All posts by Elisabeth Spinnler

About Elisabeth Spinnler

Nina E. Spinnler is running an organic wine business in Europe. Her love for wine is an inherited passion. Winemaking traditions as an index of civilization, the interaction of human evolution with growing knowledge of the subtle art of viticulture, are one of her favorites and matching her interest in history. She is living in Southern Portugal.

Tulleeho Grapevine – Amphora Wine – Elisabeth Spinnler

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Vinho da Talha or tasting wines made the way the Romans did.

In our rapidly changing world, it can make you feel comfortable to discover ancient values not for the matter of age but for their authentic qualities. Vinho da Talha is one of these products: wine made of grapes fermented and aged in amphorae, clay pots the Roman introduced everywhere they have been, also in the Alentejo, a central region of Portugal.

Talhas
Talhas

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Vila de Frades..

..is quite hidden in the huge Alentejo plain, a region starting east of Lisbon and ending at the Spanish Border. Introduce coordinates 38°12′51.64″N,7°49′22.62″W into the GPS, and you will easily reach this small village, now with less than 1000 people. One enters through a road with some picturesque gardens on the sideline after having passed a place with rests of a once huge Roman farm and its still recognizable wine cellars. The village streets of Vila de Frades are meandering over a hill full of reminiscences of architectural trends of the last two thousand years, really charming and worth to be seen. On November 11th, the day of Sâo Martinho (Saint Martin), this visit gets a distinctive character as it is the day of the official wine tasting: all 12 wine cellars, they were once 150, open to release their new amphora wines for tasting and comparison. It’s the beginning of a festive season culminating three weeks later in a popular gathering of visitors and inhabitants with a lot of music, choir singing, eating of the local specialties and drinking of the new wine. This is the first weekend of December.

Wine cellar of the Roman Farm outside Vila de Frades
Wine cellar of the Roman Farm outside Vila de Frades

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Wines from the Alentejo..

..are well known internationally, as is the region itself. In 2014, USA Today readers have elected it for being the best wine region to visit in the world. The thousands of hours of sunlight that the whole of the Alentejo region benefits, is one of the reasons behind the quality of their wines. Good wine begins in the vineyard! The huge clay pots the Romans introduced some 3000 years ago are covered in the interior with a layer of pine resin, olive oil and bee wax before the hand-harvested and de-stemmed grapes are poured into it. The mix limits the clay pots’ porosity. Once in the ‘talha’, the grapes start their fermentation naturally, without any added yeast. During the first three weeks the grapes’ skins are stirred three times a day, the time of the initial fermentation.

 

After that, meaning from around mid-September until Sâo Martinho, November 11th, this is done once a day. By the time the wine’s fermentation is complete, all skins will have sunk to the bottom of the pot and will serve as a filter when the wine is poured into the jug of wine or the wine glass through the tap placed at the bottom of the clay vessel. To seal the amphorae, as did the Romans already, a thick layer of olive oil is put on top to prevent oxidation.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]There are several reasons for liking the amphorae: not only the fact that they are protecting from oxidation in a natural way, but they are contributing to getting the wine really well structured with a nice smooth mouth-feel due to the prolonged skin contact. And there is a special freshness with these wines that age in amphorae, a distinctive character by aromas of lively, fresh fruits, which have been allowed to express themselves naturally in their evolution towards becoming wine, a pure expression of the grape varietal.

 

Talhas in a local tavern
Talhas in a local tavern

Vila de Frades is one of several places maintaining the tradition of amphorae aged wines. Vidigeira, Ervidel, Borba and Mourâo are some of the other localities in the Alentejo where you will also find this tradition alive, uninterrupted since Roman times. Whilst tasting the wines you will get to know a delicious local gastronomy, rendering any journey very special and authentic.

The party is on, the wine is young and fresh
The party is on, the wine is young and fresh

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Several Portuguese wine makers have reintroduced the art of producing wine in amphorae as one kind of wine they produce. Some of them also started converting vineyards into organic ones. One of them is the wine producer and owner of the well-attended restaurant Pais das Uvas in Vila de Frades. Tired of observing his vines getting weaker year after year by the debilitating effect of pesticides and herbicides, he resolved to re-orientate his wine production into a completely organic one, not only organic in the wine cellar through amphora fermentation, but organic in the vineyard.

In times of climate change and ongoing global discussions about how to preserve a balanced ecosystem worldwide, the possibility of aging wine in amphorae appears like an interesting phenomenon reuniting tradition and modernity, and is certainly eligible to be part of the discussion regarding the environmental impact of winemaking.

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Tulleeho Grapevine – Vinho Verde by Elisabeth Spinnler

[vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”9187″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″]Among Portugals broad range of wine and wine styles, ‘Vinho Verde’ meaning ‘Green Wine’, is a very distinctive wine style, ‘green’ for young wine, as it has a unique freshness, a white wine fruity and full of citrus and mineral flavors and slightly pétillant.

