Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MENU's Iberian Exploit 3. The Lower Douro Valley

On our first day at Pinhao, we set out to explore the area and to find two Quintas (Port farms) that Joaquim Sá of Amorim Cork had organised for us to visit. For the next few hours Google maps got us terribly lost and we could not get to the Quintas, no matter how hard we tried
The roads traverse these very steep slopes. We drove up and down dale all day. At one point Google maps had us driving off road on a muddy and narrow farm dirt road, going straight down towards the river 500 metres below. We were not driving a 4x4. It was terrifying but Google kept insisting this was the way to the Quinta despite us having rebooted it a couple of times. There were no buildings in sight. When we were at the stage of terror and stress that no one should reach, we abandoned Google and turned back up the hill to a tarred road. We reiterate: Do not trust Google maps in Portugal or Spain
We stopped a man driving past and asked him where the Quinta was. We were in completely the wrong valley. Yes the land did belong to the Quinta which is why Google had placed their tag there but we had to go back over a large hill like this one and then cross another valley to find the right place. He said it might take another hour. We were already nearly 2 hours late and phoned to say we would not be able to come. We are so grateful to the man who stayed late at the Quinta to welcome us, but we could not be sure when we would get there and didn’t want to keep him waiting any longer. It was an awful day
Surprise! We woke to an icy, frosty morning and, while we were having breakfast, there was someone trying to get into the front door of our AirBnB. Lynne went to the door and found five people outside. She had forgotten that this was a shared space, as we had been alone for the first night. They had been given the wrong code and could not enter. We helped them settle in (someone was going to have to sleep on the couch). Then the maid arrived and was told about all the problems. She got in an electrician and problems began to be solved, including getting the information as to where the dry wood for the fire was stored. We said we will see you later and then went off to lunch at Quinta Nova
Joaquim Sá of Amorim Cork had contacted us with an invitation to lunch and a tasting at their own property, Quinta Nova which is near Pinhao. We left early and despite being sent the wrong way once, and the longer roundabout route, we got there in time for lunch
It is, apparently, one of the top five places to visit in Portugal. We were very grateful
The entrance to the restaurant
An impressive review from the UK Financial Times always speaks to quality
We loved this 1950 Chevrolet bakkie which was on the reception counter
It reminded us of ourselves the day before – see the terror in the eyes?
The lunch menu
We decided to do both menus, one each and then taste each other’s. Regular readers will know which one each of us chose
 And we opted for the winemaker’s suggestions with the food. Choosing from a wine menu one does not know is always a bit of a challenge. We enjoyed the pairings very much. All the wines are from the farm. Most unusually, they allow BYOB
Wine boxes adding atmosphere and function. The courses are carried to the tables in these as they make excellent trays for the waiting staff
The Quinta Nova Pomares 2017 is a white blend made from Viosinho, Gouveio and Rabigato, all traditional grapes. It is dry, but finishes sweeter than expected. It has almost a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon character on the nose, crisp, dry, refreshing with minerality and fullness on the palate with slight bitterness on the finish
A selection of Amuse Bouches: Herb butter, small super light flaky pastry turnovers with fish inside, a morsel of smoked and soused fish (possibly trout but pale) with mayonnaise and Picapao, stewed meat served with pickles. We also had great bread and their own delicious olive oil, so fruity and green
The wines for the first course: Grainha Reserva 2016 was made from four local white grapes, Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Fernão Pires; tank fermented and finished in barrel (20%new) then kept in barrel for seven months. A rich and complex nose, rather resembling a chardonnay with perfume and some age on the nose. Less full on the palate, much lighter. The unwooded Quinta Nova Red 2017 was also complex on the nose, red berries and cherries, lighter than expected almost Pinot in character with a slight cola note, nice fruit, and chalky tannins. Made from Touriga National, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cāo
 Lynne’s mushroom soup came ‘dry’ with a centre of wild mushrooms, shredded quail, herbs and small crisp croutons
Then a thick and savoury soup was poured at the table. This was paired with the red wine
John’s pea soup. Unconventionally, it was whole fresh peas rather than a purée, accompanied with diced regional smoked sausage and a good clear stock and topped with a poached egg. It was paired with the white wine. The wine went well with this soup
The next two wines for the main courses were the Quinta Nova Referencia 2015 - a Tinta Roriz Reserva. Spicy like a shiraz and also rich and complex on the enticingly pretty nose with red and black fruit, On the palate, crisp mulberries and rhubarb, drying tannins and chalk, a long finish with wood support and a hint of salty licorice. The 2015 Quinta Nova Reserva is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Amarela, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. Herbal, deep and interesting on the nose. It gives a full mouthful of fruit: mulberries, cherries in layers, with dark toasted wood, tannins and chalk. And excellent food wine that went well with the fish
