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Blog: Facing the Book on Wine

Posted: Monday, 17 September 2012 13:08

Blog: Facing the Book on Wine

September 17 : Facebook and other social media are big communication media and are here to stay despite their intrusion and interference in daily routine, but thanks to Facebook which I use infrequently to stay in touch with my friends across the globe, I was able to connect with a couple of interesting producers and Facebook wine friends near Lisbon during my recent trip to Portugal.

Click For Large ViewAsk anyone about the benefits of social media like Facebook and they will tell you several positives (unless they invested in the IPO!). In fact, you would sound foolish if you are not Facebook savvy or have not joined several user groups or don’t appear in the FB regularly. There are even songs featured on TV on what it can do for you. Ask me and I would tell you all about the intrusions and interferences, requests and favours that start the moment I accept someone as a friend.

But there are subtle and some obvious benefits that I was able to enjoy because of Facebook and I must start by thanking Mark Zuckerberg for the ‘invention of the decade’ that makes us keep in touch with friends and foes alike throughout the globe, at the touch of a few buttons. I am sure he could quickly give me a Masterclass on how to avoid the traps of apps, and various other pitfalls that are such a waste of time for me and I keep on getting stuck but manage to come out by hit and trial.

André  Magalhaens is a Portuguese food writer who is also a very good wine taster and has been a recognized fellow judge at Concours Mondial Bruxelles where I exchanged business cards with him in Luxemburg last year and barely managed to say hello in May this year at the competition held in his country in Guimarāes, near Porto.

I don’t remember ever meeting Carrie Jorgenson who I met supposedly 3 years ago when she came to India to represent her wine estate, Cortes de Cima in Alentejo. I had worked with Vini Portugal on that occasion and presented wines from 18 producers who had come to Delhi, Mumbai (and Goa where I could not join them due to previous commitments).

Click For Large ViewAndré and Carrie are my Facebook friends who responded to my post a couple of months ago when I decided to go to Portugal for a few days and had a couple of spare days which I wanted to use to meet some wine friends or visit their wineries. Both of them instantly invited me and offered to pick me up at Lisbon airport and drop me back. Very ambitiously, I agreed to visit both until I realised that Carrie lives in Vidigueira in Alentejo - one of the fastest upcoming wine regions of Portugal, a couple of hours away from Lisbon in the South of Lisbon.

André and Quinta da Lapa

Andre lives in Lisbon but his partner Silvia Canas da Costa runs a wine estate and guest house in Tejo, about 30 minutes from the airport but in the opposite direction. She is an architect and interior decorator by profession. Starting out as a help to her father who owns the historical estate and other agricultural farms in the wine region Tejo (formerly known as Ribatejo but the name changed to DO Tejo a couple of years ago to simplify for export), she now looks after the winery. She also used her architectural talents to convert part of the estate into a beautiful oasis away from the city, with 11 rooms - each room having modern comforts in the rustic Portuguese settings of almost 275 years; it was founded in 1733. With full facilities for banquets and conferences and a modern restaurant kitchen attached to it, the venue is a perfect getaway spot only 30 minutes north of Lisbon for parties, weddings and conferences etc. Andre and Silvia picked me up from the Lisbon airport (the flight was expected to reach at 9:40 pm but it arrived late enough for me to come out of the airport at around 1 am, thanks to TAP - their national carrier).

The guest house which is relatively new (we like to move ahead slowly, she says) is full of artifacts and gives you the look of a beautiful Goan home of yester years. That’s no surprise because Silvia explained that the owner of the property used to travel to Goa and had once been the governor of Goa. She has kept the basic structure and exteriors intact and used modern gadgets, furniture, flat TVs etc. Extremely attractively priced, the place offers a  quality and luxurious stay and an opportunity to enjoy their complete range of wines.

