Algarve restaurants host blind wine tasting sessions

By PAUL BERNHARDT [email protected]

Five Algarve restaurants were chosen recently to host the latest edition of Harmonias Com Provadas, a blind wine tasting project organised by Alexandra Maciel, who’s writing a book about Portuguese wine and gastronomy.

The compendium will feature 70 traditional dishes paired with wines chosen by everyday members of the public, as well as by seasoned critics and food and beverage specialists. The book’s introduction will explain the methodology behind wine tasting and the terminology used. Biographies of the wine producers who have offered their wines for assessment will be included, as will the stories behind each dish – the chef who created it, the recipe used and the restaurant where it was served. Photography taken in situ throughout the assignment is set to enliven each chapter.  

Over the months, Alexandra has visited numerous restaurants with different groups of wine tasters to draw up a list of preferred wines, each chosen according to its aroma, taste identification, acidity, structure, texture and balance. Points are awarded on a sliding scale based on how compatible they think each wine is set against an individual dish, from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 20.

However, some of the wines are deliberately served too warm or too chilled, or purposely mismatched in an attempt to mislead the palate.

“This is our first time in the Algarve and we are all quite intrigued because the region has some excellent wines but they are not very well known in other parts of Portugal,” said Alexandra.

Hosting the first session was Senses restaurant at Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort in Lagos. Twenty-four guests were present, among them a psychologist, a financier, a marketing executive, a translator and even a film director! Assorted restaurateurs, oenologists and national and international journalists made up the remainder of the judging panel.  

Chef Luís Batalha prepared delicious grilled stone bass and the panel had the difficult task of choosing their favourite wine from a selection of 12, each poured into a Schott Zwiesel Black Sensus glass, designed to completely conceal the wines in order to ensure impartial judgment.

After collating the figures and adding the scores, Alexandra announced the winner, a Quinta do Encontro Bical 2012. In second place was a Marquês dos Vales Grace Viognier 2012, an Algarve wine. Third was Quinta do Ameal Loureiro.

The same tasting parameters and methods of assessment were employed throughout the Algarve visit, and the following day during lunch at Gigi’s in Quinta do Lago, bon vivant Bernardo Reino regaled the panel with an outstanding fish and seafood stew. According to the votes, the best wine to drink with this dish was Ázeo Branco 2011. A close second was Egle 2011 followed by Cabriz Encruzado 2012.

The evening was rounded off with a set dinner at the romantic Atlântico restaurant in the Vila Vita Parc resort. Aptly, the preferred wine here was the Herdade dos Grous Tinto 2010 that accompanied succulent stuffed veal with mushrooms, potatoes, vegetables and a thyme sauce. A Herdade do Portocarro 2008 and Mutante 2007 took second and third place respectively.

The last day was spent in and around the beautiful Ria Formosa Natural Park, first at Estaminé on Ilha Deserta, where proprietors Isabel Vicente and José Vargas prepared fresh crunchy sole fritters with clam rice. A Beyra Branco 2011 was a clear winner here, with RISO Colheita Branco 2012 voted into second place. Cabrita Branco 2012, another Algarve wine, secured third spot.  

A short water taxi ride to neighbouring Ilha do Farol took the jury to Cais Aqui, and the final tasting session. Alexandra Galvão and Rita Sancho served a light and wonderfully textured egg salad: the Parus Branco 2009 took top honours. The Encontro 1 Branco 2011 was a worthy second while a Pousio Branco 2012 was the preferred third choice.

Alexandra’s book, as yet untitled, is scheduled for publication in October. (in Portuguese)