portuguese wines are a sure thing, and you should go try some right now.
Stay tuned for my wining from France!