A week in Alentejo




I last visited the Alentejo in 2007 but it wasn’t until this more extensive visit that I fully realised how young the region is, even taking into account some of the more established players.  Perhaps it’s because the Alentejo has been quick to win friends on the export market and create international profile, despite its youth.

How has it achieved such rapid success?  A clue lies in one of its nicknames, “the Australia of Portugal.” The building pictured is not exactly Australia, but the palm trees speak of a southerly, sunny location that translates into generously fruity wines with ripe tannins – a style with mass appeal. In the last decade, new investors have seized the opportunity to get a slice of the export pie, resulting in a frenzy of planting of both native and international varieties in a rolling landscape much better suited to volume production than mountainous regions like the Douro and Dao.   And consultant viticulturists and winemakers have criss-crossed this region the size of Belgium to spread the good word and ensure that its precocious wines meet with today’s high standards and expectations.

There are plenty of good commercial wines, plainly made with an eye to the export market – nothing wrong with that.  In terms of what excites me (and my 50 Great Portuguese quest), I also tasted some immensely characterful and exciting terroir-driven wines from new and old players alike, the best of which have the structure and balance to age beautifully. Schist soils certainly seem to help for the reasons David Booth of Fita Preta outlines (see below). And before the schist = structure idea is set in stone, Mouchao, among other top producers, do not have schist.  Mouchao (and others) use Alicante Bouschet as a valuable structural component, so it was great to kick off my visit with a masterclass about this French variety with Paulo Laureano, consultant winemaker at Mouchao and, of course, to visit Mouchao.

Whilst talking varieties, Petit Verdot is tipped to become another key player and, if the fleshy, perfumed samples I tasted are anything to go by, I can see why.  Meantime, Syrah is the apple of many an eye when it comes to French varieties, though on its own, I tend to find it all overt fruit and lacking the savoury, wilder characters that interest me.  Whites are the new black, with soaring demand, especially on the domestic market.  Varieties like Arinto, Verdelho and Alvarinho are finding favour because they offer freshness as well as fruit, while Viognier is the French flavour of the month.

Alicante Bouschet – a masterclass

Winemakers Paulo Laureano (see Mouchao below) and Luis Cortel, Assistant winemaker at Esporao, led this masterclass.  Paulo Laureano introduced the variety which he described as a flagship red for the Alentejo, principally by reason of its contribution to blends though, on the right terroir, as the tasting demonstrated, it makes interesting mono-varietal wines.

The variety has become more associated with Alentejo than the rest of the world because it thrives in the region’s high temperatures and lends colour (it’s a teinturer, dark fleshed variety).  Laureano said its quality derives less from its fruit (its quite shy and dry) and more from a tannin and acid structure which helps wines to age and develop complexity over time.  He counseled against using lots of oak because the variety is naturally high in tannin.

All the wines shown were either 100% Alicante Bouschet or Alicante Bouschet-led.  I also tasted the Bastos and Mouchao at the estates and have provided tasting notes for each occasion since the wines shown at this event seemed more open and expressive – perhaps the bottles had been open for longer and/or shown in warmer conditions?

Julio B Bastos Alicante Bouschet 2004 
– VR Alentejano (Estremoz, clay soils) – a dark, opaque colour with a quite jammy nose showing red and black fruit jelly, with some smoke, dried fruit and liquorice.  These notes follow through on the palate, though the fruit is less overt as the variety’s structure asserts itself with fresh acidity and sinewy, firm tannins.

Esporao Alicante Bouschet 2005 
– Alentejo (Reguengos, limestone and clay), smoother than the Bastos with concentrated red and black fruits – on the darker side rather than sweet fruity, fruity.  Quite smooth tannins and good freshness.  A mineral quality to the finish.

Casa Ermelinda Freitas Alicante Bouschet 2005, VR Terras do Sado (sandy soils) – dark fruit jelly, almost meaty nose.  In the mouth it shows very good freshness though the flavour spectrum is savoury with slightly smoky, game-edged fruit and liquorice.  Chalky tannins offer good support to a fresh lifted finish with eucalypt and balsamic notes.

Paulo Laureano Selectio Alicante Bouschet Vinea Maria’s VR Alentejano 2005
 – quite floral, with lifted mint on the nose. This has a strong spicy character and Camp coffee notes to its smooth dark fruits with round but present tannins and freshness.  Well made.

