The Sintra Coastline

The Sintra coastline

Like everything born of Sintra, the Arenae Colares Malvasia is of and from the sea.

I had the good fortune to spend several weeks last summer exploring Lisbon and its surrounding environs, including an unforgettable day in Sintra, guided by two friends of mine who grew up there.

Sintra, the westernmost point in Europe, is a community of fairytale castles and tiny villages perched on mountains cascading into the ocean. These mountains are loosely connected by lengths of sand stolen from the sea – beaches with signs urging swimmers and surfers to be wary, lest she unexpectedly comes to take her sands back from under their feet. Most of these beaches – or at least the best of them – are “praias escondidas,” “hidden beaches,” with entrances by way of mountain passages known only to locals. Speaking over waves breaking with the voices of sirens, my friends explained that the cautionary signs remind those who have lived here in mutual respect with the ocean for generations to still take care, for she can be a fairweather and fickle friend.

Colares is the smallest D.O.C. (Denominação de Origem Controlada) in Portugal, just footsteps from the Atlantic, with vineyards protected from the harsh ocean winds by sandy dunes. Most famously, its sandy soils proved inhospitable to the phylloxera louse, meaning that some of the oldest vine stock in Europe still calls Colares home. The characteristics of the soil that held off the phylloxera, however, are not much more welcoming to the vines themselves. From what I could learn through a bit of research, farmers have for centuries tapped into a nutrient-rich layer of clay soil, well below the initial layers of sand. There they plant the vines, coaxing them to grow and thrive, propping them up enough to keep the grapes from burning on the hot ground, but still low enough to protect them from the wind. Nestled behind stone walls and fences, they allow the sand to fill back in over years, once the roots have taken hold.

Colares Vineyard

A coastal vineyard in Colares
(© Andrew Bishop, owner of Oz Wine Co)

You can immediately taste the sun drenched, weather beaten, hard-won fruits of these labors in the depth and dry complexity of Arenae’s Malvasia. It opens with sherry and salinity on the nose. At first touch on the tongue, it carries the salt of the breeze off the ocean along with a warm, rounded tartness – like biting into an apple on the beach so that its juices mix with the flavors of sand and seaweed in the air. A slight oxidation seems to draw out olive oil green and bitter orange notes and pulls all of the flavors together. At first the finish is reminiscent of a fino sherry, then it gently fades into the taste of ocean sprays in the cooling air at sunset with sand between your toes.

The red wines of the Colares region have been compared to French Bordeaux wines; this Malvasia rivals the intricacy of a high-end Jura Chardonnay – without much “funkiness” (though perhaps with a little bacalhau somewhere on the finish). While Arenae’s Malvasia could easily be drunk on its own, Portuguese wines are created to be enjoyed with simple, fresh, and subtly spiced food. This wine would pair beautifully with fresh-caught seafood, steamed green vegetables drizzled with a little olive oil, salads made with ripe tomatoes, and summer fruits.

After hundreds of years of snatching life from the sand and the sea in order to produce limited quantities of this and other stunning Colares wines, the hectares of vineyards have begun to shrink annually. Today traditional farming families are succumbing to the pressures of developers and the expansion of resorts into this beautiful region. Knowing this, and knowing the small quantity of this already rare wine that has ever made it out of Portugal at all, I find myself becoming a little covetous… We currently have, between our South End and Cambridge shops, 8 bottles of the 2008 Arenae’s Colares Malvasia. Give us a call or send an email to julie@formaggiosouthend.com if you’d like us to set one aside for you!



