Day Seven: Birthday Trip in Post (or Still?) Pandemic Time

In short, it was a day of castles, wine tasting and hiking in rural Alentejo. Early morning, I headed for Marvao – another (arguably) most beautiful Portuguese village. Similarly to Monsanto (see yesterday), Marvao sits on top of the cliff and similarly to Monsanto, there is a medieval (11 th century) castle above the village. What is very different though is the dominating color. Monsanto was “grey-black,” while Marvao’s houses are white-washed. Arriving in the bright sunny morning, roaming coble-stone streets of the village, and climbing to the castle for 360 degree view of the area was an exquisite experience.

The next destination was winery called Monte da Penha. I would say that this is truly one of the best kept secrets in the “sea of Portuguese wineries.” I arrived there without preliminary notice and the only person to greet me was an old lady who was actually leaving. In Portuguese (thanks to Google translator) she told me that the winery is closed, nobody is/will be around and that I should communicate by email in advance. I said “Okey,” went back to the car, but stayed for a few minutes checking email and messages on the phone. And then an old black Mercedes arrived. The grey haired gentleman stepped out and literally run into the yellow mansion where (I assumed) the winery was. I intercepted him and explained that I am visiting from California and would like to taste/purchase some wine. His immediate reply (in very good English) was that he has no time, but “his secretary will deal with me.” And he pointed to a much smaller building on the left side which looked more like a storage. There was a door on the side of this small building, but it was locked. I waited a few minutes, decided to leave and then the same gentleman appeared from the yellow mansion, approached and said “Sorry. I forgot that I told my secretary to stay home this week. Not much business.” As it turned out, this gentleman was Francesco Fino, both the owner of the winery and wine-maker. Until mid 1990s he worked in textile industry in UK, but then returned to his ancestral land, learned how to make wine from his grandfather and eventually inherited family-business. I was invited to yellow mansion which turned out to be his private house (15-20 rooms at least for one person, children grew up, wife died), was guided to his kitchen and he started to open bottles…

His wines were not simply outstanding, but well aged (rather unusual in today’s winemaking business): the vintages available for purchase were as old as 2003.

He opened four bottles which I enjoyed immensely, but…was afraid that they would be too expensive to even consider buying them. Nevertheless I asked somewhat sheepishly for a price list. You won’t believe, but most of them were under 10 Euro (11 $). I bought a few bottles, thanked Francesco for his time and very personal introduction into his wines, and left. I have a feeling though that I will be back. The wines are outstanding. Then I made a stop for late lunch at another locally “famous” winery which has a restaurant. Food was good, but the quality of wine just Ok with prices much higher than at Francesco.

The rest of the day was working out the excesses of good wine and food by hiking Alentejo many beautiful countryside trails. Wild flowers, small roads passing abandoned farm houses, olive trees, the smell of eucalyptus…You got the picture?

And then I came home by the time of sunset and my Alentejo house was waiting for me. Good night.

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