Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

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.

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Quinta do Infantado Tawny PortPorto, or “port” as it is known in English, is made in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. There are many grapes port-makers are allowed to use, but the most common are Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Touriga Francesca and Touriga Nacional.

Port was a byproduct of the ongoing wars between France and England. Without wines from France, the English were forced to look elsewhere to satisfy demand. Portugal provided a good alternative, but the long boat trip from Portugal often resulted in spoiled wine. To combat spoilage, winemakers began adding high-alcohol aguardente to their wines to stop fermentation, leaving a more sturdy, higher alcohol wine with some residual sugar. These new fortified wines could make the trip no problem! (more…)

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Azeitão Tasting

Azeitão Tasting

As a lover of all things Portuguese for many years, I have been working to build the selection of Portuguese cheeses here at our Cambridge location. In the past, we’ve had a few varieties at a time, but this is the first time we’ve had as large a selection as this, and I’m very excited about them all. Here’s the lowdown on the line-up! (more…)

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Ameixas d'Elvas plumsWhen is a plum not a plum? When it is a sugarplum or a plum pudding! Judging by the names of these traditional British Christmas treats, one would think that both include some quantity of plum. Not true! For centuries, the term ‘sugarplum’ has referred to any type of dried fruit, made into a small, vaguely plum-shaped sweet. During Victorian times, these sugary candies sometimes contained raisins or currants which were called plums.


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Membrillo, quince paste, cotognata, marmeladaIf you love cheese, you’ve likely come across the sweet, tangy condiment called membrillo. Membrillo is the Spanish word for the quince fruit and is commonly used to refer to the sweet quince paste also known as cotognata in Italian and marmelada in Portuguese. Even though recipes vary, quince and sugar — cooked to a thick consistency, molded and cooled — are the primary ingredients. The resulting quince paste is a traditional accompaniment to many cheeses including the famous Manchego.


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