Pataniscas and codfish cakes, Portugal

Roman temple of Évora and Quintus Sertorius, Alentejo, Portugal

Pataniscas and codfish cakes (pastéis de bacalhau) are among the most typical snacks in Portugal.

It is easy to find codfish cakes in bars and restaurants.

In what concerns pataniscas, although they can be found in the whole country, they are more frequently eaten in Lisbon.

Cod cakes are usually presented in the shape of a conical cylinder with two pointy endings and with three flat sides. Of course, I know that it doesn’t look like a cylinder anymore, but it’s just a way of explaining it.

Pataniscas are generally presented as biscuits, yellow, and fried with about the size of the palm of a hand.

Cod cakes or pataniscas can be eaten as a snack or meal with bean rice and salad.

I do not know of any study about the origin of one or the other snack, but my best guess is that they both started due to need.

Need to use the leftover cod to feed large families with scarce resources.

Following the above, the cod used for these snacks is not usually served as a meal because it does not look nice. We can say that it will be a second choice cod.

What are the differences between these two snacks besides the noticeable difference in shape?

In summary, I will say that the big difference lies in the fact that cod cakes are made with a potato base and the pataniscas with a wheat flour base.

In two different posts, you can learn how to cook them: codfish cakes and pataniscas.

Please note:

    • The cod used in Portugal is dry and salted.
    • Before using it, the cod is soaked in water between 24 to 48 hours, depending on each piece of cod’s thickness.
    • The codfish will be shredded before being used for cooking the mentioned snacks.

For more information about cod consumption in Portugal, I ask you to read the post Cod or codfish in Portugal .

Have a nice day,

David Monteiro

How to cook pataniscas as a Portuguese

How to cook pataniscas as a Portuguese.

How to cook pataniscas as a Portuguese.

Don’t you know what those are?

I’m not surprised.

Pataniscas are a typical Portuguese snack and are a kind of cod cakes, and I’m explaining here how to cook them.

Ingredients:

    • 300g of cod
    • ½ chopped onion
    • 3 eggs
    • 100g of flour
    • 100 to 150ml of water from cooking the codfish
    • Parsley, salt, pepper, and olive oil
      Olive oil or frying oil to fry.

Mix the cod, eggs, chopped onion, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Mix everything, stirring until the various ingredients are well mixed.

Add the flour, continually stirring until it is well dissolved.

Add the water used for cooking the cod.

Please note: the amount of water to be added will depend on the flour’s quality and the eggs’ size. It is intended that the dough is neither too liquid nor too dry.

With the frying oil very hot, add portions equivalent to a tablespoon to fry.

Do not let them over fry.

Turn the pataniscas as soon as one side is browned.

When removing the pataniscas from the frying pan, I suggest placing the pataniscas on kitchen paper. The purpose is to remove some excess frying oil.

They are ready to eat.

Enjoy,

David Monteiro

Codfish cakes, how to cook them

Codfish cakes, how to cook them

How to cook codfish cakes (pastéis de bacalhau) as a Portuguese.

Ingredients

    • 200g of codfish
    • 400g of boiled potatoes
    • 1 chopped onion
    • 3 eggs
    • 3 cloves of garlic chopped
    • Parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper
    • Olive oil or frying oil

First, we will make a stew with onion and olive oil.

When the onion is golden brown, add the cod and stir until the cod crumbles are mixed with the onion.

Before this step is finished, we add the chopped garlic and fry a little more but never to the point of burning it.

Add the parsley with the fire off.

After the previous step is completed, we will put the mixture in a large bowl.

The baked potato must be mashed on a plate. Do not use the food processor for this step because you will not get an excellent result.

It is preferable to crush the potato by hand with a fork. There is no problem in having small pieces of unmashed potatoes remaining.

The mash obtained with the potato will resemble a puree. Add it to the cod stew you have in the large bowl and mix it well.

Add the eggs and mix until you get a uniform mass.

It’s time to fry the codfish cakes.

Be prepared with two spoons.

With a spoon, you should take a portion to fry. Go from spoon to spoon, as shown in the video, until you form a pointed “cylinder” on the tops, with three flay sides, and they are ready to fry.

Do not let the cod cakes over fry, and when you take them out, you can put them on a previously prepared plate with kitchen paper to absorb the excess frying oil the cakes can have.

The codfish cakes are ready to eat.

Have fun,

David Monteiro

Cod or codfish in Portugal

Cod or codfish in Portugal

Codfish is a significant icon of Portuguese gastronomy.

I do not know if there will be a tourist, minimally informed, that visiting Portugal does not know that.

From my own experience, there are a group of questions tourists ask more frequently. In that group, I highlighted three questions I am sharing here, and I also share my reflections about them:

– How is codfish consumed in Portugal, and which cod dishes are the most popular?

– Why do the Portuguese consume so much cod, and how did it all start?

