Food & Drink

Travel to Portugal without leaving central Pa. with Taste of the World Wine Dinner

Sean Caviston talks about wine to a pair of diners during Taste of the World Wine Dinner Series at the Nittany Lion Inn in March.
Sean Caviston talks about wine to a pair of diners during Taste of the World Wine Dinner Series at the Nittany Lion Inn in March.

Is a trip to Europe for a wine adventure on your bucket list? If so, it is wise to do your homework and get familiar with some of the unusual wine varieties that you may encounter as many more are available there than here in the New World. And if the Iberian Peninsula is on your horizon, there is a local opportunity to tune up your palate before you go. This month’s wine dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn on June 22 will feature the wines of Portugal, with several lesser-known varietals, as well as the eponymous wine long held in high esteem throughout the world.

The Taste of the World Wine Dinner Series at the Nittany Lion Inn is a personalized experience with Sean Caviston, the sommelier for the evening, attending each table and discussing each course and the wine chosen to match the food with the oenophiles at the table. Reservations are staggered throughout the evening to give Caviston time to meet with everyone in the room on a personal level.

A brochure is prepared that supplies the background of the region and provides tasting notes on each wine. Caviston explains, “Our goal is that all guests, whether they have a vast or a limited knowledge of wine, gain information that will make buying, serving, sharing and drinking wine more enjoyable.”

With two wine producing regions protected by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, the Douro Valley and the Pico Island wine regions, Portugal has a long and varied wine tradition with exports dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. An appellation system that ranks the wines was established in 1756 in order to protect the superior wine, namely the Port from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, made from a blend of red castas, or varietals, that typically include tinta barroca, tinta cão, tinta roriz (tempranillo), touriga francesa and touriga nacional.

The official designations of the appellation system include:

▪ Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region or the Portuguese version of that, Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Demarcada. Like the appellation system used in Italy, these wines are labeled Denominação de Origem Controlada. This highest ranking includes the Port wines, the vinhos verdes or white wines, and the alentejo wines of south central Portugal.

▪ Indication of Regulated Provenance ( or Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada), includes wines with more regulations but not in a DOC region.

▪ Vinho regional means a wine is from a specific region in Portugal.

▪ Vinho de mesa names the producer and designates a Portuguese wine of nonspecific origin.

Chef Kirsch McMaster is the sous chef at the Nittany Lion Inn, who was tasked with creating a menu to highlight the disparate and intriguing nature of lesser-known Portuguese wines that are still available within our Pennsylvania state store system. The innovative chef, a winner two years ago at the Boalsburg Golden Basket competition when he wowed the judges with his sous vide guinea fowl dish with grits and poached leeks, McMaster enjoys the challenge even though he hasn’t traveled outside of the United States — yet.

“Most of the recipes that I find are from old cookbooks, or from friends that have been to the area or know someone who has. The internet is a huge help. I always start by looking at what natural resources are available to a region. What is the animal husbandry like? What crops do they grow? What wild game is available? A lot of times I get my ideas from the wine dinner guests; they will often tell me what they want to see at the next wine dinner,” McMaster said.

The dinner menu with wine pairing is a cooperative venture, he explained.

“As far as wine, Sean tells me what varietals are available, I select a few dishes for each grape and we sit down with the wines and pick what we think is the most interesting pair. This is, of course the toughest part of the job,” he said, winking.

The menu for the Portuguese wine dinner includes classic fare perfect for a summer evening in central Pa. The starter will be a Portuguese salad with roasted bell peppers, charred tomatoes and cucumbers that will be served with an arca nova rose. The wine will complement the salad with fresh, young aromas of strawberries and raspberries with an undertone of currant.

This rose has light fizz, which enhances the fresh, bright flavors. Traditional salt cod fritters, bolinho de bacalhau, will follow accompanied by a vinho verde by Falco. This wine is 100 percent arinto grape and is citron-colored with a fresh, fruity fragrance and good acidity. Classic caldo verde is the next course, a potato and chorizo sausage soup with kale. Dou rosa by Quinta de La Rosa, a white wine blend of native varietals is the match here, with rich, citrus flavors and lively finish. Bife à cavalo is the next dish, a piri piri spiced sirloin topped with a fried quail egg served with rice and beans. The name refers to the fact that the egg looks like it is “riding” the steak. A full bodied red wine from Quinta do Crasto’s native Portuguese varieties will complement the hearty dish served with rice and beans. The red blend is deep violet in color with intense berry fruit aromas and floral notes.

The pièce de résistance will be the wine served at the end of the meal with Portuguese cheese and seasonal fruit, a Taylor Fladgate late bottled vintage port. Come and hear all about the story behind the icon from Caviston that evening and enjoy its intense purple color and dark cherry and plum aromas. The wine will carry you on a voyage of discovery to the land of mountains covered with terraced vineyards along the coast where the Douro River empties into the Atlantic at the city of Porto. And you don’t even have to pack a suitcase.

For more information and to make a reservation, call 865-8560. Taste of the World Wine Dinner will take place on June 22 , featuring the wines and cuisine of Portugal. This is a five-course dinner, featuring six wine pours for $85 per person, which includes tax and gratuity.

Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink. com and can be reached at

Bolinho de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters)

Chef Kirsch McMaster shares the recipe he will use for this classic Portuguese dish.

▪ 1 pound salt cod

▪ 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

▪ 1 tablespoon minced onion

▪ 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt

▪ 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

▪ 2 large eggs, separated

▪ Kosher salt

▪ Freshly ground black pepper

▪ 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

▪ 1 cup coarse bread crumb or panko

Cover the salt cod with cold water in a bowl at least four times the volume of the fish, refrigerate and let soak for two days, changing the water every 12 hours. Drain. This is very important or your fish will be too salty to eat.

In a medium pot, cover the salt cod with water and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the fish from the pot, reserving the cooking liquid. Let the salt cod cool till easy to handle, then use your fingers to finely shred it into a large bowl. You may find small bones, just discard these.

Boil the potatoes in the salt cod cooking water until tender; you may need to add more water. Drain the liquid off and discard. Let the potatoes cool then pass them through a potato ricer into the bowl with the salt cod. Stir in the onion, garlic, cilantro and egg yolks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the flour over the salt cod mixture and fold it in. If your mix is too wet, you may add small amounts of flour until you get the right consistency. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks then fold the egg whites into the salt cod. Form the batter into 15-20 balls, about 1-2 ounces each, then roll them in the bread crumbs.

Fry the fritters in 350 degree Fahrenheit oil until golden brown. Serve with lemon, cocktail sauce and tartar sauce.