Mouchao 2005 
Alentejo (Estremoz, clay) – a lifted nose with mint, buttermint and violets. The palate shows red fruits, blood and dust – an attractive, red iron earthiness.  The palate is long and persistent with blue and blackberry fruit.  Very good.

Soberanas Alicante Bouschet 2005 VR Terras do Sado (more clay as well as sand with Atlantic influence, so not as hot as Alentejo). A blend of 85% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Trincadeira.  A dark hung meat quality to the nose, it is aged in new French oak for 20 months and shows sweet blueberry and blackberry fruit with mint and liquorice.  The tannins are quite chalky and chewy on the finish.  Needs time.

Herdade Uva/Migorra Vinhas da Ira 2006
 Alentejo (Beja) Alicante Bouschet, Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional and Aragones.  A super floral nose with sweet fruit  – more red fruits/fruit jelly, though the Alicante Bouschet lends textured tannins, anchoring the wine a little.  The finish shows savoury, warm earth – has more overt fruit than most in the line up.

Grous Moon Harvest Alicante Bouschet 2007 – Alentejo, (Beja) – earthy raspberry nose and palate with darker fruit jelly and textured, velvety tannins.  A little greenness/sappiness here.

Esporao 2007 – a deep colour, it shows its youth.  A lovely spicy nose, with some cracked pepper and vanilla, leads onto a deep-fruited palate with nice purity of red fruits and juicy blackberry.  With its smooth fruit and tannins this is more refined than the 2005 Esporao.  Luis explained that Esporao has changed its approach to single varietal wines and uplifted quality, resulting in more limited production wines.  This wine is also from a completely different vineyard to the 2005, the 07 sourced from schist, which, together with 100% French oak gives more elegance.

Vinipax

Vinipax is a relatively new annual wine (and olive) fair, started 3 years ago, which focuses solely on southern Portuguese regions: Tejo/Ribatejo, Terras do Sado, Alentejo and the Algarve.  I was invited to attend by Anibal Coutinho, a wine writer and Vinipax’s Technical Director, also to participate in a tasting to determine the best wines of show from a list of 25 shortlisted by Anibal.  The top 3 reds, all from Alentejo, were the most deserving Mouchao 2005, Herdade do Rocim Grande Rocim 2007 and Malhadinha 2007.  Only 6 whites were entered and the first placed wine was Ervideira Antao Vaz which showed classic Alentejo rich tropical notes and not enough persistence for me.  My top-placed white was Dona Maria Amantis 2008 which came 6th!  I preferred its more restrained style, though as reviewed below, it could do with a little more concentration.

This year, 80 wine producers attended Vinipax and, for me, it’s a great way to check out new producers who may not export to the UK or attend the Annual Portuguese tasting in London.  I spent two afternoons scooting around and here are my vinous highlights:

The Algarve

I first visited the Algarve this August to taste wines from Sir Cliff Richards’ winery, Adega do Cantor, co-owned with the Birch family (see my report here).  There wasn’t an opportunity to see other producers so this provided the opportunity to benchmark Adega do Cantor’s wines with others.  I thought only thought 2 of the 6 worth writing up.

Monte da Casteleja

Frenchman Guillaume Leroux took over his grandfather’s Algarve farm, Monte da Casteleja in 2000, producing his first wines in 2004.  Guillaume’s aim is to make high quality, individual wines and I thought his wines showed lots of character and promise.  The estate, with its clay and limestone soils, is in conversion to organic.  For red wines, Guillaume foot treads, bringing his experience from Quinta do Cotto in the Douro.

Branco 2007 – a perfumed nose shows delicate star anise, flowers and fruit which follow through on a candied citrus yet fresh palate with hints of talc.

Maria Selection 2007 – the more fruit forward of the reds, made from Alfrocheiro and Bastardo it has an attractive floral nose and palate with wild, bright cherry and pomegranate and subtle spice underscored by pithy tannins.  Put me in mind of Conceito’s Bastardo from the Douro with its combination of intensity and delicacy.

Monte da Casteleja 2007 & 2008
 – foot trodden and barrel aged, this is much more structured with firm, slightly drying tannins and some fresh red fruits lurking beneath.  The 2008 (barrel sample) shows perfume and spice with a greater concentration of sweeter red berry and cherry fruit, though still in a delicate yet intense vein.  Based on my tasting at Adega do Cantor, looks like 2008 is a good vintage for the Algarve.

