Portugal & Galicia are regions that offer so much to the wine and food lover. Simon McGookin explains why we love going back.
Portugal and Galicia has historically been one of our favourite routes. Maybe it’s because it is the most Celtic part of the Iberian Peninsula that appeals to us, but there’s plenty of other reasons besides.
So, what makes Portugal & Galicia so special? For one thing the wines are truly world beating. Crisp Albariño from the Rias Baixas, smooth Mencia and subtle Merençao from Ribera Sacra, elegant Godello from Valdeorras and superb Alvarinho from Vinho Verde are stand out wines. There are other lesser known local varietals which are equally as compelling and which make the region so fascinating for wine lovers from all over the world.
Where there are great wines there is inevitably great food to accompany it and this is so true of these regions. So with the Albariño comes some of the best seafood imaginable. Huge, succulent mussels, the world’s best octopus, tasty fresh crab in addition to a huge variety of wonderful fish make the Rias Baixas second to none when it comes to cuisine from the sea. Some of the rice dishes like Arroz con Bogavante (lobster rice) are outstanding but equally as good with local scallops or jumbo shrimp. Pulpo a la Gallega is the iconic dish of the region, boiled (and sometimes chargrilled) octopus served with thin sliced potatoes and covered with paprika. We always have a feast when we visit one of our favourite wineries, Bodegas Albamar (below)
Inland in Ribera Sacra the wines are more typically red which suits what is considered by many as the best beef in Spain, because the cattle are grass reared in what is one of the wettest regions of Spain. We love visiting Adega Algueira (with owner Fernando below) for lunch because some of our favourite red wines are served with huge platters of local beef; always a highlight of any visit to the region.
In Portugal the seafood is also fantastic,the penchant being for fresh whole fish like sardines or seabass cooked over coals and served simply with salad. Porto has a reputation from the olden days as the city of tripe eaters and some good restaurants still sell it (if that’s your thing). More modern cuisine is on offer at stunning 2* Michelin restaurant in the Yeatman hotel (below) with wonderful views over the River Douro.
Northern Portugal is also famous for the Leitão (suckling pig) and this speciality always goes down a treat on our visits to the area, especially with great winemaker, Luis Pato. The free range pork from Quinta de Folga that accompanies the top class Alvarinho from Soalheiro in the Vinho Verde region is always a treat and a perfect gastronomic match.
In the Douro Valley, one of the world’s truly best wine regions, we are always spoilt with not only great white and red wines but also the famous Port wines. It’s always amazing to witness our tourists preferences changing as we sample the different styles. Having traditional home cooked lunch at Quinta dos Malvedos is a privileged visit and one we always treasure as it is one of the great Port families (Symington) private residences. Quinta do Vesuvio is also one of the Douro’s great estates and rare visits there are always fondly remembered. The epitome of food in the Douro is at DOC where Rui Paula’s tasting menu paired with local wines is huge hit.
The one thing Portugal & Galicia share in common is the great scenery. The boat trip down the River Sil is always a delight and we can truly appreciate the difficulties of extracting the grape harvest from the steep banks that seem almost vertical at times. The traditional rabelo along the River Douro while sipping a cool glass of wine is a highlight, and pulling up outside the wonderful Vintage House is a tremendous feeling. It’s always exciting to try making the local cuisine at the cookery demonstration/ class at Quinta da Pacheca. Very good wines and port along with the class is always a lot of fun.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, there are so many more experiences to be had on a trip to the area. You might get the feeling we like Portugal & Galicia….we love it!