Produced in the very Northern region of the country called Minho, it is from Portugal’s greenest region, an agricultural region with frequent cool rains that come off the Atlantic Ocean. The Vinho Verde region represents the country’s biggest DOC wine region.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″]Frequently cool and wet weather makes ripening more difficult. Vines are traditionally trained along pergolas on the edges of fields, sometimes up the trees even, in order to grow free of possible moisture. Characteristically grapes are picked before full ripeness, which results in a wine with a relatively low alcohol degree in a range between 8.5 and 11%, a wine distinguished by its high acidity. Made either of a blend of grapes or as single varietal wines, the typical grape varietals used are Alvarinho and Loureiro, the latter being specially aromatic with a light smell of laurel leaf.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”9189″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”9204″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″]Unique in the world of wine, Vinho Verde is the perfect warm-weather drink, ideal to drink outdoors with higher temperatures. Down at Southern Portugal’s Algarve beaches it is the ideal aperitif. Vinho Verde has started to be an internationally appreciated wine as well. Of the 92 million liters of wine, the major share is exported to more than 70 markets worldwide.

The wine is intended to be light and crisp, bottled soon after harvest and consumed in its fresh, vibrant youth. With its delicate body, this clean wine having a slightly fizzy character is not complicated to drink. The fresh citrus colors, sometimes also golden straw, the wine has the colors and taste of summer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″]Vinho Verde pairs well with the same food that any light white wine will go with. It is served chilled and seafood is one of the best matches. Any spicy food is pleasant as well, as it is ideal for a Sunday morning brunch drink instead of Champagne or Prosecco.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”9205″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 4.06.20 PM Let me give you a typical, easy to make recipe from Madeira (by the way, homeland of Cristiano Ronaldo), the Funchal Style Fish Stew (Sopa de Peixe a Moda de Funchal), Funchal being the capital of the island Madeira.

 

Fish stews, or caldeiradas, to be found everywhere in Portugal, in this particular version tomatoes are the important component. They need to be juicy and have all of their skin and seeds removed, chopped finely so that the tomato becomes invisibly incorporated into the broth, giving it a rich color and flavor. In fact, considering that the fish itself is only added at the last moment, this stew has a smooth, rich flavor while not being overly fishy.

Ingredients for 6 to 8 servings

  • 4 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large bay leaves, whole
  • 1/4 cup Madeira wine
  • 3 medium juicily ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
  • 3 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (peel only if preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 pound boned, skinned cod (the cod is traditional, but you can also use another white fish such as halibut, haddock or whiting)
  • 1 pound boned, skinned meaty fish such as swordfish, bluefish, mackerel or tuna
  • 1 tablespoon of salt

Preparation

  1. In a large heavy pan set over moderate heat, melt the butter together with the olive oil. Then stir-fry the onions and garlic in the butter and oil for about 15 minutes until limp and lightly browned.
  2. Add the potatoes and stir-fry for an additional 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, wine, tomatoes, parsley, cloves, cayenne, and water; cover and simmer slowly for 1 hour. Uncover and simmer 2 hours longer or until the liquid has cooked down and the flavors are concentrated but well balanced.
  3. Add the fish, breaking up clumps; simmer 5 minutes only. Cool, cover, and refrigerate until about 20 minutes before serving.
  4. Bring the chowder slowly to serving temperature; remove the bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste. Prepare garnishes, if you like. You can sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, crispy fried onion pieces, or parsley.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]by Elisabeth Spinnler[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Letter from Lisbon by Elisabeth Spinnler

the venerable capital, usually the starting point of any trip. No matter how much time you have, you will be enchanted by the special atmosphere full of charm and esthetic, the place where ‘globalization’ was practiced for the first time, the driving force of local merchants and their trading partners from allover the globe some five hundred years ago.

Lisbon is magical in the softening light of sunset hours with its endless avenues bordered by majestic private or public buildings and charming suburban neighborhoods spread out over seven hills. Strolling around is pure pleasure as well as freshening up on a gorgeous terrace with panoramic view over the river Tejo. The Lisboetas are tireless drinkers of coffee served in small cups, locally known as bica, available all day long and in all types of cafés. Your first drink could also be one of the numerous kinds of still or naturally sparkling mineral waters, for which Portugal has fame as well.

By the Wine
By the Wine

The list of wine bars is long and trendy places can be found almost at every street corner. “By the wine” is one of the many cool bars you can find in downtown Lisbon. It has a ceiling decorated with 3267 used bottles of Periquita wine, one of the oldest table wines. It is a perfect place to have a few bites, including slices of memorable sausages and prosciutto, cheese, seafood accompanied by a great glass of wine. The wine bars at the Docas, a group of restored old warehouses of the Port of Lisbon, have a special attraction of their own, all with a wonderful view of the 25 de Abril bridge and the Marina.  Café da Ponte is one of them with a great wine list and over two dozens cocktails. It hosts special theme nights while on most regular evenings you can drink to the sound of house beats. Translated into Mumbai standards, Café da Ponte is a kind of mix between Blue Frog and Olive Bar.