Patrick Agostini, Quinta do Frances

Another Frenchman, another young outfit, producing its first wines in 2006 with input from António Maçanita of Fita Preta (see Fita Preta write up below).  The vineyards are located on a schist belt in the Odelouca River Valley in the Algarve.  Poor schist-clay soils result in low yields and with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah as well as Trincadeira and Aragones, the red showed more body and black fruits than those from Monte da Casteleja.

Quinta do Frances 2006 – a leafy blackcurrant nose and palate with an earthy, slightly meaty lentil character (not unattractive); well balanced fruit, tannin and acidity.  Well made with good structure.

Encosta de Odelouca 2008 – a mineral nose and palate, this is a dry, grown up wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Well done.

Terras do Sado

Southerly (Baixo Alentejo), but with Atlantic coastal influence makes for a good combination of fruit, body and freshness.  A region I like very much and which is spawning lots of ambitious new producers.

Soberanas

I first tasted Soberanas’ wines last November and, made in consultation with Paulo Laureano (see Mouchao and Paulo Laureano reports below), they are an impressive newcomer (first wines in 2003), though I detect an element of over-arching ambition here – a bit too much density and extraction for my taste at this stage of the game.  One to watch as the vines and, with time, the tannins mature.

XS 2006 – a sappy nose and palate with fresh blackberry and raspberry fruit with a lick of cinnamon.  Quite terse tannins.

Soberana 2004 – good sinew and heft with attractive, well-defined raspberry, cherry and blood plum – again good freshness though just a little warm.

S de Soberanas 2004 – very concentrated, dark and rich with spicy black fruit jelly; there’s a balancing freshness but just a mite oppressive and unrelieved.

Alentejo

Herdade do Rocim

Located in the Lower Alentejo region, Herdade do Rocim is a bold new project established by Terralis, a company with a diverse portfolio of interests. This is their first wine venture and one senses no expense has been spared.  And with results – their maiden flagship red came 2nd in the Vinipax competition (see above).

The estate has 60ha under vine.  Existing vineyards planted to Aragonez, Trincadeira and Antão Vaz have been augmented by new vineyards planted in 2001, 2004 and 2006, introducing Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Arinto and Alvarinho.  All grapes are handpicked and wine is made in a new state of the art winery.

Olho de Mocho Rose 2008 – dry, with good freshness, flavour and texture – well made.

Olho de Mocho Reserve Branco 2008 – a restrained, part oaked Antao Vaz, I suspect early picked (only 13%).  Flinty with citrus, floral and green olive/saline characters making for a refreshing white.

Rocim 2006 – good freshness with nice purity of red and blackcurrant fruit, though it lacks a bit of concentration…  I like the build though, coming at it from a freshness and balance angle rather than great gobs of fruit.

Grande Rocim 2007 – this has an awful heavyweight bottle, but it is an impressive debut.  Deep and dense in colour signals heavyweight palate.  An initially tight knit nose shows hints of warm earth and fresh and baked black fruit as the wine opens up which follow through on the palate.  A tight core of succulent blackcurrant fruit lends a cool poise and persistence, fine-grained tannins completing the overall impression of elegance.  A name to watch.

Herdade dos Grous

I visited Herdade dos Grous in 2007 with consultant Luis Duarte, a leading light in the region (see Sao Miguel and Malhadinha reports below).  The wines show good fruity purity and gently does it velvety tannins, wed to good balancing freshness.  I particularly liked a barrel sample of the moon harvest Alicante Bouschet 2008, the follow on from the 07 I tasted at the Alicante Bouschet masterclass.

2007 Tinto – nicely defined red and blackberry fruits with velvety, crushed raspberry; good freshness and purity.

Moon harvest Alicante Bouschet 2008 (barrel sample)
 – violets nose, this is a big wine with a sinewy core, around which is tightly coiled red and black fruit.  Good freshness. Very promising.

Reserva Tinto 2007 – a tight knit blend of Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Touriga Nacional with black fruits, red and sour cherries supported by firm but ripe tannins.  Needs time but promising.

Quinta do Quetzal


Quinta do Quetzal
 Reserva Branco 2008 – dripping with rich, tropical fruit with an exotic rum baba/coconut edge and vanilla oak but with the freshness, persistence to balance.  Good example of a generous Alentejo white.

Guadalupe Selection 2005
 – ripe red and black fruits, good weight and texture in the mouth with some gamier, savoury notes, spice and baked earth.  Enjoyable southern drop.

