The Thirsty Kitten proudly presents a guest post by The Daughter (known in real life as Sara Chapman Heegaard), who was recently promoted to Chief of our Team of Global Tasting Advisors (ToGTA). We asked the ToGTA to go to Lisbon to sample Portuguese wines. For those who are unaware, Portugal produces far more than the port for which they are so famously known. In fact, Portuguese wines are some of the best values on the market today. We wanted a first-hand account and are grateful to the ToGTA for providing it:
The Woman in the Blue Skirt, Father Schillinger, and Me: Observations on Portuguese Wines
by Sara Chapman Heegaard
With the right company and in the right place, even the least experienced wine drinkers can bring out the stories of a good glass. This lesson quickly revealed itself when my friends Small and Tall and I traveled to Lisbon and sampled Portuguese wines. As inexperienced tasters, the questions we asked ourselves while sipping— and our answers— are not your typical wine descriptors. But we hoped we could make up for what we lacked in proper tasting notes with creative questions and stories inspired by the wine and the night we enjoyed it.
Let me begin with brief introductions.
Small is a petite Atlanta native who never fails to charm with her sweet demeanor, cheeky wit, and stories of her many travels. A sociology major at Bryn Mawr College, she is known for her ability to break down economic theories over a cocktail. When she is randomly assigned priority boarding, she waits in the regular line to “keep it real.”
Tall is a sharp, dashing native of Canberra, Australia, and physics major at the Australian National University. He knows more than most of us do about how to operate lasers, and has touched nearly every fertility relic on the island of Ireland. In his spare time, he enjoys knitting and climbing monastic ruins.
And I am The Daughter. In addition to being a daughter, I am also a full time student in New York and a part time advocate for manatee rights. In my spare time, I enjoy eating meat, drinking wine, running, and photographing my cats (but rarely in that order). The three of us became friends while studying for a semester in Dublin.
Over the course of our four-day visit, Lisbon treated us well. We adored the winding, stone-paved streets lined with local artists selling their work, views of the river Tagus from the overlook of the Castle of São Jorge, and, several times a day, the famous pastries of the nearby city of Belém— the Pastéis de Nata — bite-sized egg custard tarts served warm with powdered sugar and cinnamon. But for our final night in the city, we had saved the best for last: a tasting of Portuguese wines.
Though none of us had ever participated in a true tasting, we were inspired by the impressive offerings around us, and decided to visit Fábulas, a neighborhood café in the Chiado, a bustling area of Lisbon known for its elegant theaters and shops, as well as its nightlife. Tucked away in a quiet alley and up a long flight of stairs, the café is a retreat from the bustle below, and offers a variety of small plates and fresh mains to pair with their menu of local wines. Our server, Vitor, brought us to a table in the café’s garden terrace, where we enjoyed a plate of fresh bread, hummus, and olive tapenade as we sampled three wines: the house red, “Alveirão” Alentejo; the 2012 Pousio Alentejo; and the 2011 Red Altano Douro.
House Red, “Alveirão” Alentejo
We started by asking ourselves a simple question every wine connoisseur must ask him or herself before sipping:
What did the wine smell like?
- “Father Schillinger at communion”
After a long silence, we decided it would be necessary to enjoy this glass without wine-related discussion to give us creative courage for our later tasting notes. We found this method quite effective.
Red Pousio Alentejo, 2012
Feeling more confident and suddenly inspired after our first glass, we asked ourselves:
What did this wine remind us of when we sipped?
- “Summertime, sitting by the mighty Boorowa river, watching a platypus swim by”
- “A tall woman in a long blue skirt”
- “Warm evenings in Milos”
“Let’s go deeper with the idea of the woman in the skirt,” I suggested. “If this wine was a woman, what kind of woman would she be?”
- Happily unmarried
- Well traveled, but grounded
- Fluent in more than three languages
“She’d have had many lovers, but still be able to maintain her sense of self,” Small added. “And that’s important for a wine.”
Down to our last few sips, I suggested we move on to the next wine.
“Hold on a minute – we need to finish our relationship with her,” said Tall, finishing his glass. “I only wish we had longer together.”
We waited what we felt was an appropriate amount of time, then did the only thing we knew to do: ordered another glass.
Red Altano Douro, 2011
Vitor informed us that our last glass of the evening was an organic wine from northern Portugal, and is his personal favorite on the menu, as it is excellent both with food and on its own. Swirling our glasses, we immediately noticed that this wine was more intense than the previous two.
“If this wine was a man, he’d have a temper,” said Tall. “But he’d be smart about it— he’d know when to let it out.”
We agreed that, if this wine were a person, he would be:
- Direct, blunt, down-to-business
- A great cook
- Able to keep a secret
“He’d be drop-dead gorgeous,” added Small. “Not uncivilized, but rough around the edges. And he wouldn’t ask before he kissed a woman, either.”
Later that night, long after leaving the café, we found ourselves at A Tasca do Chico, a bar and restaurant known to be one of the best places in Lisbon to enjoy a glass of port while listening to local singers performing authentic Portuguese fado music. Accompanied by classical guitar, fado is known for its lamenting, melancholy subject matter and style, and songs often explore themes of loss, the sea, and destiny. One by one, as the hours drew later, musicians emerged from the audience, pausing from their drinks and dinners with friends to sing.
As we listened, sipping our port, we couldn’t help but think of the woman in the long blue skirt.
And Father Schilinger.
To read more of Sara’s writing, visit sarachapmanheegaard.com.