– Is cod always served very salty?

As usually do in many other texts, you will have a mixture of personal opinions and shallow research in diverse literature in this text.

If you are interested, you can find the information sources “here”.

How is cod consumed in Portugal, and which cod dishes are the most popular?

When we speak of cod in gastronomy in Portugal, we refer to dry and salted cod.

It is also possible to find fresh codfish or, if you want, not dry and salted in Portugal. However, it can be proved not easy.

Possibly it will be hard to find where to buy fresh cod and it won’t be easy to find a Portuguese who have already tasted fresh cod in Portugal. It will be easier to find someone that tasted fresh cod during a trip to London.

As a rule, in Portugal, cod is bought dry and salted.

To prepare cod, first of all, we have to soak it in water for some time to rehydrate it and remove the salt.

Regarding how long we hydrate it, this will depend on several factors, one of which will matter most: each person’s opinion.

To give you an idea, depending on the cod slices’ thickness and what I want to cook, I will calculate a time between 24 to 48 hours. In that time, I will change the water every 12 hours.

As I said, opinions about the best ways to proceed will vary widely from person to person.

Finally, the codfish recipes are endless. There are even sayings in Portuguese that refer to the many different ways of cooking cod: 1001, 1000, 365, or 100 ways to cook cod, like “the 1001 ways of cooking cod”.

If you search for “ways to cook cod,” you will find several books in Portuguese with that title, varying a lot in the number of ways to prepare it.

It is difficult to say which are the most common or popular dishes, but allow me to share a list of dishes and a list of snacks that you can find in restaurants or bars:

Dishes: Cod cooked with chickpeas or boiled potatoes, cod “à lagareiro“, cod “à Braz“, cod “Gomes de Sá” way, cod with cream, cod baked in the oven, golden cod with Spanish sauce, “meia desfeita” of cod, …

Snacks:pastéis de bacalhau“, “pataniscas“, codfish pie, cod “rissóis“, …

Why do the Portuguese consume so much codfish, and how did it all start?

The reason why we consume so much cod is simple: for a long time, it has been a great way to get protein at a low price, also was easily preserved and thus easily transported to the interior of the country.

After the above mentioned, the million-dollar question is: how did all this start and continued, considering there is no cod in the Portuguese coastal waters?

The answer to the previous question needs a slightly longer explanation, and I ask your attention here, as it adds to the fact that part of the description is no longer applicable today, as you will learn at the end of the text.

Because the consumption of cod is not so frequent nowadays but mundane in this country, most Portuguese people do not remember to ask themselves how this habit started, so my brief research on the subject did not prove very easy.

I also admit that the answers I found may not be universal truths, but they gave me a possible explanation on the subject.

Before I start to share the explanation, allow me to highlight something that seems obvious: to eat dry and salted cod, we need cod, salt, and a way to dry it.

Obvious, right? Well, the explanation that follows will show why I wanted to highlight that fact.

A way to dry cod in Portugal

This is pretty obvious. Portugal has good weather, so there was never a shortage of areas where to dry cod.

Salt

Since the time of the Roman occupation – between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD – Portuguese salt has been perceived all over Europe as having a high quality.

At that time, salt was a rare product, in high demand, and very expensive.

It was so important that it became a bargaining chip and the word salary, as a regular payment for the provision of services, became from salt – sal = salt / salário = salary.

Along the Portuguese coast, countless salt flats have reached the present day.

The cod

Considering that there is no cod on the Portuguese coast, it is thought that the Portuguese had contact with dry and salted cod through trade with the Vikings during the 9th or 10th centuries.

We all know that Vikings were dedicated to looting, etc., but there were times when such activity became more commercial. 

However, being dependent on such merchants’ appearance on Portugal’s coast to obtain cod led to the possibility of creating Portugal’s fleet to go fishing this species in seas where it existed.

The oldest record we have on cod fishing is a treaty established with Duarte III of England that authorized a Portuguese fleet to fish for cod on the English coasts.

Portugal’s interest in the maritime expansion is well known, and Portuguese navigators’ achievements in the 15th and 16th centuries are known worldwide.

In 1424, a Portuguese family obtained a map that showed islands where allegedly there would be abundant cod fishing. 

These islands are today known as Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Thus, in 1424, Portuguese ships started to go to these islands, and they founded colonies.

From this fact results, at least two ideas that I would like to highlight here:

– this experience of navigation may well be the basis of the knowledge that was later necessary for the Portuguese to be such good navigators;

– the Portuguese arrived in the American continent long before Cristovão Colombo was born in 1451 and arrived in the American continent in October 1492.

Without a doubt, we could think of some more facts related to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia’s Portuguese colonies during the 15th century. Still, I will not elaborate on this subject and continue with the central theme.

In 1493, cod, dry and salted, was already so important in the Portuguese diet that the Portuguese king D. Manuel I, from 1506, created a tax on fishing from Terra Nova, Newfoundland.