Quetzal Tinto 2006 
– very dark fruited and intense with ripe but powerful supporting tannins and good balancing acidity.  Well made.

Bacalhoa

I visited Bacalhoa recently but swung by to taste the:

Moscatel de Setúbal Quinta da Bacalhoa Roxo 1999 – cannot resist these gorgeous sweet Moscatels from Setubal and the Roxo (red Moscatel) is quite rare.  This had a lovely perfume, more lift/florality than the white; very well balanced with a nutty, orange peel edge and good persistence.

The Grand Tour – Alentejo estates

Fita Preta

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times – how do you make a small fortune in wine?  Start out with a large one.  Water off a duck’s back to viticulturist David Booth who, with winemaker António Maçanita, started Fita Preta wines in 2004.   Mr Booth’s previous career included a 3 year stint in Mozambique clearing landmines for The Halo Trust, so he has a healthy perspective on risk.  And he’s by no means gung ho, so although Alentejo is labouring under a surplus of red grapes, because Fita Preta rents cherry-picked vineyards, even rows within vineyards, also winery space, he is excited by the opportunities presented by a buyers’ market.

The duo aim to source from vineyards on schist (pictured) which Booth says, aside from the complexity and minerality it brings to wine, has a fantastic capacity to store and slowly “meter” water to the vines – a good hedge against the region’s dry conditions.  This trait, and Booth’s rigorous canopy management (he also works with Dr Richard Smart), help him to achieve the 2 H’s – homogeneity (evenness of ripening) and hangtime.  Booth is amongst the last to pick reds and reckons if the fruit’s there, he’s not too worried about alcohol levels which, after all, reflect the region’s climate.  That said, whites are picked earlier for a leaner, lower alcohol style, though he maintains that’s more about style than a concern about alcohol levels.

If Booth is rigorous about canopy management his partner in wine, Maçanita, is all about softly does it.  All fruit is handpicked and transported by conveyors or gravity not pumps.   A Napa project he worked on about pump -v- gravity flow showed that there was a big difference between the two processes – gravity flow is smoother, resulting in purer juice and better quality tannins because there is less contribution from the seeds and so less bitter galic acid.  The project also found that the peak of extraction of colour is 3-4 days with gravity and 10 with pumps, so gravity gives the winemaker more control over maceration.

Before tasting finished wines, I tasted a first, a tank sample of white Alfrocheiro (a red grape).  I mention it not just because it had an interesting texture and nutty character, but also because it gives an insight into the philosophy here, which is about having fun as well as making serious wines.  I’m also preparing you for the brand name of their entry levels wines “Sexy” – I hate it!  But credit to them, it’s selling and, their point re-selling the wine because people remember it and, apart from the red, for me the weak link in the chain, it’s good.  Plus their top wines show lots of potential.

Sexy Rose 2008
 – Aragones and Touriga Nacional – made by the saignee method, this is well made, balanced and creamy.  With only 3.2g of residual sugar, its sweetness derives from the ripe fruit (especially the Touriga) and the alcohol (13.5%), which explains the good balancing freshness.

Sexy White 2008 – Antao Vaz, Viognier, Roupeiro – plenty of generous tropical fruits, with pineapple, rum baba, also honey/ honeysuckle and apricot.  Creamy yet with a freshness.

Palpite 2007 – Antao Vaz, Arinto and Verdelho – a honeyed, ripe-fruited nose, with creamy fruit salad mid-palate  – Alentejo girth – cut with a pleasing steelier grapefruit seam/fresh citrus backbone and underlying minerality.  Well balanced, this is a good food wine and quite Burgundian (a view also expressed at the London Wine Fair when I showed this wine at a masterclass for the trade and press).

Fita Preta Red 2007
 – a deep colour, shows balsamic notes and lifted floral notes on nose and its smooth palate; good balance.

Palpite Red 2006
 – there was no Preta (the flagship wine) in 2006 – instead the fruit went into Palpite.  A peppery nose leads onto a palate with tight and intense black berry and currant fruit, with the Touriga Nacional adding lift.  Very nice mouthfeel and balance with well integrated oak.

Preta 2007 – the aim for the flagship is freshness and finesse.  It shows black fruits and a tight blackcurrant quality – no baked or jammy quality here – good precision.  Though it has 50% Touriga Nacional (the balance is Aragones and Alicante Bouschet), you get the best of the Touriga – the perfume without too much of the richness which can be OTT in Alentejo.

