Dinner in Portugal?

The decision had been made over a month ago...our next wine pairing dinner would be in Portugal. Well, actually traveling to Portugal wasn't in the budget, so why not bring the tastes of Portugal to our local dinner table, then pair some Portuguese wines with those courses?

Followers of this blog know that we have a small gourmet group. About every three months, we gather together a group of eight people to learn about traditional cuisine, cooking techniques, then create those dishes for an evening of food, fun, and wine.

This evening, we created a four course (maybe five, if you include both appetizers). The table was set with a Mediterranean theme, and our hosts had found a channel on Spotify.com that played Portuguese music. They had strung lights across their back deck, and put tea candles on the table. The mood was set, and the evening temperatures had cooled to a comfortable degree versus the daytime heat and humidity.

Our first appetizer was Peixinhos da Horta (batter fried green beans). The batter was made with white wine, and had the consistency of a tempura batter. The fresh green beans were battered and fried in olive oil, then lightly salted. For the wine pairing I went with a Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde. When I see fried food on the menu, I immediately think of something with effervescence to help cleanse the palate. Salt requires effervescence, sweetness or acid. Vinho Verde fits the bill on most counts. It isn't sweet, but there is an amount of fruitiness, that lends itself to the flavor of the green beans.

Our hosts added one more appetizer a couple days before I went out to purchase the wine. The addition was Camarao com Piri Piri (Grilled Shrimp with hot sauce). While the Vinho Verde worked with the shrimp, the hot sauce really required something with some more residual sugar. The Piri Piri (hot sauce) was made with olive oil, garlic and hot peppers, that had soaked together for a week. While many turn their nose up at Lancer's Rose, it really worked well with this dish.   Lancer's is made with a blend of grapes (Aragones, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Castelao, and Trincadeira). Lancer's is a slightly sparking wine and slightly sweet. I would say it is the "original" white Zinfandel.

The next course was Canja (a traditional Chicken soup with Basmati rice, lemon juice and mint). The one thing I can say about Portuguese food, is that it is pretty simple. Not too many ingredients, and not terribly complicated. This dish was a perfect example of what can be done with only seven ingredients, to create a wonderful dish. While the dish was easy, the wine pairing was a challenge. I always try to stay within the region. But, finding light red wines, or hardier white wines at our local wine shops presented a challenge. So, I focused on a Portuguese beer, only to find the store I drove to was out of it. I had to break the region "rule" and went with a white wine from the Galicia region of Spain. I paired this with Vina Godeyal Valdcorras (the grape is Godello). This actually worked nicely.

Our main course was Costeletas de Carneiro Escondidinho (Lamb Chops with a Port, Cream and Mustard Sauce), served with fingerling potatoes and carrots. This was a hearty dish, and called for a full bodied red wine. I found two wines that met our needs. The Abriza Alentejo 2009 was made in more of a new world style (a bit more ripe red fruit than the second wine). The second wine was a Quinta do Cruto Duoro Riserva 2009 (made with traditional Port grapes, but not in a fortified, or sweet style). Both wines were opened more than an hour before dinner, and allowed to aerate a bit. Lamb is one of those wonderful meats that just pairs so well with red full bodied red wines, and this was no exception. The Port, mustard cream sauce was a beautiful addition.

The final course was a dessert course of Delicia de Laranja (Orange Cake). When pairing wine with desserts, always make sure your wine is sweeter than the dessert. The simple choice would have been a Port, but red port is pretty heavy, and this cake was fairly light. White Port is hard to find in our area, so I went off the coast of Portugal, to Madiera. The island is a Portuguese archipelago located about 250 miles off the coast of Portugal. I chose Blandy's 10 Year Old Malmsey. This "cooked" wine has a wonderful sweetness, with raisin and caramel notes, that worked with the baked orange cake.

My hope is that by reading this easy Portuguese wine dinner, you too will create a regional wine pairing dinner. If you do, please share your menu in the comments section. If you need help with a pairing, contact your local Sommelier, wine shop, or send me an e-mail.

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