For several reasons, among which one was the great attention the Portuguese gave to the maritime expansion in the 16th century, between the middle of the 16th century and the middle of the 19th century, the cod fishing from Terra Nova (Newfoundland) by the Portuguese, was suspended.

However, cod consumption in Portugal did not decrease. Cod was then fished mostly by the English fleet with whom the Portuguese always maintained close commercial proximity.

In the mid-nineteenth century, cod fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador caught the Portuguese’s attention and ships again and began to grow.

After a brief decline in the capture of cod during the First World War, in the twentieth century, due to protectionist and national development policies developed by the Estado Novo (*), from 1934, Salazar’s attention turned to cod fishing and Portugal’s autonomy in capturing this species.

The objectives of Salazer were clear:

– to reduce the Portuguese dependence of the English fleet on obtaining cod, strengthening the national capacity for capturing and processing cod and,

– to be able to supply cod to the population in an abundant manner and at affordable prices.

The Bacalhau (codfish) Campaign was launched, which encouraged and supported Portuguese shipowners and created compulsory forms of hiring / recruiting fishermen.

Initial Salazar’s objectives were achieved. However, with much effort and suffering, especially for the fishermen who participated in this activity.

If you are interested in knowing more about cod fishing, and how it was done at that time, I suggest watching the video here .

After the Carnation Revolution, on 25th April 1974, the democratic period started in Portugal. With these changes, we also saw a progressive increase in the price of cod.

Despite cod being a widely consumed product in Portugal, cod is considered an expensive fish and is not accessible as a mundane food. That is why it is prevalent on party/celebration days, such as Consoada’s (Christmas Eve) dinner.

Is cod always served very salty?

Cod should not be served too salty. When this happens, it is because it was poorly prepared.

I know it is a relatively strong statement that will always be subject to each one’s taste.

Still, special attention should be paid to the amount of salt perceived by those who will eat.

I think, with rare exceptions, it is a mistake to serve very salty cod.

After having being served a too salty codfish dish, one will hardly want to taste cod again. It will give you the wrong idea and block future possibilities of having excellent codfish experiences.

In our homes, where there are love and affection in food preparation, this rarely happens, and if it does, it is by mistake and not intentional.

Of course, there will be those who like salted food, and there is no harm in that. 

If it is not salted, salt can always add to taste. The opposite is not feasible.

I hope I gave you a more concrete idea about the importance of cod in Portuguese gastronomy and culture.

However, the best thing is to try a good dish of cod and then comment.

Enjoy your food.

David Monteiro

Alheira or farinheira, two Portuguese sauseges.

Alheira or farinheira, two Portuguese sauseges.

Alheira and farinheira are two different sauseges you can only find in Portugal.

During the tours I guide, we often talk about Portuguese cuisine and what to eat that is really unique in the country.

Naturally, among other delicacies, we talk about alheiras and farinheiras. We talk about their origins, differences, and ways to eat them.

I have been researching the origins and the production methods of these two sausages but, so far. I have not come to any stable conclusion, so don’t be surprised if I will soon review and modify this article.

For those who do not know these delights, I ask you to see the photo where I show them and, for now, and below I will tell you what they contain and what are the differences between them.

Through the research I carried out, many sources mentioned that both the alheiras and the farinheiras were invented by the Jews, in Portugal, in the 15th and 16th centuries, during the persecution they then suffered.

At that time, people used to hang sausages in many places, such as in the kitchen or other areas so that they could dry or smoke.

Traditionally, sausages were made out of pork.

However, it turns out that the Jews could not eat pork.

So, one way of not attracting prying eyes or eluding them was to show that they ate sausages, meaning they were no Jewesse. 

But didn’t these sausages have pork? To solve the problem, they invented sausages that were not made with pork but with chicken, turkey, pheasant, rabbit, or even beef.

That is how the alheiras and farinheiras were born and reached our days.

But ATTENTION, if you do not eat pork do not eat alheiras or farinheiras without first reading the rest of the article.

As I mentioned, I have not yet been able to obtain any reliable information about the origin of these sausages and I cannot say what evolution they have had over time.

But, I can say one thing: the vast majority of alheiras and/or farinheiras on the market today, have pork or pork products such as pork fat.

Please check the labels of three alheiras packages. I selected very common alheiras and there you will be able to find the word “porco” or “saíno” (porco is pig in Portuguese) in its ingredients.

I have already seen tour guides referring to groups that alheiras do not have pork and, however, unless they see their composition, this statement is very likely to be wrong.

The alheira, is produced by filling pork tripe with chunks of bread and various meats as mentioned above but it can also have pork meat and fat. Nowadays we find a wide variety of alheiras such as the cod alheiras I really like.

Farinheira has no pork meat but has pork fat that, mixed with raw flour, paprika, and wine.

