They say a good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning. Last week, a glass of wine was my instructor and I was hoping to have a great dinner.
When a beverage inspires you to go grocery shopping, you know you must be on to something good! The wine that sparked my imagination, a 2013 Cartuxa Evora Tinto Colheita, is from Alentejo, one of Portugal’s most respected wine regions. Located in the southern central part of Portugal, an hour and a half drive east of Lisbon, this sunny, hot area produces many excellent, great-value wines. Alentejo is known for its rich, fruit-forward red wines made from native grapes that are high in tannin and acidity; well-balanced wines of great ripeness. White wines, though less common, are appreciated for their floral aromas and bright, fresh flavors.
THE WINERY - The historic Cartuxa winery takes its name from the nearby Cartuxa Monastery, erected in the mid-16th century and still occupied by monks today. It lies just outside the beautiful UNESCO heritage city of Évora and is now run by a local philanthropic foundation, Eugénio de Almeida. Most of the proceeds go towards the preservation and promotion of Évora’s arts, culture and history.
TASTING NOTES - The 2013 Cartuxa Evora Tinto Colheita is a blend of three indigenous grapes: 50% aragonez (aka tempranillo), 20% alicante bouschet, and 20% trincadeira with 10% cabernet sauvignon. A beautiful ruby red color, it has inviting aromas of ripe red fruits (cherries, plums and stewed raspberries), along with iron-like mineral notes, yet the fruit is restrained on the palate. This medium to full-bodied wine is refreshing and complex with spicy, peppery notes and dusty tannins. Each sip leaves you wanting more and will inspire your own trip to the grocery store. You can find the wine ($25) at wine-searcher.com.
THE RECIPE - The wine’s unexpected, yet welcomed, lesson culminated in a simple and hearty Sopa de Tomate à Alentejana, an Alentejo-style tomato and egg soup. The recipe is easy to follow and uses ingredients that are typical of Alentejo’s agriculturally rich area.
As they say in Portugal, Bom Apetite!
SOPA DE TOMATE À ALENTEJANA
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 ripe beef tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 lb can of diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen diced, fire-roasted organic tomatoes)
1 & 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 to 3 cups water (depending on how thick and chunky you want the soup to be. Start with 2 cups).
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces, optional
4 organic eggs
Slices of Portuguese bread, toasted
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or mint (or whatever herb you like)
1/2 cup grated semi-hard sheeps milk cheese like Portuguese Évora, Spanish Manchego or Italian Pecorino
1) Heat olive oil over medium low heat in a deep pot. Add onion, bell pepper and bay leaves and sauté, stirring frequently until beginning to turn golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
2) Add tomatoes and potatoes, if using, to the pot. Add sugar, tomato paste, salt and pepper and stir again. Stir the mixture regularly, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Keep doing this until the tomatoes are broken down, about 8 to 10 minutes.
3) Add the water and bring to a boil. Taste and add salt, pepper, sugar, if needed. Remove the bay leaves. Simmer until potatoes are soft, another 8 to 10 minutes.
4) Choose either of two options: A) crack each egg into a different area of the soup so the eggs aren’t touching each other, or B) crack the eggs, one at a time, into the soup and stir quickly so they turn into cooked egg strings. Option A results in whole, poached eggs. Option B gives a more uniform texture to the soup with strands of poached egg.
5) Place bread on each soup plate and pour soup over it. If you kept the eggs whole, place one egg on top of each bowl. Serve hot, sprinkled with cilantro or other herbs and grated cheese if desired.
OTHER ALENTEJO WINES TO TRY (visit wine-searcher.com to find them)
Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco, Vidigueira, 2014, $30. This interesting white wine has floral, citrus (lemon and grapefruit) and savory mineral notes. Soft in texture and with a gentle nuttiness on the finish, it can be enjoyed with cheeses, vegetables and seafood as well as lighter grilled meats like pork or chicken.
Herdade do Rocim Amphora 2014, $21 This wine is made in large amphora clay vessels, an ancient technique on the verge of extinction. (See another Wine Chef pairing of this wine with Sesame Crusted Tuna).
Piteira Tinto de Talha 2014, Alentejo DOC, $23. The Piteira wines have a complex flavor profile gained from artisanal production methods and the use of clay amphoras.
Malhadinha Nova Monte da Peceguina Tinto 2015, Vinho Regional Alentejano, $19. Travelers take note: on the property of this winery is a beautiful family-run hotel with a spa and an acclaimed restaurant.
Esporão Reserva Tinto 2014, $25. This iconic Alentejo winery has won many awards for its wine and for its sustainable production methods.
Jose Maria da Fonseca Jose de Sousa 2016, $14. Awarded 93 points by the Wine Enthusiast, this fruity and balanced wine with soft tannins was fermented in both clay vessels and stainless steel tanks.