Posted by: MiltonPires | November 5, 2009

Portugal: the Land that Time Forgot

I found this interesting view of Portugal on “Grapes and Grains” blog:

“From the moment my foot hit the tarmac upon debarking from the plane, I knew I was in a different world.  The warm Portuguese sun hit me square in the face and I had one of those palpable moments in life that you never forget.  I literally felt the sands of time slow down, forcing me to recalibrate to a pace slower and fuller than ever I had encountered.

Portugal marches by its own drum and has stayed true to its rich past while aligning itself with the modern world.  It has taken the slow road, honoring tradition over technology, and it has paid off.

We’ve all heard of fortified Port wine and know it’s highly prized by collectors.  But there has been a groundswell over the last decade.  In a country best known for only one style of wine, a quiet renaissance has been taking place behind the scenes.  Driven by experimentation, a wash of investment from its neighbors and true devotion to the grape, Portuguese winemakers have gotten savvy.  The still wines now being produced can be hypnotically complex and, because they are under-the-radar, with prices that are dirt-cheap…and this is some prized dirt, let me tell you.

At a recent tasting at Aldea Restaurant organized for a group of NY bloggers (shout out to you all), Ryan and Gabriella Opaz and the team from ViniPortugal and Catavino poured a selection of wines that ran the gamut from elegant to bold, simple to complex, and reminded us of what a fascinating wine region Portugal is and the trailblazers who are driving its renaissance.

For a 21-year-old exchange student living in England, and far away from Colorado, Portugal was a profound life experience for me.  The people, the culture and the meshing of the sea with everyday life, left me feeling like Americans in their zeal to rush through life had somehow missed the meaning of life.

Portugal is tiny (smaller than the state of Kentucky), yet plays a major player on the world stage, clocking in at 9th place in terms of land planted to vineyard.  And these aren’t just any vineyards.  A lazy hand didn’t come along and plant these; oh no, my friends.  Because of the brutal landscape of steep riverbanks and hillsides composed of granite and schist, vineyard terraces had to be created mostly by hand with hammers and dynamite.  Dirt was hauled up in baskets and narrow terraces were planted with thin rows of vines.  Now that’s love for the grape; especially considering just how damn hot Portugal can be.

In terms of wine regions, there are five main ones, each now producing some tasty wines at incredible value.  Starting north and moving south, look for wines from the Minho, Douro, Dão, Bairrada and Alentejo.

Due to the hot climate, Portuguese wines are full-flavored, often with great complexity and spicy, plummy characteristics.  Mostly a blend of local varieties used to make Port, you’ll find white grapes like Alvarinho and Encruzado, and (just to name a few) reds like Jaén, Bastardo, Aragonez, Baga and Touriga Nacional.

While there, I stayed in Lagos, a backpacker’s destination on the Southern coast.  One afternoon, I found myself transfixed as I watched a lone fisherman with a simple fishing rod casting into fifteen-foot high waves.  To me it seemed so fruitless and I was frustrated just watching him, but he just continued on patiently.  When I returned hours later, he was still there…and with a basket full of fish.  You win again, Portugal.”

Posted by: MiltonPires | November 1, 2009

Distiller – Copper alembic

Following last year’s “Distilling – Alambique” post, this year I made a video of the distilling process.

The distiller is composed of 1 boiler, 2 columns and 2 condensers.

The distiller uses 2 columns simultaneously or on a flip-flop system – while one column is in use the other one is being discharged and reloaded. To facilitate the task of discharging, each column includes a flip-flop axle to turn the column onto its side.

Boiler: The advantage of a copper tubular construction for the boiler is that boiling point is achieved in a shorter period of time. To save on energy the boiler includes a steam chamber. Any excess steam is discharged into this chamber which means that there is no loss of steam should the security valve be activated. Boiler includes all the necessary manometers/indicators to provide the distiller with total control and indications of temperature readings, pressure and water level when distilling. The boiler has a cast iron door.

Column: The boiler generates the steam which travels through the piping into the bottom of the column, where the steam is evenly dispersed by means of a copper steam disperser. Columns may be packed to full capacity as the copper lid includes an internal bowl shaped sieve which will not permit the passage of material into the copper piping, obstructing vapor passage.  However for wine distillation, the column may only be filled up to 50% of its capacity to function correctly.  To facilitate opening and closing of the lid, the column includes a solid brass exterior ring with locking devices and gasket to insure that no pressure is lost. To ease the lifting of the lid (quite heavy) there’s a pulley with a counterweight.

Condenser: The steam rises and enters the copper tubular condenser directly into the copper refining plates located at the top of the condenser. These copper plates will refine the distillate before this enters the tubular condensing tubes. The condenser has a chiller water supply.

This text was adapted from , where you can find more info and photos.

Posted by: MiltonPires | October 12, 2009


The crusher-destemmer is the first machine to be found in the winery and it’s located outside of  it so the grapes can be easily unloaded.

In small wineries like mine, the crusher-destemmer is a small machine placed near or over the “lagar“.

This machine pulls the grapes to the rollers where the berries are crushed, then separates the stalks with beaters revolving within a slotted drum. The crushed berries and juice pass through the slotted drum and are pumped to the “lagar“. The stalks can’t go through the slotted drum so they are rejected on the open side of the drum.

This is the point where I add the metabisulfite to protect the must from oxidation and spoilage.

Posted by: MiltonPires | October 11, 2009


This year I harvested last 27th September. 2009 was a great year without any diseases affecting  the  good  ripening of the grapes.

I harvested 380 kg of Touriga Nacional and 380 kg of Tinta Roriz (“Tempranillo”). I had a 7% global production increase.

