The end of summer and beginning of fall is synonymous with harvest, and in Portugal, it’s the start of the Vindimas, one of the oldest Portuguese traditions, where the grapes are harvested from the vines to produce the year’s wines.
The Vindimas represent a unique time of year in Portugal, being the culmination of almost a year of work – after the pruning in January, the arms start to grow in the spring, and in the summer the grapes acquire their colour, aroma and taste. Between September and October, when the grapes mature, and thus their weight, acidity and colour present the optimal characteristics to produce wine, the Vindimas take place – the grapes are harvested and the production of the wine begins. They are a true staple in Portuguese ethnography and, in the olden days, were accompanied by feasts and celebrations. Today, friends and family still gather for this ritual where, in only a couple of days, they painstakingly take a pair of scissors and a box and harvest the year’s crop.
To immerse guests in this local, centuries-old tradition, the Concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon has partnered with JMF, José Maria da Fonseca, who have been producing wine since 1834, to create a day-trip to their estate, where guests can follow the whole process first-hand, as well as participate in tastings and visit the family’s house-museum, the most beautiful in the region. Tastings include the famous Azeitão cheese and pie, and some of their best wines – the Hexagon and the DSF Colecção Privada Verdelho are some of the highlights. Guests will also be able to take a tour of their breat-taking gardens, as well as the vast vineyards that compose what is one of the largest wine-producing estates in the country, with an area of more than 650 hectares (1,600 acres). All in all, the estate has more than 130 workers, produces more than 10 million litres (2.2 million gallons) of wine per year and exports 80 percent of its production to more 70 countries and manages more than 30 brands.
A visit to this beautiful location is a memorable experience that will take one backstage into the culture of a seventh-generation wine-making family – and one might even end up finding out about some secrets of the trade.
Heading back to Lisbon’s buzzing Chiado district, JMF’s recently-opened By The Wine bar is also a fantastic place to try many of the best Portuguese wines. The 18-metre (60 foot) long counter and more than 3,000 bottles that decorate its ceiling provide the perfect ambience for what is also a great spot for some petiscos (Portuguese tapas). Among the different gastronomical options, one can enjoy Alentejo cheese, Iberian cold cuts, oysters from the Sado region, traditional Portuguese beefsteak sandwich, mussels, salmon ceviche, carpaccio and a selection of different desserts to accompany the Moscatel de Setúbal wines.
These are good times for Portuguese wine: the Vindimas have provided some fantastic wines over the years, and national wines are at an all-time high, and according to Wine Spectator magazine, in 2014 three of the top four wines in the world are Portuguese.
In charge of a list of more than 250 wines at Varanda Restaurant, including some of Portugal’s best, Maître Sommelier Licínio Pedro Carnaz puts some numbers into perspective: in 2015 in Varanda Restaurant, 41 bottles of Chryseia 2011 – the world’s 3rd best wine (according to Wine Spectator magazine) – were consumed, as well as 26 bottles of Quinta do Vale Meão, the world’s 4th best wine – both Portuguese.
He goes on to talk about some of the preferences of the Hotel’s guests: American guests choose their wine based on the grape variety, namely the more renowned pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon varieties for the red wines, and the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay varieties for the white wines. Brazilian guests, on the other hand, ask for top wines such as Pêra Manca from the Alentejo region, and Quinta do Crasto from the Douro region, which are scarce back home.
This is a good time for all things wine-related in Portugal, and September is the best month to make the most out of the Vindimas. Contact the Concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon to arrange a Vindimas experience.