PONCHA DA MADEIRA
Let’s head to the Island of Madeira for our first Portuguese drink. Besides its famous fortified wine, Madeira is known for Poncha, one of those deceivingly sweet drinks that seems to go down so smoothly, you almost forget you are drinking something alcohol-laden until you start feeling the effects shortly afterwards.
The origins of Poncha are a bit obscure but they seem to date back to the 16th century when sailors drank it to avoid getting scurvy.
Poncha is made with Madeira rum, distilled from sugar cane juice. It is sweetened with sugar or honey and flavoured with citrus juice for a zesty finish. It’s definitely delicious, but also strong, and a must-try for anyone who loves some serious tipple!
Today you’ll find several variants of Poncha, some using vodka and passion fruit juice.
If you can’t go to the Island of Madeira any time soon, here is an authentic recipe so you can make it at home:
Ingredients for 2
- fresh juice of 1 big orange
- fresh juice of 1 big lemon (or 2 limes)
- 3 tsps honey
- 40cl white rum
- 40cl still water
Be warned, it’s quite potent so don’t plan on driving anywhere afterwards!
Let’s go on to the country’s smallest wine region, a few kilometers from Lisbon, where grapes only grow in the territories of the municipalities of Oeiras and Cascais. This is the birthplace of Carcavelos, an internationally-recognised high quality Portuguese fortified wine, which rightfully belongs to the country’s quartet of dessert wines. It is also a very special wine because it is produced in small quantities – only 25 hectares of vineyards are available to the producers.
Although it is a Portuguese liqueur wine, Carcavelos was first made by an Irishman in the 14th century. Sir Paul George, a merchant living in the area, thought that he would make some changes to the characteristics of the local wine as his British customers tended to prefer stronger drinks. However, the peak of the production of Carcavelos wines was not reached until the 18th century, when Marquês de Pombal, the first count of Oeiras, started making the drink in the cellar of his local palace. By the end of the century, Carcavelos had already become a prestigious drink of the European elite.
This wine is basically made from three types of white grapes, and only rarely are red grapes added to the mix.
On average, the wine spends seven to ten years in oak barrels. It is then aged in the bottle for another six months before being released on the market. It is a velvety wine with unique properties that is best enjoyed at room temperature or chilled.
Carcavelos is regarded as one of the best Portuguese aperitifs but is also highly regarded in the world of cocktails, where it can be boldly combined with other aromas, flavours and textures.
It goes well with delicacies typical of Portuguese cuisine, such as the Christmas cake, Bolo Rei, or the famous monastery cakes, which are traditionally made with egg cream (Pastel de Nata). It is an excellent choice for cured cheeses, dried fruits, and any nut-based dessert, or simply as a snack, or digestive after coffee.
As it is produced in small quantities, Carcavelos is not easy to obtain, but it can be ordered online from some Portuguese wine stores. However, be prepared that it is ceryainly not one of the cheapest wines.
LATE HARVESTED WINES
Portugal has a number of different sweet wines from the long-established Port to Moscatel de Setúbal, but the youngest of the sweet wines is the late harvested one, which is typically a dessert wine known for its sweetness and lush nectar-like flavours.
This wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine to dry in the sun to remove the moisture, turning them into raisins. This process encourages various chemical reactions that modify acidity and sugar levels, so aromas of honey, flowers and tangerines rapidly start to intensify in the grapes and get improve further during the vinification process, creating sweet long aromatic wines.
Based on how they are produced, late harvest wines can be broadly categorised into three types:
- Noble rot wines are made with overripe grapes affected by the botrytis cinerea fungus. Some of the most famous noble rot wines include Sauternes (Bordeaux, France), Tokaji (Hungary) and Spätlese (Germany).
- Ice wine is a specialty wine made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vines, which saturates the sugar level and other polyphenol compounds. Upon harvest, the grapes are de-stemmed and pressed while still frozen. This style of wine originated in Germany and is popular in colder wine regions like Canada and Austria.
- Raisin wine is usually made with Moscato grapes in Italy. The good news is that sweet wine enthusiasts can find late-harvested wines in Portugal as well. If you want to taste this unique drink, head to the online shop of Quinta do Barranco Longo. quintadobarrancolongo.com/pt/tipos-de-vinhos/vinhos-premium/ko-late-harvest/ko-late-harvest
This wine provides a great gastronomic experience, as a perfect aperitive (with cheese, for example), and with desserts, or even with oriental food.
Beer is like a common language everywhere you go, and Portugal is no exception. In mainland Portugal, you normally drink either Super Bock or Sagres depending on where you come from – Super Bock is made in the North while Sagres is very much of the South.
But Portugal also has a growing craft beer scene, particularly around Porto, although it’s becoming increasingly popular across the country. Over the past few years, ‘Cerveja Artesanal’ has been in demand in bars and restaurants. Many of these beers are produced by small companies and several brands pride themselves on making natural beers, free from preservatives or colourings.
There are so many brands and varieties that it would be impossible to cover them all here. But let me draw your attention to the fact that craft beers are already produced in the Algarve as well. One such producer is the famous Quinta de Santos winery in Estômbar, where there is a beer tour, for which you need to book in advance. Then there is the Senescal Brewery in Castro Marim – senescal.pt – and Algarve Rock Brewery on the industrial estate off the EN125, just west of Faro.
And finally, let me stay in the Algarve and offer you a glass of almond liqueur, a traditional Portuguese speciality with a distinct and sweet personality. Made from first-grade almonds sourced in the Algarve region, this light, mildly-flavoured liqueur is commonly known as amêndoa amarga or amarguinha.
An excellent digestive, and a great alternative to Port wine, it is the perfect partner to a dessert, and in summer it is popular with a little lemon juice and ice.
Words: Lívia Mokri