26 Jun Tradition Meets Modernity in Alentejo
In February I had the opportunity to attend a Masterclass on the wines of Alentejo, Portugal led by Evan Goldstein, MS. It was a wildly educational session and we tasted some stellar wines. In the class we got an overview of the Alentejo region, explored the sub-zones, and learned about the leading varieties and classic producers.
Fun Fact: Portugal has the highest per capita consumption of wine in the world. In Portugal, people consume, on average, 54L of wine annually! France is #2 with 51.8L per year and the US is a measly #53 with 10.56L consumed annually. Portugal climate is hot and dry with a long warm summer. Wine production has greatly modernized and production levels have been increasing steadily for the last 13 years.
Alentejo specifically is in the south of Portugal and covers ⅓ of the country. The Romans influenced and developed viticulture and vinification in the area. Wines made in amphora (called talhas de barro in Portugal) have been made continually since the Roman era. No trendy clay use here! In Alentejo, production is mostly red (78.9%), with white making up 19.7%, and rosado 1.4%. The topography is mostly flatlands and rolling hills. And the area gets tons of sunshine (over 3,000 sunshine hours annually).
Alentejo wines are #1 in domestic consumption, but make up only 20% of Portuguese wine exports. Alentejo is one of the largest suppliers of cork in the world. 49.6% of the world’s cork come from Portugal. And 84% of Portuguese cork output comes from Alentejo.
There are many grapes indigenous to this area, including: Arinto (w), Antao Vaz (w), Roupeiro (w), Trincadeira (r), Aragonez (r), and Alicante Bouschet (r). Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz at the end!
Here are notes on the wines tasted:
2014 Herdade do Rocim Espumante Brut Rose Vidigueira 12.5% ABV
This wine is 100% Touriga Nacional. The wine is made in the traditional method and no dosage is added (the style is called nature). This wine was amazing. Lots of nice leesy and yogurt notes. Red fruit. Overall there are not many bubbles in Alentejo, so this was a treat!
2015 Rui Reguinga Terrenus Reserva Branco Portalegre 13.2% ABV
This wine is a field blend, which means that several varieties are planted together in one vineyard. The grapes are then picked and vinified together. Bottles generally will not list the percentage per variety, since they aren’t sure. Fun fact: In 2017 this vineyard started to be tended biodynamically. This wine has a bright lemon color, sharp acidity on the tongue, with notes of citrus (lemon zest), green fruit (green apple), and tropical fruit (pineapple). This wine has an insane texture; almost chewy.
2016 Luis Duarte Rubrica Branco Reguengos 14.5% ABV
This wine has a bright yellow color. Notes of citrus (lime rind) with a tropical note. The wine is herbaceous, even a bit green with some savory/oxidative notes, such as almond skin.
2013 Susana Esteban Procura Tinto Portalegre 14.4% ABV
This wine is 55% Alicante Bouschet and the rest is a field blend. It has a purple, inky color. It is a bright, fresh wine with good acidity. Aroma characteristics include red fruit (raspberry and plum), floral (rose petals), spice (pepper, garrigue-sage/thyme). The tannins are medium and drying.
2013 Joao Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva Tinto Borba 14% ABV
Evan described this winemaker as an unabashed modernist. This wine has a nice earthiness with a green note that I think comes from the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.
2011 Mouchao Tinto Borba 14% ABV
This wine is 70% Alicante Bouschet plus some Trincaidera. This is a very traditional wine. It is their current vintage as Alicante Bouschet needs time before it is ready to drink. Fun fact: the estate is mostly a cork forest! This wine will be able to age for decades. A very deep ruby color, almost black. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a raisined/pruned note. On the palate, the notes are mostly primary. It’s a warm/hot climate here, and the fruit is very ripe and juicy. Vanilla notes from the time in oak. Med + to high tannins. Woahhhhh tannins!
2014 Esporao Reserva Tinto Reguengos 14.5% ABV
A contrast to the previous wine. This wine is modern in style. A combination of American & French oak (8 mos aging before release). This is a beautiful wine. Medium ruby in color with purple hues. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a medicinal note. Perhaps eucalyptus? Could be Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend? Also, floral (violets) and vanilla. This is a feminine wine. Very pretty.
2014 Cartuxa Tinto Evora 14.5% ABV
This wine goes through extensive post-fermentation maceration with maturation in both vats and barrels for 12 months. Plus an additional 6 months in bottle before release. Deep purple in color with red and blue fruit on the nose and medium (smooth) tannins. This is a nice, easy to drink red.
2015 Dona Maria Grande Reserva Tinto Borba 14% ABV
This wine spends 1 year in new French oak. A deep, inky, purple color. Ripe black fruit, with some red. A perfumed note plus vanilla.
2015 Cooperativa Granja Amaraleja Moreto Pe-Franco Tinto Granja-Amareleja 14% ABV
This wine is 100% Moreto (which is an old varietal that is being abandoned). This is a grape that is traditionally made in amphora and rarely exported. This is one of the lightest colored wines we tried. An interesting nose (mostly primary) and this wine opened up a bit as I swirled and tasted. Lots and lots of tannins and a slight oxidative nutty note on the back palate.
2015 Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto Albernoa 14.5% ABV
I loved this wine! It has an earthy, forest floor note and black licorice and mocha on the back palate. I want to curl up with this wine in front of a fireplace.
2013 Cortes de Cima Tinto Vidigueira 14% ABV
The wines from this Alentejo sub-region (Vidigueira) are generally approachable and soft. Upon first tasting, my notes say this was the oldest and funkiest wine we tasted tonight. Lots of fun, savory notes. I love it. As I worked through this taste, the wine became a bit more subtle.
In a nutshell, Portugal’s wines are food-friendly and diverse in style with a choice of traditional or modern wines. Also, amphora wines….who doesn’t love that. And Portugal is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world, so it’s a GREAT place to visit.
When you find yourself buying wine at retail, a Portuguese wine has great value to offer. For under $20…..heck for under $15…..you can get some really great wines. Refreshing whites with good acid or deep dark reds that are balanced and fruit forward. Step out of your wine comfort zone and try something from Alentejo….you won’t be disappointed!