I can imagine these sausages had no pork, or any of the other pork derivatives, at the time of persecution of the Jews.

It is very common to find alheiras baked in the oven or fried, served as a starter or main course accompanied with rice or chips and a fried egg.

Here I present a photograph of an alheira roasted in the oven.

Farinheira can be found in the famous Portuguese stew, feijoadas (been stew), or as a snack done with scrambled eggs.

Here you can see how to make farinheira with scrambled eggs.

Naturally, different and innovative versions of these products appear every time, and I am not surprised that this text will become obsolete over time.

I hope to have contributed to the differentiation of these two sausages.

Enjoy your food.

David Monteiro

Bifana, that famous Portuguese pork sandwich

Bifana

Bifana, that famous Portuguese pork sandwich

In Portugal there is a very popular sandwich we call bifana.

When we talk about bifana, we can be talking about one of three things: pork made from steaks of the middle fillet or Shank end pig areas, or sandwiches with pork steak, or the mentioned pork steak served on a plate with french fries.

In this article, I want to focus on sandwiches. The reason is simple and is due to the fact that bifana sandwiches are one of the most frequent sandwiches/snacks/meals at fairs, markets, food trucks, and festive occasions in public areas or similar situations/places.

There are numerous versions of steaks and when we buy them, we can add internationally known sauces such as mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, etc.

But there is a version of bifanas that is so widely appreciated that there is a village, Vendas Novas, in the Alentejo, that boasts of being the owner of the best bifanas and in that village, there are a large number of restaurants that make bifanas in this special way. I refer to the Bifanas of Vendas Novas.

Unfortunately, I can’t find information about the origin of Bifanas of Vendas Novas, so I can’t reference their origin.

Regarding these bifanas, it is necessary to say that the big secret is the combination of the meat quality, the sauce recipe, and in the way of cooking the meat.

When tasting the sandwich, we can feel a slightly fried steak, because of the toasted parts, but also cooked for its uniformity. Immediately stands out the sauce in which flavors of wine, paprika, and garlic dominate.

Depending on the restaurant, we can have a sandwich in which the meat is presented in whole steaks or cut into pieces.

Personally, I prefer bifanas with meat cut into pieces.

Naturally, the best option, so that you could judge how good these sandwiches are, was to join me and taste them. However, if you can’t do that, I will leave you with the recipe and you can try to do it yourself.

Ingredients and quantities for four bifanas:

    • 4 bifanas (the meat itself);
    • 4 loaves of bread;
    • 2 garlic cloves;
    • 2 bay leaves;
    • 20g of margarine;
    • 20g of lard (pork fat);
    • 1 glass of white wine;
    • tablespoon of vinegar;
    • paprika or paprika paste;
    • salt;
    • piri piri;
    • mustard.

There are three stages of making these sandwiches:

Marinade – Place the bifanas (1), the salt, the bay leaves, the white wine, the paprika/paprika paste, the bay leaves, the garlic (2) on a high platter. and the Piri-Piri, mix everything and let stand between thirty minutes to an hour.

    1. If you prefer the meat cut in chunks you better do it at this point.
    2. The garlic cloves are smashed as it is presented below, do not cut them in slices.

Frying – In a frying pan, place the margarine and lard and heat a little, stirring constantly, until these fats are melted. Then add the garlic and bay leaves that were in the marinade and fry the garlic a little. Drain the meat well, leaving the sauce on the platter where the meat was marinated. Put the meat in the pan and fry it until it has slightly toasted parts.

Cooking – Put the marinade sauce inside the pan, add the vinegar, and let it cook for about ten minutes. Check how does it look like in the video bellow. After cooking, turn off the heat and let the whole contents gain more flavor and cool down a little and you will be ready to serve on the bread.

Mustard is often added but there are those who don’t, preferring to taste the sauce.

The great companion of bifana is beer.

Enjoy your food and let me know if you like it.

David Monteiro

Ham sandwiches with Serra cheese at Casa Guedes, Porto

Ham sandwiches with Serra cheese at Casa Guedes, Porto

Ham sandwiches with Serra cheese at Casa Guedes, Porto

Ham sandwiches with Serra cheese at Casa Guedes should be part of all tourist circuits in Porto. It is a fantastic experience.

By the way, these ham sandwiches are called in Portuguese: “Sandes de pernil com Queijo da Serra”.

Of course, I say it as a joke because I know there are those who do not like ham sandwiches, those that will not taste it because they are vegetarians or do not eat pork for any other reason.

At least visiting Casa Guedes and feeling the ambiance there, is a cultural and gastronomic experience that is worth knowing.

It will make you leave the most touristic area of ​​Porto and go to Praça dos Poveiros, where this snack restaurant is located, believe me, it already starts to pay off.

In this area, with a wide gastronomic offer, it simultaneously attracts locals and tourists and the result is a festive and very eclectic atmosphere.

