By Jane Anson
There was something reassuring about seeing a pair of Lisbon down-and-outs clutching bottles of half empty 10-year old port. It was good to see that in the capital of Portugal, even its most economically-challenged citizens were enthusiastically embracing the country’s most famous product.
I didn’t sample any actual port during my recent weekend in the city, except for some wonderful white port and tonics before lunch at the Cafe Martinho da Arcada, and then while listening to Fado music at a club in Alfama on Saturday night. I was in Lisbon instead to check out the Portuguese still wines, and there was no shortage of opportunities to do so.
Lisbon is packed full of wonderful areas – perhaps Balem, where the Portuguese explorers set off to discover Brazil and other distant lands in the 15th century, was my favourite, along with the traditional Alfama district in central Lisbon, particularly experiencing its steep slopes while riding the famous Tram 28. But all over the city there was a range of traditional and new wine bars, wine shops that offered tastings, and even home-grown wines in some of the hotels.
The first hotel that we stayed in, the Jeronimos 8 by the monastery in Balem, has its own Buçaco Palace wine that has been described by Hugh Johnson as one of the top 100 in Portugal. That was written some years ago; Portuguese wine has improved drastically in recent years and I’m not sure that this would still make the cut, but it was still very interesting. The vines are located around the Buçaco Palace Hotel, one of the other hotels in the small group.
There are also a number of excellent wine bars to try including:
Chafariz do Vinho – lovely traditional building, good choice of wines (all chosen by award winning wine writer João Paulo Martins) and tapas.
Os Goliardos – bar/restaurant in Bairro Alto that also offers very good wine courses and tastings of wines from across Portugal and Europe.
Finally, if you plan a visit to the wine regions near Lisbon or elsewhere in Portugal, don’t leave home without an essential book: The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter.