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Lisbon – Embracing the Past, Seizing the Future

Lisbon. A city where you take elevators to reach the neighborhoods that perch atop the seven hills on which it is built. Where art deco and art nouveau architecture and details quietly catch your eye-- a piece of ironwork here, a façade there. Where yellow, wood-trimmed trams, once imported from America (and called americanos), full of Lisboans and tourists alike, groan and clank past crowded cafes.

Sidewalk diners sate themselves on country dishes like grilled sardines, steamed clams, roast chicken, fish soups and a plethora of codfish offerings.  Everyone lines up for Belém custard pies (pastéis de nata), ethereal cinnamon-laced custard tarts dusted with powdered sugar. And the Tagus River reminds of past ships and explorers, when Lisbon was the center of the world.

Of course there is wine. Not just Port, which has dominated the country’s wine export for hundreds of years and comes from up north, but the local grape varieties that are now being replanted and nurtured. In my recent visits to a dozen wineries in the emerging wine regions that circle Lisbon -- Ribatejo, Estremadura, Terras do Sado -- I felt like a child who had discovered an old trunk in the attic, which opened to reveal magnificent jewels. A tiara of Fernão Pires, necklaces of Alfrocheiro and Caladoc, earrings of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, cuffs of Castelão and Trincadera. These are the national grape treasures of Portugal. Yes, vintners are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, but it’s the locals that dazzle. Try them if you find them.

When you visit Lisbon, if you don’t want to go outside the city, the best way to try wines from several areas is to go to the Sala Ogival da Viniportugal (Terreiro do Paco, open Tues-Sat from 11-7). They have wines from all the surrounding wine regions and will give you a nice little foldout map of wineries.

Portuguese table wines are just beginning to be discovered in the U.S., and many of these wonderful bottles are being imported, so you should be able to find some of them. Another major delight is that prices are insanely low. I saw many very good bottles in Lisbon stores for anywhere from 70-cents to $4.00. And most of the wines imported sell for under $15.00, many under $10.00.

Wineries to Visit -Ribatejo Area : Quinta da Lagoalva, Casa Cadaval, DFJ Vinhos, Fiuza & Bright Winery,
Casal Branco

Estremadura Area: Quinta da Cortezia, Casa Santos Lima, Compahnia Das Quintas, Quinta de Chocapalha, Quinta do Monte D’Oiro

Terras do Sado Area: Bacaloha, Casa Ermelinda Freitas, Cooperativa Agricola Santo Isidro de Pegões,
Jose Maria de Fonseca, Herdade da Comporta.

Patricia Savoie is a wine, food and culinary travel writer living in NYC. She is at work on a book on how to order wines in restaurants with co-author David Rosengarten.

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