[ CELLARS ]
In the cellar at LAB by Sergi Arola
West of Lisbon, the Penha Longa Resort, a luxurious hotel complex set in the heart of the Sintra-Cascais national park, is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants, including the LAB by Sergi Arola.
With Ferran Adrià from El Bulli as one of his mentors, Catalan chef Sergi Arola with the help of Cape Verde’s Vladimir Veiga, has instilled the LAB with an approach to cuisine which aims to combine the ultimate in creativeness with local sourcing.
The head sommelier Igor Costa’s contribution is to bring the wine cellar to life with local wines and all-Portuguese food and wine pairings designed to turn the spotlight on the country’s variety of vineyard sites.
Pairings from the heart
“The minute the chef sets out to create a new dish, I start thinking about the wine. I base the pairings on ingredients in the recipe and the wines I keep in mind. For me, wine is not an ingredient that you add at the last minute to put the finishing touch to an experience. It is an essential component”.
A showcase for Portuguese wines
Front of house, most of the tables are turned towards the impressive ageing cellar in glass, filled from floor to ceiling with some 2,000 bottles featuring 500 different labels. The vast majority of them are Portuguese, all of them in limited quantities. In a bid to stray off the well-trodden path, Igor Costa likes to venture into some of the more boutique appellations or smaller estates. This role as an ambassador for Portuguese wines fits him like a glove. “This is how I view my mission – to seek out and introduce people to winegrowers who do an amazing job but struggle to make a name for themselves due to very small productions or for being recent players in the wine world”.
Seeing and drinking local
Igor Costa’s determination means that all the food and wine pairings can now be entirely orchestrated with Portuguese wines. “I have bought into the restaurant’s motto which is experimentation and providing the opportunity to taste something different. This year, the chef added to the menu a dish based on scarlet shrimps – these are similar to king prawns. It was a real challenge, not because of the shellfish but because of the beetroot and vanilla sides which scuppered my initial ideas. So I turned to a wine by Herdade Grande matured in amphora in the Alentejo region. It is a limited edition wine with just 1,500 bottles”.
Islands in the sun
Portugal may be a small country, it has a great range of elevations, climates and vineyard sites. In the North, for example, the mountainous region of Dão produces distinctive elegant, soft red wines that are often overshadowed by their more illustrious neighbours in the Douro Valley. Igor Costa’s favourite picks, however, stray away from the coastline. “The Portuguese islands produce some of the finest white wines I know. On Pico, the largest island in the Azores, winegrowers have to contend with the sea breezes and salt which burns the vines. Despite this, they continue to grow vines because they know it’s worth it. And their wines are impossible to find outside Portugal”.
Prolong the experience
Discover the profiles of creative and influential personalities explaining their relationship with wine, the secrets of sommeliers or legendary establishments.
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