Paco de Conde

Respected winemaker Rui Reguinga consults here (see below reports on Quinta do Centro and Rui Reguinga wines) and he’s upfront about the aim for this 100ha estate in Vidigueira – good price/value ratio.  The wines are well made and pretty straightforward – everyone enjoyed the white in particular – it was a hot day!

Branco (white) 2008
 – handpicked at night and whole berries go straight to press which is filled with nitrogen to minimise oxidation and maximise freshness and it shows.  Flinty and mineral with crisp citrus and green olive characters, this is a 50:50 early picked blend of Antao Vaz (Rui would pick riper for an oaked wine) and Arinto. 12.5%

Rose 2008 – clean and well made with summer red berry fruits.

Red 2007 – fruity (red and black berries), round and smooth yet balanced.  Well made commercial wine.

Herdade da Malhadinha Nova

I first visited Malhadinha in 2007 and, though they only produced their first wines in 2003, they have deservedly shot to prominence in a very short space of time.  Owners the Soares family have a background in wine retail and have clearly been influenced and inspired by the best, aided by well-known winemaker consultant Luis Duarte.  Though the vines are youthful, planted on free-draining schist, they produce wines of terrific concentration and yet balancing freshness.  Last time, they were putting the finishing touches to Malhadinha Nova Country House & Spa (pictured) where I stayed one night on this visit – it’s quite the most luxurious place I’ve stayed in, yet cosy and intimate.   I’d certainly recommend it for a special treat.

Antao Vaz 2008 – clean, bright, star fruit, with a hint of attractive salty green olive and lemony acidity.

Malhadinha Branco 2008 – 75% Arinto, 15% Chardonnay.  Changes are afoot with the white to pull it back a bit. For the first time, this vintage has more Arinto, which brings freshness.  Next year, instead of using 100% new barrels, the plan is to use older barrels too.  The 2008 shows an oaky nose, with vanilla custard creams.  In the mouth there is ample richness, that star fruit character again with fennel hints and lemony acidity balancing sweeter cookie dough and nougat elements.  A big, generous wine.

Monte da Peceguina Tinto 2008 – the introductory red shows blackberry and cherry fruit of nice purity and freshness with creamier raspberry on the finish.  Smooth, ripe tannins.

Malhadinha Tinto 2007 
– chew-worthy, firm and sinewy wine, tightly coiled and compact with pronounced blackcurrant, some blackberry and a juicy finish with good freshness.  An attractive cool quality, very good.  A keeper.

Pequeno Joao 2007 50:50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah – quite perfumed, showing violets with fresh black and redcurrant fruit; quite tightly coiled and structured, this is not so pequeno (little).

Pequeno Joao 2008 50:50 Touriga Nacional and Syrah – floral with a fine, elegant frame – very Touriga at its best; nice freshness and definition.  Two very different vintages and blends.

Malhadinha 2008 cask sample –though it’s very early days for this sample, the class of the vintage shines through in its sappy pure fruit and long, drawn out tannins.

Pequeno Antonio 2008 Alicante Bouschet 90% 10% Aragones – another sample showing Alicante Bouschet’s not so fruit led nose!  Sinewy tannins behind but there is nonetheless a smoothness in the delivery of fruit and a generosity to the mid-palate.

Marias da Malhadinha 2007 cask sample – only the 2nd vintage of this top tier wine (2004 was the 1st), it shows smooth, slightly creamy and pure red and black fruits supported by powdery but present tannins.  There’s an underlying layer of minerality which adds complexity and balance.  Very promising – will probably be bottled in December.

Cortes de Cima

Cortes de Cima are one of the first modern Portuguese producers I came across when I worked for Oddbins – spot the amphorae which appear on the labels!  Their Incognito Syrah created a splash because it was out of the box, hence the name, though I was always a bigger fan of their traditional varietal blends.  Interestingly, I still like their Reserve blend best, but I was also excited by a barrel sample of Petit Verdot currently receiving lots of tlc in the cellar.  Planted 5 years ago, owners Hans and Carrie Jorgensen reckon the variety is well suited to Vidigueira which can be very hot, unlike Alfrocheiro, Castelao and Moreto which they have now top grafted.  They will be selling wines online to the UK market shortly, so keep an eye on their website.

2008 Chamine Red – raspberry and chocolate nose, some chalky tannins and hint of tobacco leaf, but well done.

2007 Cortes de Cima Vinho Tinto – black and red cherry of nice fruit definition and balance with creamier raspberry and oak overlay.  Well made.