David Lincoln Ross’ “The World’s Most Endangered Wine Region: Portugal’s Colares Appellation

Arnold Waldstein’s “Arenae Colares Malvasia…As rare, as interesting, as satisfying as wine can be

Feet Buried in the Sand” from Keith Levenberg’s Cellar-Book


Marianne Staniunas is a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

Three Olive Oils: Xertoli Coupage, My Olive Tree, La Bandiera Toscano

Three Olive Oils: Xertoli Coupage, My Olive Tree, La Bandiera Toscano

Last month Tim tackled the biggest question on many olive oil consumers’ minds – guaranteeing authenticity in the face of fraud. While some may be tempted to solve this problem by swearing off certain countries of production, Tim argued that the key to finding great olive oil is finding a source you can trust. As we have experienced in our search for the best products for our shops, there are excellent, fair, and yes, fraudulent olive oils in all olive growing regions. It is only by knowing the producer and building trust with them that we can guaranteeing an excellent oil every time.

With that in mind, and as somewhat of an olive oil novice myself, I took it upon myself to taste through a few of our favorite olive oils, settling on three producers from three different countries representing some of the best oils Europe has to offer.

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Fennel and Potato Salad

Fennel and Potato Salad

August is here, and with it comes the peak of our produce season. With more and more amazing local fruits, vegetables and herbs to complement our bi-weekly deliveries direct from California, the options are pretty much endless.

This delicious and light potato salad uses the brininess of preserved lemon and balances it with the brightness of fennel and fresh herbs. Potatoes are generally associated with winter and colder months but they are actually dug from the ground now. The summer brings us new potatoes with thin skin and a more pronounced potato flavor. Fennel balances this dish with a light crunch.

Fennel and Potato Salad

1 pound of new potatoes
1 medium bulb of fennel
1/4 cup  of olive oil
1/8 of a preserved lemon, finely minced (available at our cheese counter)
1 small clove of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of a fresh herb of your choice, minced (oregano, dill, parsley, or thyme all work well)
Black pepper to taste

Wash the potatoes and cut into bite sized pieces (leave the skin on). If you are using a small potato, you may not even need to cut them. Cook the potatoes in a pot of lightly salted water.

Meanwhile, very thinly slice the fennel bulb and pull off one small handful of the fennel fronds. Toss in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Add potatoes when they are finished cooking (fork tender). Gently blend all of the ingredients together and chill for at least about an hour to allow the flavors to blend.


Grace Lichaa is a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, loves bike adventures, and has a special love of turning good food into beautiful meals.

Mottura Vineyard

Porcupine’s eye view of the Mottura Vineyard

This past April the Formaggio Wine Team took a pleasant trip to visit Sergio Mottura’s estate on our way to VinItaly 2014. We flew into Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning and drove north-east towards Umbria. We eventually split off from the crazy A1 autostrada onto small, one-lane roads. Just along the northern border of Lazio we reached the medieval hamlet of Civitella d’Agliano, and the home, hotel and cantina of the Mottura family.

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Italian Olive Oils

A selection of some of our Italian olive oils — left to right: Raineri Unfiltered, Salustri Olivastra, Madonna Antonia, Podere San Biagio, and La Bandiera

The other night, while having dinner with a friend, she said “I’m not buying Italian olive oil anymore because of all the fraud – I just can’t trust it.” and my head just about exploded.

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Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, we have finally made it to the hot and humid days of mid-summer. Somewhat ironically, these days I find myself coming back to the same drink that got me through that long cold winter – fresh brewed chai tea.

The phrase “chai tea” is actually redundant. Our word chai comes from the Hindi word for tea, and it turns out that most people across South Asia and the Middle East, and even most of China, use some variant of cha or chai for the word tea (the Hindi word chai comes from the Chinese “cha” (茶); however, in some southern Chinese dialects the same word is pronounced “teh,” which is how we got the English word “tea” instead).

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Consider Bardwell Farm

Consider Bardwell Farm

Four years ago, when I first moved from New York to the Boston-area, I can only describe it as a collision of worlds. Although the change of pace is less noticeable for some, it took me extra time to adjust to the relatively gentle mobility of Beantown as compared to that of the Big Apple.

After finding work at Formaggio Kitchen, and as I established a comfort zone with my newly adopted environment, I was given the opportunity through the shop to visit a series of farms in western Vermont. I had never traveled that far north in the United States before, so I jumped at the opportunity.

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