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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

Portuguese Wine Route



Antônio Batalha Reis is the author of an audacious and important book titled Vineyard and Wine in 1872 (A Vinha e o Vinho em 1872), who with such an extreme modesty and beautiful words dedicated that work to João Ignacio Ferreira Laha: “I owe you the tenderness of an affectionate friend and the everlasting lessons of a benevolent master. From the moment I entered adult life and started to work, he was always by my side, bolstering my heart with his empowered advices and my spirit with his lofty and distinguished guidance.”


And so, this book belongs to him, as the field belongs to the seed owner.


However, forgive me for this rough terrain, which has turned the splendid wheat you sowed into bad hay, and save me with the blessings of a friend, and the just exigencies of a master.”


However, here we will pass the word to another work of that author: a simple and small booklet with less than eighty pages, an airy typography, and embellished by the feather-pen strokes with fine zest and levity sketched by Bernardo Marques. Since the first book was published in 1873 and this latter one in 1945, Batalha Reis then wrote at an old age, which perhaps is one of the reasons for the serenity that runs through his text, from beginning to end. Likewise, from 1945 up to now 3/4 of a century have passed by and Portugal today is certainly very different from the one seen and described by Batalha Reis. And so it will be interesting for the reader of today and acquainted with Portugal, or to a tourist who endeavors to repeat the herein briefly summarized itineraries, and make adequate comparisons.


The purpose of the work is to promote tourism in Portugal and Portuguese wine, and to do that through ten journeys, having wine as our guide, since, as the author says, to whom we now give the floor:


“In this corner of the Iberian Peninsula, it seems nature delighted itself in collating one of the most complete enological collections ever seen. Being certain of finding many interesting variations, whoever roams Portugal along the ‘wine road’ will get to know our country, our people, and our life in their most peculiar aspects. In this connection it is worth mentioning this recommendation: one should always strive to drink local wine. That is, when you are in Algarve, do not ask for wine from Amarante; in Viana do Castelo, do not ask for wine from Fuzeta.


Appreciating local typical cuisine, intimately linked to a region’s wines, is essential to comprehend that people our curiosity has inspired us to visit.


In some areas, like in Douro, there is a real mystique of wine, which dominates their entire life; who, while visiting it, and if one really wishes to know that very peculiar region, could ignore its wines? If a visitor drinks wine there, he or she will better understand what lies around, and will know how to interpret the notorious ‘chula’ (local style or language)... [...]


Wine is a mysterious expression of the land that saw it come to life -- that land is in the wine, but we can only find it in the wine if we already know the land. Wine then emerges as a precious key that opens many mysteries up to us, while pleasantly influencing us as a good a warm companion. It is necessary to drink Portuguese wines exactly where they have been produced. After that, and whenever we drink wine, by savoring it, introspectively, and inhaling its aromas, it will be so easy to remember the region where it was produced! Whoever has not drunk wine in its own homeland, can only appreciate it within the boundaries of a glass – he or she will not be able to flee through remembrances, to deeply enjoy its spirit, or to appreciate the evocative power this whole experience has to offer.


We have outlined these concepts without any pretense of elaborating a program or imposing a gospel. They serve as an introduction to a series of articles that will follow, and as a justification of our resolve to see tourism in Portugal under this guise: -- wine is a good guide to roam along our land.



We are in Lisbon. From here we will depart in our first journey: at Cais do Sodré, while crossing the Tagus River in a fresh and golden morning. Cacilhas. The road is excellent and it swiftly takes us to Azeitão, after we have run through the Paio Pires village, with its own medieval taste... Then we will arrive at the heart of one of the oldest wine-producing regions, as testified by the charters and privileges granted by the first kings of Portugal. D. Manuel I granted in 1514 a new charter that constantly made special reference to the rights and obligations the already renowned wines from Setúbal were entitled to. In the tome kept at the village of Sezimbra there are references to the ‘Term of Azeitão’ from the 15th thru the 17th centuries, which points to the existence of many vineyards and wineries with their own sheds and cellars. It really seems that region was the cradle of the old rod-and-weight-wine press, with filter bags, of which even to this day we can find curious specimens, and which allow us claim this ingenious discovery the French purport to be theirs.


