Wine lovers are in for a treat in Portugal. The country’s geographical position, agreeable climate and contrasting landscape make it ideal for cultivating a huge variety of indigenous grapes, nurtured in lush vineyards that embroider the length and breadth of the nation. Indeed, Portuguese wine is one of the great rewards for the visitor to this fascinating land.
In Lisbon, this most civilised of drinks can be savoured in select wine bars dedicated to showcasing the best reds, whites, ports and more. Uncorking them is fun. Tasting them is a revelation, by the glass or bottle.
Tucked away in the pretty suburb of Belém west of the city centre, this stylish little gem of a bar is run by Nelson and Angelo, two of the most convivial hosts you’re ever likely to meet. “Enoteca” is an Italian word that literally means wine repository and it amazes all just how many different wines – roughly 150 – manage to find a home in this snug vinho bistro. “My philosophy is that if you come to my home, I’ll give you my best wine,” says Nelson. “So, when people come here they are offered the same hospitality.” Both will take the time and effort to suggest a wine to suit the palate or match the mood, advice appreciated by seasoned wine-hunters and novices alike. “I want guests to learn more about wine,” says Nelson. “Understanding what you are drinking adds to the experience. (By the way, Enoteca de Belém has its own label, Travessa da Ermida, a rich, earthy red made with Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional Portuguese grape varieties.) Complementing the cellar is a kitchen that conjures up delicious tapas-style nibbles, or more substantial plates such as duck confit with sweet potato.
Without doubt the most amazingly conceived wine bar in Lisbon, if not Portugal, Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho is built into an 18th-century cistern, or chafariz, part of the water system of the Águas Livres Aquaduct. One of the underground tunnels that used to channel water is now the cellar. The main chamber has been turned into a dining area, with tables on two levels. The ancient block stone walls help add character to this wholly unique setting, which is disarmingly romantic. Celebrated Portuguese wine writer João Paulo Martins and Manfred Kleinhans, a native of Germany, run the place. “This is somewhere to taste fine wine and enjoy good conversation,” notes Manfred. “João has designed a [wine] list that will appeal to the connoisseur as well as the tourist.” Around 300 different labels, including rare Madeira and port, are stored at the chafariz, a building classified as a national monument. A special menu degustation offers eight wines for the serious enthusiast to sample; another lists an accompanying range of petiscos – delicious savoury snacks.
A refined and dignified air pervades this hallowed institution. More a lounge than bar, Solar do Vinho do Porto is set within the refurbished 18th-century Ludovico Palace, at the top of the Elevador da Glória. The smart, wood-beamed venue is lined with an absolutely outstanding selection of port, the best in Lisbon. Ruby, Tawny, White Port and Rosé… it’s all here in glorious deep purple, pale yellow, straw and golden white hues. Ask for it sweet, very sweet, semi-dry or extra dry. Whatever you choose, linger and enjoy some of the most famous wine in the world.
Wine and art, a centuries-old union, is the theme of this whacky and offbeat bar in the city’s Principe Real district. Daubed in wonderfully rich colours and embellished with display cases filled with original 17th-century decorative tiles (azulejos) and 200-year-old gilded wood carvings, Arte e Vinhos combines Maria do Rosário Azevedo’s love of antique art with her passion for fine wine. “Here I can enjoy both,” she says. The artwork, which also numbers beautiful Indian and African tribal masks, competes with an equally select and creative wine list. Included are rare treats like a Barca Velha 2000. “Sometimes I sell a bottle,” reveals Rosário with a smile. For the most part however, it’s wine by the glass and tasty snacks at this super friendly and attractive venue.
Incidentally, for those who fancy a little retail therapy with their wine, pop into Grapes & Spices on Rua do Alecrim and enjoy a glass or two while browsing a fabulous range of gourmet goodies, anything from sweet fig pickle to Italian chocolate. And remember to ask proprietor Ana Santiago why the limited edition Bafarela 17 Grand Reserva 2009 is so special.