Posted by: MiltonPires | September 20, 2009

Lagar was on pause

Lagar has been on pause… Things didn’t go as planned. MLF started but never ended so the wine has 2.0 mg/l of malic acid…

This blog is about a wine from vine to bottle so while I was wondering what to do with it, I didn’t feel motivated to post, so the blog was on pause.

Now that this year “vindima” is scheduled to the next weekend, I’ll restart posting about this 2009 wine while keeping you informed about what is happening to the 2008 wine.

The 2008 wine is now resting in a barrel, well protected with sulphur dioxide, hoping to benefit from the interaction between acidity, tannins and oxygen. I’m planning bottle it in November, by Saint Martin’s day.

It’s an opportunity to taste a no-MLF red wine and see how it evolves during the next months.

After this no-MLF episode I’m reconsidering one of my wine making options. This year I’ll inoculate with MLF bacteria because, as I learned, it’s a big risk to trust on nature only.

Posted by: MiltonPires | May 1, 2009

Leitão da Bairrada

Leitão is the most important gastronomic tradition in Bairrada.

I’ll show you how to prepare and roast a perfect Leitão da Bairrada.

We buy the piglet on the local slaughter house so it comes clean and ready to prepare.

First of all we insert a stainless steel tube from the tail to the mouth and tight it firmly to it with a bit of wire.



Then we rub the pepper sauce inside the thoracic cavity, neck, ears, etc.



The pepper sauce is made of 2 garlic cloves, 50 grs of white pepper, a hand full of salt and 2 spoons of pig fat. In a blender, this mixture is transformed into a paste, until a very smooth texture is achieved.

The piglet is stitched to keep the sauce inside.


The final step is pricking the skin so that bubbles don’t form during roasting.


Now it’s time to heat the oven with some “molhos de vides”.

The right temperature is “measured” by the color of the surface of the bricks. When you set the wood on fire, the interior of the oven blackens. But as the temperature rises, that layer of smoke is burned and the bricks turn white!



To keep a heat source inside the oven the live coal, set aside, is covered with ashes.


The first 20 minutes are the most important because the leitão may burn if the temperature is high.


To have a crispy skin some people use a branch of laurel with white wine to rub the skin, spray it with white wine or even rub it with the fatty pepper sauced.

It takes about 2 hours to roast and it needs to be turned around a few times to have an even roast.


At last, when it is taken out, we make a small hole below to drain the pepper sauce while it is hot and liquid.

It’s ready to eat!


Leitão da Bairrada is paired with red or white sparkling wine! 😉

You can read a nice Leitão da Bairrada “review” at Catavino.

Posted by: MiltonPires | March 25, 2009

“Molhos de vides”

What happens to the vine branches cut of in pruning?


The vine is called “videira” and the cut branches are called “vides”. The “vides” left in the ground after pruning are collected in packages and tied up with a “verga”. These packages of branches – “vides” – are called “molhos de vides”.



The “molhos de vides” are used as fuel to heat up clay brick ovens wich used to bake bread and cook “leitão da Bairrada” or “chanfana”.


I’ll write about “leitão” soon and I’ll explain you how to do it!

Meanwhile you can imagine how succulent it is…


Posted by: MiltonPires | March 18, 2009


In my pruning post and photos you can see that man are carrying wicker at their belts and tying the vines to the training wires with it. In Portuguese wicker is called “verga”.


“Verga” comes from a willow (“vergueiro”) that usually borders the properties and grows mainly on moist soils.


It is harvested once a year, by pruning time, and it is used to tie vines and other trees. It was also used to do baskets. After harvest, the “verga” is sorted by thickness and length: the thinner parts are used to tie and the thicker ones were used in basket making.



Next, “verga” packages are made and kept upright in water, so they can keep their flexibility and allow a proper use.


Posted by: MiltonPires | February 24, 2009


Last weekend the vines were pruned.

I do cane pruning and use the double Guyot training system. In this system, last year productive branches are cut and two last year branches are tied along the bottom wire in opposite directions.

I have never tried to prune so I hire a local team of pruning professionals to do it. In the set of photos below you can see all the steps taken to prune and tie a vine. Next year I’ll try to do it my self! 😉






We tie the vine using a little bit of “verga”, wicker. It’s traditional and the most environmental friendly material. Notice the way it’s done: simple and effective.


Posted by: MiltonPires | February 21, 2009

First Wine Racking

Despite all references to keep the wine sur lies until the end of the malolactic fermentation (MLF), I racked it.

This year’s winter has been a very cold one so the MLF got delayed as you know.

Now that we are approaching Spring and temperatures are rising I became concerned about the wine being on heavy lees and the effect of that on the aroma. Besides that, cold temperatures also do tartaric stabilization, by crystallization and sedimentation of potassium bitartrate. Tartaric stabilization is needed to avoid the formation of crystals of potassium bitartrate and color deposition on the bottle.

A document from ICV on MLF ( says that it’s now known that malolactic bacteria are micro-aerophilic, meaning that they take “advantage of small quantities of dissolved oxygen for its development and activity”, favoring MLF and aromatic neatness. They recommend at least 2 rackings following alcoholic fermentation; only part of the yeast is eliminated so this racking are not incompatible with sur lies aging. This is true to the post alcoholic fermentation period but what about some months after, even tough the wine is still over heavy lees?

I decided to test it and rack the wine last weekend, intending to favor a full MLF start by taking advantage of the temperature rise and oxygenation by racking. To avoid racking a clear wine I stirred it a few days before so only heavy lees would settle while fine lees would be in suspension. I also only stopped the rack after some lees have been racked.

To minimize the wine oxygen uptake, I took some precautions to avoid turbulence, as you can see in the photos:





Considering last free SO2 lab results (10 mg/l) I added 22 ml of 6% SO2 solution to control oxidation and keep the wine again with some degree of protection against spoilage. The calculations were made to raise the free SO2 content to 15 mg/l.

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