Finally, it is undoubtedly the quality of this beautiful sandwich with its well-seasoned ham, the cheese to melt with the heat of the meat, and the sauce that smears our hands … naturally accompanied by a very cold beer, that gives the final and definitive touch to this whole cultural experience.

Location of Casa Guedes: here.

Have fun,

David Monteiro

Wine cellar Herdade do Frexo, Alentejo, Portugal

Wine cellar Herdade do Freixo

Wine cellar Herdade do Frexo, Alentejo, Portugal

The temperature is from Alentejo, the landscape is a mix of plain and rolling hills, but the architecture is universal, we are in the Wine cellar Herdade do Freixo.

At the entrance of the estate, the vineyard denounced his youth.

Since I was more used to northern vineyards, it was natural for me to be surprised, but I didn’t disarm. However, there was something about the organization of the terroir that caught my attention. Still, I can’t explain what it was.

At the entrance to the cellar, the architecture makes me smile at the solution of “bury” the building. It is an obvious solution to take advantage of the ambient temperature, I thought.

Looking at the building, I saw funny a chimney that caught my attention without being able to understand its usefulness. Before arriving here, I had not seen photographs of the place. Therefore, I had no reference.

The friendliness of the team was not surprising, it is characteristic of the Alentejo. It is a total charm to which I surrender.

I was doing a consulting job for a client. He set up an active tourism trip and needed to find a winery to visit that fit the context and spirit of the tour on which I was working.

But I was not prepared for what I was going to see.

Gently and very professionally, I was received and collected all the information they had to provide me. It was time to go visit the winery itself.

Upon entering the cellar area, I was unable to hide my admiration and automatic fascination with what I had just seen. I felt like I was back at the Guggenheim.

Suddenly, what I saw from the outside made perfect sense.

All the lines in the interior were so fine-tuned and the concept was of such natural logic that the first explanation already seemed like a redundancy.

In short, this wine cellar is a building that does not overlap the vine and respects the landscape. In its simplicity, it is majestic safely and quietly.

Among the cellars with modern lines, it is the most impressive building I know.

I was not prepared to photograph such a building, but I could not miss the opportunity, and I was allowed to do so.

As can be found on the website of the Municipality of Redondo, about the wine cellar Herdade do Freixo:
“Herdade do Freixo is an estate in the municipality of Redondo located near Aldeia do Freixo, between Serra D’Ossa and Évora.

Framed in the thousand Hectares of this property, as been in the same family for several centuries, 26 ha of vineyards with national and international grape varieties, carefully chosen to feed this magnificent Winery.

Built 40m deep, the building does not interfere with the landscape in a perfect conception with Nature that surrounds it, the first “dreamer” of this project is Engº Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza, oenologist, and owner of the estate. ” see more details here – I know it is in Portuguese but you can use a translation tool to learn about the details.

Through the above-mentioned link, we also learn that the architectural project was designed by Arq. Frederico Valssassina and the work of that architect can be known at their website.

Congratulations Herdade do Freixo.

Also, this wine cellar is not far from Évora where you can have many other interesting sites to visit.

Carpe diem

David Monteiro

Herdade do Freixo, wine cellar
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
Herdade do Freixo, wine cellar
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
Herdade do Freixo, wine cellar
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
Herdade do Freixo, wine cellarl
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
Herdade do Freixo, wine cellar
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
Herdade do Freixo, wine cellar
in the Alentejo region, Portugal
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Gran Sol Bar and Restaurant, Basque Country, Spain

Gran Sol Bar and Restaurant, Basque Country, Spain

In Hondarribia, Basque Country, there is a pintxo cathedral, and it is called Gran Sol.

Don’t you know what a pintxo is? Are you kidding? eheheheh

Of course, you might not know what a pintxo is. Pintxo is the Basque word for tapas.

Gran Sol is a bar and restaurant that offers a comprehensive option of high-quality pintxos, or tapas, as you prefer.

A trip to the Basque Country can be a delight for many reasons, and gastronomy probably leads the list.

In this list of delusions this bar and restaurant in Hondarribia, needs to be included.

I strongly suggest the experience of tasting the pintxos in this bar.

The moment you go into the bar, you will get hooked by the total madness: a counter full of possibilities… there are so many variety and quantity of options that we get lost. We want to try EVERYTHING.

In the Basque Country, it is common to have pintxo bars, of course, I know that. But this one is special.

In three consecutive years of walking around here, leading tours, I had the opportunity to visit many bars and restaurants. Still, this one is on the shortlist.

The owners of this bar/restaurant systematically participated in pintxos contests where they compete with the best Chefs in the region… and win.

Wining such contests in the Basque Country, which is the land of excellent cooks, is like playing in the First League.

At Gran Sol bar, we can taste these winning delights.

