Let’s Get Drunk!


(Only kidding. Excerpt from ‘The Sleeping Madonna’)

Early the next morning, Rui and I drove back to the Quinta da Roseira to take care of the further production of our Port wine.

During the two days of our absence the must had been fermenting on the skins of the grapes. To add flavour and give it a warm and deep ruby-red colour.

Fermentation had reached the right level and it was now time for the delicate process of adding measures of seventy-seven percent alcohol to the must.

“To stop fermentation,” explained Fernam. “Our Porto would never be as good as it is without this grape spirit, which has no taste and – here, smell it, Dona Ana – also no aroma.”

“It would just be a coarse dry wine,” added Rui, “but we also add the alcohol to give the aroma a good kick in the ass.”

He turned to Fernam. “The Dona Ana Rosa understands everything better when you talk like a trooper,” he said and adroitly avoided the kick in the ass I aimed at him.

Sounding like a couple of schoolteachers, the two men took turns in explaining how the strong spirit releases the wine’s flavour and boosts the alcohol percentage to nineteen and even twenty percent.

“The yeast dies when we add the spirit.”

“What yeast?”

“Of the fermented must,” sighed Fernam and shook his head at so much ignorance.

“She’ll learn, Fernam,” Rui defended me. “Or rather, one day she’ll remember. She’s been away too long.”

I looked at him and wondered how come I’d forgotten all I actually did know very well about the making of Port wine. For some strange reason I blocked out everything I’d learned during the many visits Michael and I made to the Quintas of important Port wine producers.

“When the yeast dies, about half the grape sugar has turned into alcohol,” Fernam continued, “and it’s the remaining sugar that gives Porto its sweet taste, Dona Ana.”

“I look forward to tasting our own wine,” I said, proud to have taken part in the production of this lot. I put my arm around Rui and rubbed my head against his shoulder.

“Our very own Porto,” I said, but the two men shook their wise heads.

“You’ll taste it in five, ten, maybe forty years, my love. It’s up to the cellar-master in Vila Nova da Gaia,” said Rui.

“What the hell does he have to do with our wine?” I asked irritably, forgetting that only one year ago, one of those cellar-masters had been a close friend of Michael. Rui laughed.

“Everything. Ai ai, my poor amnesic love. This coming winter the wine stays at the Quinta; in those big barrels over there. In spring, we first ship it to Oporto and then to the cellars of Vila Nova da Gaia. It’s there that the cellar-master takes over and it is he who’s boss. He’ll take care of our wine and taste it and test it and…”

“…change its nappies,” I interjected with a wink. The story of the production of our Porto was very interesting but very long and involved and my mind was not really pointed in that direction at the moment.

My little hint made Rui smile but didn’t stop him from telling me all I already knew but for some idiotic reason did not remember.

“The cellar-master and his team will take care of the wine as if it were a baby and I’m not kidding, Ana Rosa. They have to, because wine can be extremely capricious during its infancy…”

“But eventually grows into a delicious and mature Porto,” I said, “and listen to this one, Rui: it must be stored in oak casks. By law. Ha! True, or not?”

“Bravo. At last something you do remember. I’m sure you also remember that Porto is the result of the very careful blending of at least fifteen wines, don’t you? Some for the colour or the aroma, others for the body, the bouquet or the smoothness.”

“Believe it or not … that part I remember. Hey, Rui, why don’t you keep our wine at the Quinta and let me bathe in it? I’ve got it all, man. Colour, perfume, body and muito, muito smoothness, as you darn well know.”

“Ai ai, Chefe,” lamented Fernam. “This woman won’t only exhaust you, she’ll also drive me crazy.”

“Will the wine ever come back to us?” I wondered, ignoring Fernam’s remark.

“Sure. Some does. Most of it will be bottled and sold, but we bring back a certain quantity and let it age right here at the Quinta and this year…” Rui put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me close. “We must find a special name for this year’s Vintage Porto, Dona Cabral.”

“The Dona Ana Rosa deserves to have a wine named after her,” Fernam volunteered. “Your woman worked like a man, Chefe.”

“Thanks for the compliment, Fernam,” I said. “You’re an emancipated man, my friend. Vintage Porto is called the Lord of the wines, isn’t it? Why don’t we make it the Lady of our wines, eh? Just this once. The Chefe and I will decide what name to give it. In a little while. Let’s say … a few months.”

We left Fernam with an amused look on his face and went inside to have breakfast.


SAUDE! Cheers!


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