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Issue date: August 25, 2000

A taste of Portugal at Sousa's Wines and Liquors A taste of Portugal at Sousa's Wines and Liquors (August 25, 2000)

Specialty store revitalizes old site on Moffett Boulevard

Alberto and Maria Sousa, shown here (from left) with their children Angela, 12, Malicia, 5, and Paulo, 1-1/2, hope to introduce Portuguese wine and food to a wide audience and serve the 100,000 Portuguese immigrants in the Santa Clara Valley.

By Leslie K. Martin

Sousa's Wines and Liquors has been open just 10 months, but Alberto, 37, and his wife Maria, 31, hope to make a lasting impression in the neighborhood.

The couple, both Portuguese immigrants, enjoy introducing customers to the foods and wines of their native country, and they stock a large selection of products from Portugal.

The shop, on Moffett Boulevard in Mountain View, is bright, spacious, and clean--a far cry from the condition in which the Sousas first saw it. Formerly Gil's Liquors, it was rundown and dirty, Alberto recalled, and he and Maria were concerned that the number of transients in the neighborhood might scare off customers.

They took a chance, however, bought the store, and cleaned it up. Alberto installed new security cameras, a monitor, and a 24-hour VCR. Two people work the evening shift until 11 on weekdays, midnight on weekends.

The Sousas are happy with their new business and are working to build customer loyalty. Patrons appreciate the couple's friendliness and knowledge of their stock, which they readily share.

Alberto said most people don't know there are about 100,000 Portuguese immigrants in the Santa Clara Valley.

When he moved to Fremont in 1979, he couldn't find a store offering Portuguese products, so it seemed a natural market for him to target. The couple advertises through a Portuguese radio station, and the approach has brought a good response as the shop builds its credentials as a specialty store.

Alberto handpicks his selection of wines, brandies and liquors. His Portuguese wine labels alone number between 70 and 80.

According to Alberto, Portuguese wines are inexpensive compared to California wines. His California stock ranges from $3.99 to $95 a bottle, while the most expensive Portuguese wine he carries costs about 12.99, yet he argues that they are comparable products. Alberto believes customers make a mistake if they assume the lower price means the wine is of lesser quality.

"The dollar is very strong in Portugal," Alberto said. "We can buy very low there, turn the wine around, make a nice profit, and still price the bottles reasonably."

The Sousas have found that once customers try a Portuguese wine, they return for more.

Alberto points to a popular summer wine, Vino Verde, or green wine. With an alcohol content of 9 percent, which is considered low, the wine has a light, crisp flavor when chilled and goes well with fish, poultry, and other light foods.

According to Alberto, it's difficult to compare the red wines of Portugal and California. California vintners usually add berries or fruit to the grape, while Portuguese wines tend to be a little heavier, with the flavor coming strictly from the chosen grapes and the type of wood used to make the barrel, usually oak.

Portugal is famous for its port wines (they range from $7.99 to $69) and Sousa's has 20 kinds, including Sandeman, Graham's, Porto Pocas, and Porto Souza. The variety will increase toward Christmas because port is a popular gift item.

Madeira Wine, made on Madeira Island, where Alberto was born, is another "very good wine" that Alberto said most people don't know about; those who do have usually tried it while vacationing on the island.

"Used as an after-dinner wine, it's a sweet wine, not as heavy as the port. Of course, there is a sweet Madeira, and a dry one," he said.

Sousa's also stocks champagne, tequilas (try Cazadores, made from the Degave cactus), and about 60 kinds of beer, including microbrews. Portuguese beers include Super Bock from Maria's birthplace of San Miguel Island, and the best-selling Sagres.

Other specialties include a pineapple liqueur and Anis Escarchad, a sweet licorice liqueur with glistening branches of crystallized sugar.

In addition to wines, Sousa's specializes in Portuguese foods.

Portugal is known for its variety of fish, and Sousa's has canned sardines, codfish, mackerel, and tuna (whole chunk, not shredded).

The store also carries bacalhau, whole, dried codfish. "I don't think you could find this in too many places," he said, holding up a piece. The codfish must be soaked for two days because it's salted, and it can be eaten as is or used in a variety of recipes. A quick 20-minute meal is boiled codfish with potatoes and cabbage, served with a olive-oil vinaigrette dressing.

There is also pao doce, a tasty Portuguese sweet bread traditionally given free to the poor. The sweet bread and paposecos (French rolls) arrive fresh from a bakery in Hayward.

Other treats include green brine and black olives, and olive oil, which are staples in Portuguese cuisine, as are many kinds of linguica, a Portuguese sausage typically made with garlic; lupini beans, either uncooked or dried and ready for snacking; and many cheeses, including the strong Lareto and the sharp Queijo Sano Jorge.

The Sousas have also included Brazilian food stuffs such as specialty flours and Sonho de Valsa, cocoa-filled chocolates.

"I'm trying, as people come in, to introduce a Portuguese wine or maybe a loaf of fresh bread. I'd like to see my culture continue on," Alberto said. "I'd like to introduce the world to Portugal."

He must be doing something right. Alberto said the neighboring store owner has now tried every food item in the store.

Sousa's Wines and Liquors 400 Moffet Blvd., in Moffett Plaza, between Middlefield Road & Central Expressway. Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to midnight, Saturdays and Sundays. (650) 967-4461. Leslie Martin is a writer who covers Silicon Valley business and can be reached at: LMARTIN@AOL.COM/. 


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