Quinta da Lapa grows 11 grape varieties including international grapes like Cabernet , Merlot and Syrah and indigenous white grapes like Arinto, Trincadeira das Pratas and the red grapes like Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo-also known as Aragonez in Portugal). They also produce bag-in-the- box wines which I did not find particularly inviting. The prices are low and reasonable for the quality and some of the wines are highly affordable for the Indian market.  But the most delicious wines were the two - Reservas I tasted at the end. One was a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet (35%) and Tinta Roriz while the last wine had an equal proportion of Cabernet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Syrah. Though it is much more expensive than the other wines of the quinta, it was a balanced, spicy wine with a long finish.

Click For Large ViewWe tasted 12 wines in the huge kitchen while Andre was giving finishing touches to the delicious dishes, where we did interesting parings with the 10 bottled wines we tasted.  He used to run the restaurant for the Press Club of Lisbon before he decided it did not give him enough time for writing and tastings outside the city. Now he runs a small rustic restaurant with local foods and wines. It has become so popular that it is not normally possible to find a place in the restaurant without reservation and often one can find ministers waiting in a queue to get a place inside.

Carrie and Cortes de Cima: I had always thought from her Facebook profile that Carrie Jorgensen was a Danish woman settled in Portugal. It was only when I met her and her Danish husband Hans Jorgenson, that I realised that Hans was the Dane of the two-she is a Californian woman who he met while he was in Malaysia working as a big corporate honcho and married her. A very adventurous sportman with yachting and sailing in his blood, they have travelled together to many sites in Portugal where he wanted to settle down

When they  saw Cortes de Cima in 1988 in Alentejo where there is a lot of sun, they decided to buy the  agricultural land. Grapes was not their first produce. They focused on melons which became so popular in the neighbourhood for their flavours, freshness and juiciness that the customers began lining up to pick up the fresh produce as it was harvested. Cortes de Cima became a household name in the neighbourhood…until the arrival of the supermarket chains, that is, said Hans wistfully. Overnight, their business just evaporated. ‘These chains were not interested in the freshness or quality of the fruit in general. They wanted the fruit to look attractive and with a shelf life of a week or even more. '( A point to note with FDI being finally allowed in India ostensibly to help the local farmers-editor

So they decided to  change the crops and moved to grapes. Today, Cortes de Cima is a well-known and established producer fast gaining the status of an iconic producer. Their Incognito that costs over €50 has achieved the cult status and is a 100% Syrah. Interestingly, it was planted in 1991 from rootstocks from South Rhone, when it was illegal in Alentejo, says Carrie. They invited writers like Tim Atkins MW and Oz Clark who gave rave reviews to this wine. Since it was illegal, they decided to sell it as ‘Incognito’. Hans does not mind sharing that he got a call from a minister requesting a case of the ‘illegal’ wine. The rest is history. Shiraz found a lawful place in Alentejo ampelographic space. Today the Jorgensens make 3 variants - an entry level Cortes de Cima Syrah, and the mid ranged ‘Homenagem a Hans Christian Andersen’- a tribute to the well-known Danish writer of the 19th century. This wine is bottled in most vintages unlike the bold, superb Incognito with a delicious long after-taste which is produced only in special years.

Click For Large ViewBesides the quality and the taste of their wines, the labels are very attractive and impressive. They win awards at wine competitions by the dozen. At the recent Concours Mondial de Bruxelles held in Guimarāes, Portugal where I was a judge too, their wines won 4 Gold and 4 Silver medals-surely an enviable feat by any standard.  Cortes de Cima sells a small quantity to the supermarket chains as well. This can be a nightmare, concedes Carrie. It is not easy to deal with the international chains. They squeeze you to death with low margins to start with and then a constant barrage of debit notes on some pretext or the other. ‘We have been slightly lucky because our brand has been popular and customers ask for it when they go to the supermarket. If one does not have an established brand, I think they would find it difficult to deal with them.'

It was nice of Carrie and Hans to come all the way from Alentejo, about 2 hours by car, just to see me and taste their wines. It was equally nice of Andre  and Silvia to pick me up from the airport, put me up for one night at the beautiful, modern ‘agriturismo’, and the exclusive lunch prepared by Chef Andre, bring me to Lisbon and host the dinner for all of us.

So Facebook can’t be all that bad!! Cheers.

Subhash Arora


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