Lynne’s main course was four perfectly cooked and frenched lamb cutlets, cut from the rack, slightly pink as it should be, flavoursome and tender. On a silky smooth puree of sweet potato - a good match with the lamb and some baby vegetables suitable al dente. The wine was a little sauvage, but was better with the food. The spice remains, as does the chalk
John’s main was seared fillets of sea bream, on a mash of beetroot with sautéed seasonal vegetables. He doesn’t usually enjoy beetroot, but cleaned his plate
They did not hurry us through lunch; we enjoyed the atmosphere and the aromas of the food in restaurant and did a lot of people watching. We were served some vine leaf tea to cleanse our palates; it has herbal and cranberry flavours and is very healthy. Time we did this in our winelands? Then it was time for the 2012 LBV Port, so we knew dessert was about to appear
The Port has a Christmas pudding nose with fruits, fresh and dried, and spice. Starts smooth, then there is a kick of warm alcohol, fresh fruit acidity and soft chalk, so looking at a longer life. Given it has the right tools to age
Maria Fonseca, our sommelier was, we think, the manageress. She was a superb professional and had the restaurant running like a tight ship, as it should at this level. Her English was perfect, so she could explain the food and wine clearly to us
A dessert of a crisp sablé biscuit topped with a spoonful of lemon curd, a small dollop of raspberry jam a ring of meringue, some fresh berries and topped with a roché of delicious salted caramel ice cream and a scattering of crumbs. Not sure that port marries well with lemon curd
Johns cone shaped chocolate brownie was more like a chocolate fondant, with lots of nuts. He loved it. It came on a smear of raspberry jam, raspberries and a tangerine sorbet
A 3 litre bottle of 2008 Quinta Nova Reserva - just the thing for a large celebration
There was a large party of Asian women in the next room and we watched with interest as some tongs were being heated. We knew this meant that an older vintage port was about to be ‘topped’ for them. These tongs, which are heated until they are red hot, cleanly decapitate the bottle. This prevents any spoilage of the wine from an aged cork that might disintegrate and fall into the wine. It is a method rather like sabrage but less violent, although risky
Preparing the port
Ready for the hot pincers
and on they go
You can see the glass has melted
And with a quick twist, the top is off cleanly
Time for some good espresso which came with truffles
And as the sun was out, we went to sit out on the terrace and dream of returning, but next time to stay. It was a lovely lunch and we really appreciated it. Quinta Nova is on and prices start at R3500 p.p.p.n. And then we had a lovely surprise, one of the women in the party from Hong Kong, Yvette Ho, brought us a glass of their 1997 Vintage port! Soft and smooth, it shows lots of age and maturity, full of cooked plums and brandied cherries and has years more to go, a delightful treat
The views of the river and surrounding vineyards are wonderful. You can take a train to the station at the bottom of the hill from Pinhao – it only takes 5 minutes - and they will organise a transfer up the hill to the Quinta – the easy way to get here. Wish we had known
Vines planted in many directions, and on different sized slopes
You can see across to other farms and the vines are just beginning their growth
A nearby farmhouse above the new terraces also has magnificent views
Terraced vineyards on both banks of the Douro
As we left we stopped to take a photo of Quinta Nova
Climbing the hills to find the right road. Instead of taking Google’s route back to Pinhao, we asked for directions at Quinta Nova
The route was relatively easy (they don’t use road signs) and we were back at our accommodation in about 25 minutes, rather than the hour and a half it had taken us to get there. Our AirBnB is the white house standing alone just below the hilltop village. You can see some of the river cruise boats at the bottom of the hill. We think that might be the best way to see the Douro next time. No driving and they take you to the Quintas by bus
The totally white house in the middle with the balcony is where we stayed. We returned to spend a pleasant evening in front of the fire with the other residents. Some wine was consumed. We were beginning to relax
Next morning on our way back to Porto, we had a tasting at Quinta Carvalhas which is just the other side of the bridge at Pinhao. You can taste 4 ports for 12: a white, a Rose, a Reserva Ruby and a Tawny
The tasting room with comfortable seating. There are several different tasting options
The four ports were poured for our tasting. As John was driving to Porto after this, we shared the tasting
The Royal Oporto White NV Port spends two years in wood. Oxidised as expected, nutty and herbal on the nose and disappointingly sweet, more like a sweet sherry, hot (19% alcohol) and syrupy, with apricots and nuts. The Rosé has roses on the nose, is lightweight and also very sweet, rather like a raspberry Kool-Aid, disappointing. The NV Ruby Reserve spends 4 years in oak. Velvety rich dark fruit, intense berries and cherries, some plum pudding, nuts herbs, spice and it ends on toasted wood and is heavy on sugar. The Tawny Reserva spends 7 years in oak. Wood, wool and berries on the nose, cranberries on the palate, integrated but also sherry-like and too sweet. Perhaps we should have gone for the pricier vintage tasting…
The view of Pinhao from the other side of the river. You can see Dow’s and Bomfin (owned by Symington’s) It was Sunday and these were not open.
A month later, these Quintas were hit by a ferocious thunderstorm and they lost about 80% of their crop. The streets of Pinhao were under water
Oranges in bloom with fruit still on the tree. They don’t seem to eat the fruit
More Quintas as we drove down the Douro to Porto. It took about 2½ hours
The bridge over the Douro at Pinhao. There are not many and one drives a long way along the river to find another crossing!

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