Syrah 2005 – Blackberry with blackcurrant pastille and a herbal tobacco character – it’s well made enough but I’d like to see more character in this variety and I’m not sure Portugal delivers more than attractive fruit at the moment, even though most producers reckon Syrah is well-suited to Alentejo.  Interestingly, we dipped into the cellar at the end and tasted different barrel samples designed to show the 2 elements of the blend, the first focused on big blackcurrant/berry fruit, the second, a different clone, more spicy, with black olive and a mineral pared back quality.

Incognito 2005 – blackcurrant and fleshy black fruits with sweet vanilla.  It spends only 6-7 months in oak because Hans and Carries want fruit not oak.  They’ve also reduced the hang time since earlier vintages in search of more freshness and red fruits.

Hans Christian Anderson 2007 – Syrah – blackcurrant fruit, quite round, well made and balanced.

Reserva 2004 
– tar, black berry and attractively dusty currant fruit of nice vinosity with liquorice notes.  The finished is layered, long and persistence with an impression of greater dryness than the other wines.

Reserva 1998 
– this has a nice, sanguine, savoury character with minerals and dust edging its black, slightly tarry fruits; quite good length with some sinew in support.  Like it.

Incognito 2002 
– very ruby red, uniform looking, surprisingly youthful looking, not much on the nose and the palate is unusually delicate with plum, blackberry and red fruits, still quite fresh and sappy?

Paco de Camoes

Paco de Camoes is a new venture near Evora established by the Pinsent family.  Well known viticulturist and relative Iain Reynolds Richardson (whose parents own Mouchao) planted the vineyard in 2001-2002.  Winemaking is by Luis Bourbon with some Aussie input from Tash Mooney of Fox Gordon this last few years.  Zefyro is entry level wine and top wines go under the Canto Decimo label.

The winery, pictured, makes an immediate impression on account of its pocket-sized 800kg fermentation tanks – small batch stuff!  The wines are improving year on year since the first vintage I tried, the 2005, which I thought looked promising back then.  We tasted 07 reds, but I reckon the 2008s really start to show what this estate can do.  Their Viogniers are also impressive.

Zefyro Viognier 2008 – planted in 2002 with extra Viognier grafted over in 2004 because of demand – a good mouthful of clean lychee and stone fruit with aniseed with a touch of texture.

Canto Decimo Viognier 2007
 – richer with ripe apricot, aniseed and fennel and a good lick of vanilla.  Well done.

Zefyro Red 2008 – sunny days, cool nights and no heat spikes meant slow even ripening and it shows – a big step up on the 07 with its lovely perfumed, floral nose and palate, much better definition here with a mineral undertow.

Canto Decimo Red 2007 – ripe, round fruit compote balanced by a lively peppery character and touch of grip from the tannins.

Canto Decimo Red 2008 – a deeper colour than the 2007, this has good fruit and lift with spice and flowers.  Attractive, perfumed wine.

By the way, should you be in the vicinity of Azaruja, the restaurant/bar/cafe (Bols?) next to the bullring does great unfancy, local food (handcut chips as good as any I’ve had) and carries some interesting wines too.

Fundacao Eugenio de Almeida Evora

I’d not visited this famous, historic estate before and was surprised by its new (since 2007) state-of-the-art winery and the sheer scale of the operation.  Production has doubled from 1.5 million to 3 million kilos of grapes since the move from the original 17th century winery in Evora where Carthusian monks made wine. With its extensive cool rooms, selection tables and gravity transfers, the Fundacao’s congenial winemaker Pedro Batista believes that quality as well as quantity has increased.  The proof was in the pudding – Pera Manca Branco 2007 is stunning.

Pera Manca White 2007 – Anta Vaz and Arinto from oldest vineyards, planted in 1980.  Yellow gold with a ripe stone fruit nose and palate, it shows richness and restraint on the palate – this is no fruit bomb, rather a considered wine which combines the best of tradition and modernity. Its power, complexity and penetration remind me of a white Hermitage from the Northern Rhone – some nuttiness, hinting at oiliness to come, a mineral undertow and, very Portuguese, a green olive edge.  As it opens in the glass, it shows acacia honey and flowers.  My Hermitage reference piqued Batista’s interest – he is experimenting with Roussanne next year.

