The Bairrada region is known for its suckling pig, the Baga wine variety and for the sparkling wines. That is already plenty enough, but there is more!
In the dark and damp halls of São João Cellars, founded in Anadia in 1920, the house’s sparkling wine bottles slowly age. Here, all sparkling wine is produced according to the traditional Champagne method, using mainly local grape varieties. I visited the winery in the peak of Summer, making coming into the chilly cellars, away from the scorching heat outside, to sample a fresh sparkling brut wine flute under the light of spider web covered lamps, particularly agreeable!
The exact opposite happened at Quinta do Encontro, a 21st century design winery. The whole project of the winery was based on wine – the building itself is shaped like a giant wood barrel, the inner corridors work like a spiral, just like a bottle screw opener, and even the entrance hall fireplace resembles a bottle. Beyond the top level dazzling view over the vineyard (which holds events as well), you will also find a gourmet restaurant, where the dishes are perfectly paired with Encontro sparkling wines.
Halfway between the traditional São João Cellars and the modern Encontro Estate, are theAliança Cellars. I was expecting more dark passage ways and walls covered in sparkling wine bottles, but I was pleasantly surprised by an impressive exhibition of pieces from the Berardo Collection. At Aliança’s Underground Museum, several precious gems and stones from diverse places, sit together with thousand year old fossil from an array of species, statues and African artifacts and pieces by the contemporary Portuguese artist, Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.
No wine trip to the region will be complete without a visit to Bairrada Wine Museum, where you will find one of the largest private collections of screw bottle openers, counting about 1400 items!
In regards to local gastronomy, suckling pig is absolutely unmissable, even more so considering the number of restaurants offering it. I can say, however, that from all the ones I tried, Mugasacomes first! Away from the main road, this restaurant felt more genuine than its counterparts. We were served a fresh, beautifully roasted suckling pig, one of the best I have ever had! But, as stated previously, Bairrada has plenty more to offer. Not far from there, in Aveiro, I went to the seafood house Dory, in Costa Nova, and was rather appeased by all the beautiful fish and seafood I found there.
And, after a day made of cellars and restaurant, a sounds night of sleep is most welcome! I spent the night at the iconic Bussaco Palace Hotel. It is a remarkable building for its history, neo-manueline style and interior décor from last century, secluded by the surroundings woods of Buçaco forest.
The magic of Bussaco Palace goes further than the hotel itself: its wines are a well kept treasure, sitting in the basement of the building. Bussaco wines are well known for being dry and structured but, above all, for their exclusiveness – up until recently, the bottles were sold only to hotel customers. The first bottles were produced in the 1920s, and you will find some of them safely sitting there to this day.
I must confess that Buçaco white wine is my kind of white, dry but smooth, without acidity and usual citrus of the white wines. And I think it’s the perfect pairing for a crunchy Bairrada suckling pig!