I wouldn’t be able to describe all the pintxos here, so I selected Hondarribia and Jaizkibel. Please access their posts to know more about each one.

It worth the visit.

Have fun.
David Monteiro

Pintxo Hondarribia
a pintxo at Gran Sol bar/restaurant's
Pintxo Jaizkibel
a pintxo at Gran Sol bar/restaurant's
Pintxo Hondarribia
a pintxo at Gran Sol bar/restaurant's
Gran Sol Bar and Restaurant
at Hondarribia, Basque Country, Spain
Hondarribia
Basque Country, Spain
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What is Portwine?

What is Port Wine?

The Portwine drinkers

The reactions to the idea of ​​a Portwine tasting are the most diverse, they can even be funny in some way.

Concerning ​​Portwine, I can divide the world into three different kinds of people:

    • Those who do not drink alcohol, so they are not interested in this post.
    • The Portuguese who are born or live in the birthplace of Portwine.
    • The rest of the world.

Naturally, I will focus my attention on the last two groups of people.

Quinta do Bomfim, portwine farm at the Douro Valley, Portugal
Quinta do Bomfim, portwine farm at the Douro Valley, Portugal

What do people think about Portwine

The Portuguese always find interesting the idea of ​​a wine tasting … whatever the wine is.

In Portugal, generally speaking, the image of Portwine is associated with prestige, wine cellars in Gaia, luxury estates in the Douro Valley, expensive wines, etc.

Also very present is the image of fancy wine-related events, like the Rabelo wooden boat tours, the Douro River several days tours.

However, many Portuguese also associate the image of Port with a memory/experience of a too-sweet wine without making it very pleasant.

Note: Although I don’t share that feeling, however, there are plenty of reasons to explain why many people have this somewhat unpleasant feeling related to Port. Portwine is an expensive wine because it is a very labor intense product. There were always very inexpensive Port’s one could buy, but they are not good at all, they are awfully sweet and alcoholically sharp. So, the tasting experience couldn’t be a pleasant one.

Concerning the rest of the world, there are no significant differences between the various cultures, related to what they think of Portwine:

    • A mixture of curiosity about Portwine but always mentioning they have tasted Portwine at a specific moment.
    • “It’s that sweet red wine.”
    • It is a Portuguese wine, although, in my experience, only a small percentage of people know it is a Portuguese wine.

When I think of the significant differences between the Portuguese and the rest of the world, concerning Portwine, perhaps I won’t be mistaken if I say:

    • The Portuguese have tasted Portwine more often.
    • The Portuguese have an idea of ​​luxury associated with Port and all things related, the rest of the world not does spontaneously recognize this cause and effect relation.
    • Foreigners seem to be more enthusiastic about drinking Portwine than the Portuguese.

As you can realize, this reflection is being done in a carefree way, with some humor, and not basing these statements on anything else than on my professional experience. I have no data to support these ideas, nor this is the place for such concerns.

Even so, it is evident a tremendous general lack of knowledge about what Portwine is and about its existing varieties.

The variety of Portwine is so great that it is often said: if you think you don’t like Portwine, it is because you have not yet tasted the Port wine you will enjoy.

Think about these questions:

    • Did you know there is extra-dry Portwine, which means being almost not sweet at all?
    • Did you know that there is a white Portwine and a rosé (pink) Port?
    • How many types of red port do you know?

I hope to be able to contribute to the awakening of curiosity about Portwine.

Quinta do Crasto, portwine farm at the Douro Valley, Portugal
Quinta do Crasto, portwine farm at the Douro Valley, Portugal

What is Port Wine?

For a historical retrospective on how Portwine started to be produced, please access the article Background of the Douro Valley wine region, Portugal.

To get a more detailed idea of ​​the region where both Port and Douro wines grow and are produced, I will invite you to access this map.

As you may have read in the first linked article linked above, right before the time of the birth of Portwine as we know it today, there was a different kind of Portwine, which was fortified table wine. I will not describe this one in this post.

Having that said, let’s learn a little more about Port wine. However, before we continue, we need to have clear that table wines, or still wines, produced in the Douro Valley,  are called Douro wine.

The most important grape varieties

Please take some time to read Portwine labels in a supermarket or liqueur store.

On the label area where grapes are identified, you will notice they are the same grapes like the ones used to produce Douro wines.

Naturally, you will have to consider that you will not see exactly the same grape varieties in two different wines, of course.

However, after reading some labels, you will find the most used grapes both for making Port and Douro wine.

    • On red wines: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Sousão.
    • On white wines: Códega, Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Rabigato, Moscatel Galego Branco and Viosinho.

The grapes mentioned above are the most used grape varieties in most wines produced in the Douro Valley.

This means both Portwine and Douro wines use the same grape varieties.

If Portwine and Douro wines are made from the same grapes, what makes these wines to be so different?

The answer is simple: it is the production method.

