What do you get if you cross a Danish woman, a Dutch man and a Lisboa based Portuguese vineyard? As it turns out, you get a lovely evening of drinking in knowledge and, all importantly, wine.
When an artist friend of mine sent me an SMS last week, asking me if I felt like an excellent quality wine tasting event, with local wines and handmade nibbles for only 15 euros, I could barely type the word “yes” fast enough on my keyboard. So, with the week winding down and Friday petering out gently, I found myself wandering down a dimly lit Rua dos Taipas in Principe Real to Robertine. As soon as you walk in there’s a very unique atmosphere. Set in an absolutely typical Lisbon building, but with entirely atypical decor, Robertine is a ‘concept café’. Run by a long time private tour guide and agent from Denmark called Tine and her fella, a Dutchman with a passion for wine and for Lisbon called Robert, the place is laid out with gentle mood lighting, a rack of interesting handmade designer clothing, and pewter pieces of a variety of kinds, which are hand made and for sale. I arrived, by chance, at the exact same moment as my friend and the rest of our wine tasting group and we were swiftly welcomed in and presented with a glass of vinho verde and some cheesy biscuits. They began by telling us all about the place, their story – how they came to be in Lisbon – and also about the meaning of vinho verde. Being as I am something of a wine philistine, I always thought that vinho verde took its name from an inaccurate description of its colour. The reality is that the name comes from the other sense of “greenness” – the wine is very young. The one we started with was lightly sparkling and a cold, refreshing welcome to the evening. As we drank it, we got to know each other a little bit and they explained to us that Tine’s family had run a shop in Copenhagen for a long time, selling handmade pewter. A lot of this had come from Portugal. Now that they were here, they were keen to continue selling it. They’d also struck up a relationship with a winery which had been in operation in the Lisboa region for decades, and always within the same family. With their experience as tour guides, they had started the café as a start and end point for city walking tours and the wine was an excellent way to bring this important part of Portuguese culture to their guests. The wine tasting as a stand alone event had spawned from that.
With the background talk finished and the vinho verde drunk, it was time to move up to the bar and to start the ‘real’ wine tasting. We moved around to the bar and 3 reds were presented. They remained corked, something a bit unusual for red wine, as it needs to be oxygenated to get the best flavour from it. This was, of course, a deliberate tactic. Robert produced a pewter piece, that looked like a funnel with a twisted spout. I don’t think any of us had any idea what it was. First, we were all invited to try a small amount of wine immediately after it was poured. We all agreed it was OK, but the flavour was not very interesting, and it had a harsh, acidic feeling as you swallowed. So far, not so good. Then the wine was poured into a decanter, through the strange pewter funnel. As he started pouring, Robert explained to us that it was a custom design, with a twisted spout to create pressure as the wine flowed through it. At the base, there were a number of small holes for the wine to flow through, to fully aerate it and it created quite a show.
We couldn’t fail to be impressed. And this only increased when we tasted the newly oxygenated wine and a whole spectrum of aromas and flavours had replaced the blandness, harshness of earlier. I made a note to treat myself to one of these devices in future. The wine was accompanied by some delicious snacks, more information and pictures connected with the winery and the tour guiding business and, after 2 more glasses of excellent vinho, it was time to leave.
So, if you’re looking for a place to taste great wine, to have a first time tour of the city, or even to buy some Portuguese pewter or one off Danish designer clothes, you can do a lot worse than stop off here.