Wine Surprises Far North in Portugal’s Minho Region
Not far outside the town of Pont de Lima we discovered Paço de Vitorino, an amazing 16 th century manor house. The property has been lovingly restored as a luxury boutique hotel. We explored the grounds and gardens with the hotel’s brilliant general manager, Jorge Vieira. As he showed us around, Jorge shared the essential truths of this Portuguese region – work hard, play hard, take time for your family and friends, wear bright clothing to show your joy, and sing. “And we love our typical food and our Vinho wines,” Jorge was quick to add.
Cláudia Viana and Clara Cerqueira operate Taste of Minho Food Tours. Together they introduced us to the Minho’s indigenous food and wine specialties, and served up a slice of Portuguese culture and history. Although the traditional white wine of the region is Vinho Verde, sampling the local red wines is part of the experience. “The regional red wine is good for digestion,” we were repeatedly told. Good for digesting the heavy Minho food – the pork and the fried cod and the beef, and all that rice served with potatoes and blood gravy. And the chorizo – a pork sausage made with a method used since Roman times.
In the hills above Arcos de Valdevez, winemaker Simão Pedro de Aguiã led us across his vineyards. The vines glowed red and gold in the long light of the setting autumn sun. The Casa da Torre de Aguiã is a 14th century fortified tower, integrated into a newer 18th century manor house. When we arrived, a German production company was filming a period drama in the house, so we could only peek inside, dodging stage lights and cables. Below the house, the cool wine cellars were dimly lit. The winemaking equipment, although not quite medieval, was old and well-used. But it worked, as Simão Pedro proudly demonstrated, switching on clanking pumps that spurted a slurry of crushed Vinhao grapes into a deeply stained, large concrete holding vat. After our low-tech tour, the fizzy red wine was served to us in small white ceramic bowls instead of wine glasses. The blood red wine clung to the sides of the bowl. We were instructed to gently tip the bowl to see the wine’s tears (legs). Suffice it to say, this Portuguese wine is an acquired taste.
Down a winding road, on a lush and sunny hillside overlooking the River Lima, a special experience awaited. At Quinta do Ameal, we were introduced to some stellar Portuguese wines that did not resemble the region’s light green whites, nor the nearly black reds. At Quinta do Ameal, winemaker Pedro Araújo has a simple philosophy: great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. He meticulously grows organic Loureiro grapes and creates small batches of award-winning white wines featured in Michelin starred restaurants worldwide. But to taste these wines and enjoy the beauty of their riverside setting, Quinta do Ameal offers an enotourism opportunity. You can stay in one of the modern refurbished apartments on the property, enjoy a swim in the hillside pool and, of course, drink the wine.
We can think of few better ways to savor the Minho.