In a very simplistic way, we can say that the production of a Douro wine has the following steps, as does the majority of still wines: harvest -> stomping -> fermentation -> maturation -> bottling.

However, for a Port, everything is very different a couple of days after the moment the fermentation starts.

While the fermentation of a Douro wine can take between six to seven days, to go through, for a Portwine is very different.

For the production of Portwine, after two or three days of fermentation, we will stop this process by adding wine-spirits. In the course of this article, I will tell you some of the criteria for knowing when to stop fermenting, and I will also tell you how much wine-spirits to add.

Why stop the fermentation?

By stopping the fermentation process and adding wine-spirits, we will have:

    • a naturally sweet wine, with only the grapes sugar and without the need to add any other kind of sugar;
    • a wine with an alcohol content between 19 and 22 degrees (1) resulting from the addition of a 77% high-quality wine-spirits;

Note (1): the exception should be noted for a specific typology of white Port that has 16.5% alcohol.

There are several kinds of Portwine, and each one has its own specific “formula” for obtaining the final product we drink.

Let me give you some tips about when to stop the fermentation, although some wines are sweeter and others are drier:

    • The fermentation of an Extra Dry Port is stopped when the sugar concentration is less than 40g / liter.
    • For a Very Sweet Port, the sugar concentration must exceed 130 g / liter.
    • For most Portwine’s, we will have a sugar concentration in the fermentation between 90 and 130g / liter, being even more frequent to have between 100 to 120g / liter.
    • As can be understood, the sugar concentration decreases over the time of the fermentation process. The longer the fermentation lasts, the more sugar will be transformed into alcohol, and therefore lower the sugar concentration.

Regarding the proportions of wine-spirits to be added to the fermented product: 

    • most barrels have a capacity of 550-liters;
    • 115-liters of wine-spirits is usually added to every 435-liters of wine in fermentation to total 550-liters of final product;
    • since 2012, the addition of wine-spirits ranges from 60 to 120 liters.

When adding the wine-spirits, the yeasts stop fermenting the wine. 

Having done this, do we have Portwine?

We can say this is the beginning to have Portwine but, depending on the Port type we want to produce, we may have to consider other essential steps.

It is time to describe several types of Porwine, and I will take the opportunity to explain their singularities.

The types of Portwine.

If you do some internet search about the different types os Portwine, in most articles, you will find explanations dividing Portwine into Ruby, Tawny, and White.

I prefer to do something entirely different: Rose or Pink, White, and Red.

I have a reason for that.

This is not a technical article but an entertaining one, and, from my experience, I have learned that people understand it better when I start the explanation from the beginning.

So let’s do it like that.

Rosé Portwine (Pink)

It has no subcategories.

Produced from red grapes but with little contact with the skin of the grapes during a soft maceration.

These are wines to be consumed at a young age and, in my opinion, at low temperatures between 8 and 10 degrees C.

The Rosé Portwine is widely used for cocktails or just on the rocks.

As far as I know, the first Rosé Port to be produced was Croft Pink dating from the beginning of the 21st century.

White Portwine

Usually made from white grapes in which the subcategories are: very dry or extra dry, dry, half dry, sweet, and “lágrima” (tear), also referred to as very sweet.

Tradition demands that White Portwine shouldn’t age a lot, and after two or three years in 20,000-liter barrels, or more, the wine is ready to be consumed. 

However, tradition is no longer what it used to be, and some White Portwine’s have been aging for tens of years, and they are excellent.

There is an interesting curiosity: when a White Portwine ages it turns amber color getting closer to its aged red cousins.

White Portwine is an excellent wine for appetizers.

Try drinking a White Portwine, such as Lágrima of Ramos Pinto, together with a “wedding” that is a fig with an almond inside, and you will have an excellent tasting experience.

Nowadays, it is fashionable to drink Port Tonics. It is a long drink made with ⅓ of Extra Dry White Port with ⅔ of tonic water, ice, lemon, and a peppermint leaf … top-notch. You can find different recipes for this drink, taste them, and let me know your winner.

Red Portwine

I left the reds Portwine’s for last because they need more extended and elaborate explanations.

Red Portwine’s can be grouped into two large families: Ruby and Tawny. All the remaining denominations are derived from these two families.

Ruby

Ruby’s are wines with a solid red color, hence its name ruby.

They are kept in big barrels called “balseiros,” large containers looking like half barrels standing straight on the floor on top of short skinny legs. These “balseiros” can hold 20,000-liters of wine or more. Some “balseiros” can hold up to 125,000-liters of wine.

Ruby’s ages for two to three years in those big barrels, the “balseiros,” where due to the low surface/volume ratio, it gets little air producing slow oxidation.

The slow oxidation process is the reason why it maintains its intense color. Otherwise, it will get a not desirable brownish color.

To better explain this relationship between oxidation and wine color, I ask you to think of an apple.