To prove the antiquity of wine production in these areas, and if we wish to relinquish the knowledgeable testimony of parchments, we may appease ourselves with this old saying: In Azeitão it either wines or pines. And in such a scenery, around the evocative villa of Bacalhoa, dominated by the sober outlines of the manor of the Dukes of Aveiro, we will make our first stop. [...] Why not taste a glass of a local wine? A goblet of Muscatel with a whipped egg yolk will warm up our first contact with the juice of vines that were already famous at the time of the Tiller King, of which Louis XIV, from France, the Sun King, could not do without on his table. [...]


Resuming our journey, let us go to Setúbal, after taking a short detour to visit the ancient Castle of Palmela. [...] How many important issues might have been discussed here in the company of our ‘muscatel’? [...] Back on the road, as if by surprise, at Alto da Boa Vista, we will find another landscape feature worth mentioning -- and we will finally enter the old burg whose foundation has been attributed by tradition to patriarch Tubal, son of Japheth and grandson of Noah, where both Phoenicians and Romans once lived, as testified by the ruins of Troy, formerly Cetóbriga, submerged by the waters of the Calijur, which nowadays we call the Sado River.


While small grilled red mullets are being prepared (it is absolutely forbidden to have lunch in Setúbal without eating a small grilled red mullet), our appetite will be aroused again on our way back. [...] And after that, as bearers of an undoubtedly heroic appetite, let us run to the promising table where a mouth-watering meal will duly restore our bodies and liven up our spirits. Let us start with the great variety of tinned delicacies (without forgetting the pâté or sardine eggs, which among us replace the celebrated caviar) in the good company of a white table wine, with hues of topaz, perfumed, and suave... and this same wine may also be served to supplement the delicate flavor of the grilled red mullets.


Then it is time to taste a velvety and smooth red wine, with open accents. Any wild game, which abound in that region, will end up raising compliments from gastronomes. With the unmistakable dolphinfish, aromatic, and suave ‘Muscatel from Setúbal’, which manages to conciliate the manly palate of men and the sensibility of women, let us appreciate, as our deserved desert, the cheese from Azeitão.


And we are back on the road again. From the esplanade of the São Felipe Fortress, an old fortification from the age of the Filipe dynasty, let us admire the vast landscape of the city reclined over the river that runs to faraway bends, along a horizon full of hills... a rich land with such a rich wine!


In our way to Outão, along the road of Arrábida, where the Convent is nested amidst greens; now we will descend to Portinho; visit Lapa da Santa Margarida, Alpertuche... I doubt it would be any easy to snatch anyone from such an enchanting environment; but if chance can spare us any time, let us stretch our journey to Sezimbra, where a towering Castle offers a terrace towards expanding landscapes, and the beach of that Latin-speaking people is the mild nook of a peculiar fishing life. [...] What a place to go for sunset watching! [...]


Once at home, by the dinner table, the bottles of wine brought from this tour will be a new pretext to remember: holding a chalice tight in our hand to warm the crystal glass, and after admiring the golden reflexes light will steal from the perfumed topaz, in well-savored sips, and with our eyes half-shut, let us look in that ‘muscatel’ for the suavity and allure of the lovely scenery we have just visited. All of it will be there, from the abundant land and its mysterious influence, to local vegetation, and the harmonious outlines of the rugged terrain, including those incomparable and shiny, fulvous, and ardent sunrays, which had filled our eyes with light and our hearts with a suave tenderness.


In that wine the land that saw it come to life comes back to us, to please the strong and stimulate the feeble, and to finally enchant all of us.”




Translation by Mônica H. Reppucci.



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