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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vinho Verde

Spending a winter on Sabbatical in London, England in 1980, we needed a break from the interminable raw wet weather, and were delighted to be able to get cheap airline tickets south to Portugal. Sure enough as we climbed above the thick cloud cover, there was the sun and over the Channel, the clouds beneath disappeared. It seemed to us as if England must have had its own stationary black cloud we had escaped from under. We rejoiced.

Tourism had just started to be big business in those days and Portugal had coped with its lack of hotel accommodation by setting up a government run network of inns that they called Pousadas . We found this out shortly after we arrived when we visited the National Tourist Bureau in Lisbon and, with some help, worked out an itinerary where we would stop one or two days in an area, exploring, and then move on. The Pousada accommodations were in palaces, monasteries, historic buildings and the like – invariably of interest in themselves.

One leg of our journey led us to the north-east border with Spain where we stayed in a villa in the mountains and ate kid or cabrito for the first time. It was tender and a bit gamey.

The following day we traveled across northern Portugal through wooded areas to Porto on the coast. As we drove, we were intrigued to see grape vines around homesteads that were purposely trained to climb up every available tree or pole, leaving room, we supposed, for planting other crops beneath. When we stopped at a café in a small town we were lucky to have a proprietor who not only offered us a glass of wine but also explained it was made from their local grapes. It was called Vinho Verde and it was delicious - served cool, it had a bit of a sparkle and its low alcoholic content contributed to making the whole bottle we were served, disappear. When we reached the coast, we found a place on the beach where the locals were grilling sardines. We bought a loaf of bread, a couple of bottles of Vinho Verde and, with the sardines, had ourselves a very fine picnic. Writing about the day brings back unforgettable memories.

We have since been able to find Vinho Verde on occasion in our local wine outlet and always its special refreshing taste evokes lovely remembrances of our very pleasant day in northern Portugal . Rie