When we take a bite out of the apple, the area that will be exposed to the air will turn brownish. The same happens to the wine, and with time passing by, the initial red color will turn into a brownish color, or dark amber, due to the oxidation process.

In this Ruby ​​“family,” we can find very special subcategories such as Ruby, Reserva, Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV, and Vintage. There are other subcategories, but I will not detail them now.

Without overextend myself, I will explain two of these subcategories:

Vintage

It is the highest rating a Portwine can have.

This wine is produced with grapes from a single exceptional year. 

When the grapes are from one single year, and one single Quinta (wine estate) and was declared a Vintage, so it can be called Vintage Single Quinta.

Vintage Portwine’s will age for two to three years in a “balseiro” and then will be bottled. 

The sediments with which they are bottled will help these wines to continue to evolve for a long time, being years or even centuries. However, after bottling, it is always advisable not to consume them immediately, waiting between three to four years as a minimum until you can drink them.

The history of Vintage is somehow related to the history of its bottles. 

To age a Vintage, it is necessary to lay down the bottle, but, in the 18th century, the bottles were kind of bulky and fat and did not remain in a good position when lay down. New bottles, like the ones we can see nowadays, had to be introduced.

The first Vintage mentioned by some historians dates from 1775.

If you want to buy Portwine to store and age, a Vintage is a natural choice.

It is an excellent wine by itself, but you can try Vintage with chocolate, the darker, the better, with sharp cheeses and some fruits such as melon.

LBV – Late Bottled Vintage

As the name implies, it is a wine that was declared vintage but was bottled later than a regular Vintage.

These wines generally, but not necessarily, are of a lower quality level than a Vintage.

The LBV will spend between four to six years in a vat and then be bottled. Please bear in mind what was said for a Vintage: will age for two to three years in a barrel.

In this case, because they have spent more time in the barrels than a vintage, as soon as they are bottled, they can be consumed immediately. However, you can store this wine for a more extended period.

These wines:

– have a quality level very close to what you can find in Vintage,

– offering the advantage of being ready to be consumed right after being bottled and not having to wait as you should do for the Vintages.

As far as I know, Taylor was the first producer of an LBV in 1970 with wines from the 1965 harvest. Soon after, other brands followed, trying to mirror their success.

Tawny

These are wines that age in oak casks for extended periods.

At the time of their production, they spend the first four years, on average, in large barrels, such as a Ruby. Still, later they are transferred to 550-liter barrels where they will have more significant contact with wood getting more air and consequently having higher oxidation.

There are cases of farms using barrels with 600 or 660 liters, larger barrels than the traditional ones.

To identify a Tawny in a store is not difficult.

Apart from you can read “Tawny” on the label, and except for the very young Tawnys, the aged wines will have the aging years written on the label.

Thus, whenever you find a port in which you see 10, 20, 30 years or more on the label, you will know you have a Tawny in front of you.

There are other subcategories for Tawny’s, but I will not detail now.

These aged wine results from mixtures of several lots that give them the characteristics of the age they advertise.

Therefore, if you have a 30-year-old inscription on the bottle, it does not mean that the wine has been waiting for 30 years to be drunk. It is the result of a blend with several wines whose average age is 30 years, or the final product is a wine with the characteristics of a 30-year-old wine.

Given their slow oxidation process, Tawny’s have a paler color than ruby, I can say it is a brownish or even amber color.

Very old Tawnies are among the most expensive Portwine’s you can find.

As soon as you buy a bottle of Tawny, you can consume it immediately. Please remember aging has already happened, and it ages very little in the bottle.

Served fresh, the younger Tawny can be an excellent aperitif, but at room temperature goes very well with dried fruits, chocolate-based desserts, and various cheeses.

If you have a Tawny aged 30 or 40, you may want to taste it without nothing else. Stop doing what you are doing, sit comfortably, preferably with a friend, and enjoy.

With this, I hope to have given you an idea about what Portwine is.

However, I know that many related matters were left out, such as:

    • a little more history of each of the wines and estates;
    • how does a wine become a vintage;
    • the importance of the wine-spirits in the Portwine;
    • the differences between brandy and wine-spirits;
    • Portwine and the Portuguese culture;
    • and so much more.

In future posts, I will develop some of those themes.

Also, many technical details were left out, and I hope I can have a professional to develop the theme.

Carpe Diem

David Monteiro

Websites where you can learn more about Douro wine and Portwine:

http://www.winesofportugal.info/

https://www.taylor.pt/

https://www.symington.com/

https://www.quintadocrasto.pt/?lang=en

http://www.croftport.com/en/

https://www.quintanova.com/en/

https://www.quintadelarosa.com/

http://www.fonseca.pt/

https://www.quintadonoval.com/

https://www.niepoort-vinhos.com/en/

https://www.ivdp.pt/

This is only an example; there’s an endless number of sites.