Even during a short city visit, find time for a dinner at Travessa, a restaurant situated in a former XVIIth century convent right in the heart of the Madragoa neighborhood. Madragoa is one of the oldest and very charismatic parts of the city with several centuries of history, said to have gotten its name of the ‘Madres de Goa’, nuns from Goa known for their convent, a hospice serving the poor. Today’s Travessa is an elegant place serving refined Portuguese and international food in a sumptuous and stylish environment. By good weather, meaning the bigger part of the year, you can eat under the arcades of the monastery outside, making it one of the most romantic places in town. Follow blindly the professional sommeliers’ advice out of the carefully selected wine list, composed exclusively of wines with Portuguese origin, whether from well-renowned producers or from small ones of equally very high standards. They will match your choice of meals.

Madragoa has lots of smaller, tasty restaurants as well, with food offers from all over the world.

Batata Doce
Batata Doce

Batata Doce at Rua Sao Joao da Mata is one of them. Isabel, the excellent chef, is at ease with traditional Portuguese and Angolan food. No matter where you choose to sit down, tasting some fresh sardines, matched by a light and fresh Vinho Verde, called ‘green wine’ meaning young wine as opposed to mature wine, with its slightly bubbly nature, is a treat. It is a simple but special gastronomic experience and there is simply nothing more refreshing in summer! For those of you fond of Goan Cuisine, the small Restaurant Zuari in the same Rua Joao da Mata, is another excellent option. Their Fish and Shrimp Curries with abundant coconut are delicious, and even if the wine choice is rather restricted, you will find good table wines of the nearby Alentejo region.

The list of places for drinks and food is endless, Lisbon being a place of great gastronomical traditions, a city of mixed cultures, tastes and spices where you can find everything from international to regional and prize-winning cuisines.

Nina E. Spinnler        

Letter from Portugal – Elisabeth Spinnler

…where wine is a daily companion, for dinner at least. ‘A day without wine is like a day without sunshine’, the French aphorism, is a valid proverb here as well, as wine making is part of our culture, dating back to the start of Western civilization. Like in all other neighboring countries around the Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Greeks and above all the Romans, left strong marks here. Any travelling through Portugal’s countryside will inextricably dive you into history, leave you in a kind of exciting state of mind where you feel proximity with the past when face to face with the reminiscences of Roman farm houses, bridges and aqueducts, wells, walls and temples. Some of the wine is still made the way the Romans did and direct Roman descendants are still around inviting you to share the pleasure of eating and drinking, a daily pleasure accompanying the professional and private part of life as it once did and still does.

​Traditional Talhas, Amphorae, in front of a winery​
​Traditional Talhas, Amphorae, in front of a winery​

The first weekend of May the 2nd Iberian Wine Festival was held in Setubal, a port city South of Lisbon. In freshly restored ancient boating and cordage houses, the rich wine world of Iberia was present to be tasted, accompanied by delicious regional products.

For all of you not having been there, multiple ways exist to discover the treasures this part of the world has to offer. You can start in the North on a River Cruise on the Douro River, one of the most important wine rivers in Europe, which starts in Spain where it’s known as Duero, harboring the famous Spanish Ribera del Duero wine region. The Portuguese Douro region is one of elegant terraces laying alongside the silently meandering gorgeous River Douro, where Port wines are produced in historic wine estates, the Quintas. You will appreciate these extraordinary wines, delicate gems that start in the soil in which the grapes are grown and only end many years after going through the art of blending in old, dusty Port wine cellars, where true alchemists, the master blenders with golden noses, produce the wines whose labels carry the indication of 20, 30 or 40 years, or a single harvest year.

​Convento do Espinheiro, award winning Hotel&Restaurant outside the Roman town of Evora​, Alentejo
Convento do Espinheiro, award winning Hotel & Restaurant outside the Roman town of Evora​, Alentejo

Driving down from Porto to Lisbon you will cross a number of other prestigious wine regions before reaching the Alentejo, last years’ winner of the ‘Best Wine Region to Visit’, an award by USA TODAY from among 20 worthy nominees. The endlessly open countryside, the gently undulating plains, wide blue skies and distant horizons where vineyards alternate with olive groves and cereal crops, the white-washed houses and villages full of history, together with a rich traditional gastronomy, meals you can enjoy accompanied by one of their wines, famous or not, as simple table wines, ‘Vinho da Casa’, will also seduce you and all of it will contribute to give you a true sense of peace and well-being.

 

Spain and Portugal are part of a distinguished Iberian identity their wines so nicely reflect. Lots of grape varieties are actually one and the same both sides of the border, though named differently. They share a similar terroir, climate, soil and topography, including the winds, the stronger ones from the Atlantic and the softer soothing breezes from the Mediterranean, which both alternately influence the microclimates in the region.

Wine Tourism is a way to discover new cultures through their wines. Through regular contributions to the Tulleeho newsletter you will get to know some of the Iberian Peninsula’s treasures, Portuguese ones in particular, Portugal being probably Europe’s best hidden secret.

By Elisabeth Spinnler