In this episode of Maria’s Portuguese Table, I ventured to the stunning islands of San Jorge and Pico in the Azores.
Pico is a beautiful island located in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. Known as the land of wine, Pico has a rich history of wine production that dates back to the 15th century. The island is dominated by Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, and is often shrouded in cloud cover adding to its mystical and enchanting atmosphere. In addition to wine production, the island has a rich history of whaling, and visitors can explore this heritage at the whale museum in the South Central coastal town of Lajes do Pico. With stunning views, delicious cuisine, and unique cultural offerings, Pico is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the Azores. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
My journey, and this episode, began in Sao Jorge, where I met a charming local named Nelson Ponta Garça, who introduced me to the island’s famous clams and limpets. He and his wife cooked them in a delectable garlic and white wine sauce, just yards from where they were gathered; it was nothing short of a culinary delight. The breathtaking scenery, which featured lush green landscapes and dramatic cliffs plunging into the ocean, combined with the delicious local flavors and warm hospitality of the people, made my time on Sao Jorge truly unforgettable.
Next, I hopped on the ferry to Pico, the land of wine. I had the opportunity to visit the renowned wine Co-op, where I met with knowledgeable winemaker, Antonio . He guided me through a tasting of a variety of wines produced on the island, explaining how the volcanic soil and unique microclimates influenced the flavors. I was amazed by how the same grape could produce such different tastes, depending on where it was grown on the island. The wines I tried were delicious and unique, reflecting the rich history and terroir of Pico.
Update: During the episode I say that the Founding Fathers toasted with wine from Pico, we based our opinion on this quote from Beverage Journal: “When these island wines (Pico)reached their peak production in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, it was Pico’s production that dwarfed that of Madeira. In fact, it is most probable that much of Pico wine was sold as Madeira wine”. Also consider that the American colonies weren’t priorities to London, it’s an easy assumption to think that the “real” Madeiran wine went to England the “Pico” Madeiran went to the Colonists! https://shorturl.at/nHMOW
During my adventures in the Azores, I had the chance to visit the fascinating Whaler’s Museum on Pico Island. The museum’s exhibits shed light on the area’s rich history of whaling and the evolution of the industry. The displays showcased an impressive collection of whaling artifacts, including tools, photographs, and meticulously crafted scrimshaw art. The museum also highlighted the shift from whaling to whale watching, emphasizing the Azores’ dedication to conservation and sustainable tourism. My visit to the Whale Museum was an educational and thought-provoking experience that deepened my appreciation for the Azorean culture and its connection to the ocean.
As I continued to explore Pico, I wandered through the island’s UNESCO World Heritage vineyards. The vineyards were surrounded by a surreal basalt rock landscape, with intricate, carefully constructed stone walls protecting the vines from harsh winds and salty ocean sprays. The otherworldly beauty of the vineyards, combined with the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore, left me feeling both captivated and at peace.
During my time on Pico, I met Fortunato Garcia, a passionate local winemaker who shared the process of creating the rare and sought-after Czar wine. Produced from grapes left to dry on the vine, this wine has a rich and distinct flavor, with notes of dried fruit and a honeyed sweetness. Fortunato shared the story behind the wine, explaining how it was once enjoyed by Russian Czars and European nobility. I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to taste this extraordinary wine and learn about the passion and dedication of the winemakers on Pico. My journey through the Azores, filled with unforgettable experiences, tastes, and encounters with wonderful people, was a true testament to the beauty and magic of these islands.