Poring over the Wines of Portugal-Alentejo

{These wines were provided as media samples. No other compensation. Thoughts, opinions are my own.}

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A typical party question which allows you to ascertain a great deal from the answer. For those posing the question, the answer provides insight. How adventurous is this person? What do they value? How can we connect? For those answering the question, it requires a gut-reaction, a quick decision. Or the chance to share an untold dream, a life goal.

Two years ago I attended a lunch hosted by Wines of Portugal. We sampled twelve wines from five regions with fare that ranged from rustic to refined. I was so impressed by the event that I found myself tongue-tied. Every time I would sit down to write about the lunch, I stumbled, trying to capture the essence of such diversity. Not only was I trying to report on a lunch, I was trying to convey my reasons why Portugal is at the top of my bucket list.

At the end of last year, I received samples from one of the regions, Alentejo. In sampling them, I realized that I needed to step back and reevaluate my approach. I wouldn’t try to encompass all the wine of California in one article and I couldn’t do that for Portugal. Instead, I needed to dig deeper into each region.The region is about the size of Massachusetts and boasts about 51,000 acres of vineyards. Alentejo is committed to sustainable practices and contains nearly 1/3 of the world’s cork trees. The climate is well-suited for grape growing with abundant sunshine and an arid climate. The topography is varied with soils of clay,  limestone, quartz,  granite,  schist,  sandstone,  and  others. The region can be further divided into the following sub-regions: Portalegre,  Borba,  Évora,  Redondo,  Reguengos,  Granja, Amareleja, Vidigueira  and  Moura.

You’ll find evidence of the region’s rich history in the architecture and the winemaking practices. The capital,  Évora, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is the only region in which they still make wine in amphora, the clay vats used in Roman times.

The region produces reds, predominantly, with whites making up inly about 20% of production. The most widely used red grapes are Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Touriga  Nacional. and Trincadeira. For white wines, expect Antão Vaz, Arinto, Fernão  Pires, Roupeiro (aka  Malvasia or Siria), and Verdelho.

In line with the regions production ratio, I sampled four reds, one white. The first I opened was a 2014 Piteira Tinto de Talha ($23). 100% Moreto grown on 30-80 year old ungrafted vines, hand destemmed and crushed and then fermented in clay jars (talha). During the 3 month process, the wine is rotated daily using a “rodo” which is similar to a squeegee. Notes of both red and black fruit, weighty with tannins and earthy spice.

Malhadinha Nova Monte da Peceguina Tinto 2015, Vinho Regional Alentejano ($18) is composed of Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon. Say that five times fast. It is nearly opaque in the glass, cranberry with a touch of violet. It’s punchy at first pour but settles in to brambly fruit, orange peel, baking spice, pepper, even some coffee in the finish. Complex and captivating.

Esporão Reserva Tinto Alentejo DOC ($25) is a label I see frequently but it is anything but common. The 2014 is composed of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Saturated purple with cranberry edge. An expansive nose of black and red plum, berries, and clove. The woodsy fruit is echoed in the palate with grippy tannins, anise, tobacco. This wine lingers.

Renowned winery Cartuxa is doing its part to preserve history in both methods and using proceeds for preservation. The 2013 Cartuxa Evora Tinto Colheita, Évora DOC ($25) is made with Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ruby int he glass, integrated tart red fruit-cherry, raspberry, roses, and rhubarb. Balanced tannins and acidity, baking spices, anise. This wine was refined, delicious.

The 2014 Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco, Vidigueira ($30) was one of the best white wines I have had in recent memory. It hit every note. 100% Antão Vaz yields complexity with 20 days on new French oak, but maintains lively acidity. A fuller bodied white with tropical and stone fruit, almonds and spice. This wine could pair in many directions and each sip brought new nuances.

Diverse topography, rich history, 250 grape varieties, expansive cultural influences. It is no wonder I couldn’t find one angle to summarize the Wines of Portugal. It is no wonder why I am so drawn to explore. It is no wonder why it is currently one of Condé Nast’s top travel destinations in the world. It is no wonder why I yearn to visit. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

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