Cartuxo 2007 Tinto – Trincadeira, Aragones, Alfrocheiro and Alicante Bouschet – attractive plums, damson and cherry with spice, lots of liquorice and a whiff of cheroot.  Good freshness and structure here  – it’s on the dry side which I prefer to the sweeter-fruited Alentejo styles and has a cool mineral undertow.

Scala Coeli 2007 – this is a relatively new wine, the first in 2005, which takes a less traditional path, focusing on foreign (either to Alentejo or Portugal) varieties.  This 100% Touriga Nacional is lifted and perfumed, with a freshness that Touriga can deliver in this region; just marred by drying tannins  – needs more time in bottle.

Scala Coeli 2006 – 100% Syrah  – a vinous nose with dark fruits, plum, lots of vanilla, spice and liquorice; again a little dry on the finish.

Cartuxa Reserva 2005 – Trincadeira, Aragones, Alfrocheiro – round, ripe, some baked notes, lots of spice, fruit spice, liquorice, star anise, plum, plum jam so good generosity/flesh without being sweet, an impression aided by firm supporting tannins.  Good traditional food wine but with freshness.

Pera Manca 2005 – much deeper, brighter, aubergine, glossier colour than the 2003. A lush nose reveals dark chocolate and cherry and, on the palate, a deep seam of red and black fruits with savoury meaty undertones; ripe but present supporting tannins. This has a long life ahead of it  – lovely fruit vibrancy and richness.

Pera Manca 2003 – 50:50 Aragones and Trincadeira – shows a garnet rim and is more evolved on the nose and palate too than the 2005.  It shows dried fruits, liquorice and dried spice on a rich and plummy, smoky and savoury palate.  Firm, sinewy tannins beneath provide balance – drinking well now.

Sao Miguel

Based in Redondo, Sao Miguel is a young, go ahead operation whose first wines hail from the 2003 vintage.  Production is spearheaded by Alexandre Relvas Junior (whose father owns the estate), Nuno Franco and Ana Paula Tordo with consultancy from Luís Duarte.

They have a wide range, focused by market and philosophy, giving them lots of scope to play around with new and old varieties alike and with some style.  Another variable is the source of their fruit which come from two vineyards ranging in altitude from 250-400m, with clay and schist around the winery, the other vineyard being granite and clay. Schist gives more concentrated and smaller berries with lower yields than granite which retains more moisture.

Montinho Branco 2008 Estremadura VR  – this year they will launch the first white wine from their own vineyards but this comes from Estremadura (now called Lisboa) near, you guessed it, Lisbon. It’s aromatic and fresh true to its varietal make up of Vital, Fernao Pires, Arinto, Moscatel and Sauvignon Blanc.

Montinho Rose 08 – Aragones, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelao  – a blend of saignee and direct press juice, the aim being to make something closer to a red than a white with good body. Quite sweet fruited, with an attractive floral nose, fresh cranberry and decent balance –  5g/l of residual sugar.

Montinho Tinto 2008 – nice freshness, with cherry, violets and black fruits unimpaired by oak thanks to four year old barrels.  Ripe tannins but well-defined fruit make this a winner for grown up quaffing.

Ciconia 2008 
– bottled under screwcap this brand is aimed at the export market and volume retailers.  Made from Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragones it has gobs of black fruit and 6g/l of residual sugar.  A solid commercial wine.

Herdade de Sao Miguel Colheita Seleccionada 2007 – deeply coloured, this is minty and elegant with black berry and currant supported by sinewy tannins.

Sao Miguel dos Descobridores Reserva 2007
, 70% Touriga Franca, 30% Aragones.  I’ve not come across much Touriga Franca in Alentejo – with Touriga Nacional, it’s one of the leading Douro varieties.  I liked this wine very much for its restraint – I suspect a bit more than even Touriga Nacional gives in Alentejo, though Franca’s floral, rock rose quality is much in evidence, this is tightly wound – a very well structured wine with liquorice and a mineral core.  The fruit is less overt than a Touriga Nacional and more red and than black.

Sao Miguel Reserva 2006 – some mint again with a schistous, dusty character on the nose.  Sinewy tannins are fleshed out with black and red fruits and black fruit jelly with a lick of vanilla.

Sao Miguel Private Collection 2006 – there are only 1400 bottles of this wine from 5 barrels, each year chosen by a friend (with wine knowledge Alexandre was quick to point out!).  The nose shows dusty, floral, rock rose characters though the oak is quite on top now on nose and palate.  This is a big wine, impressive but not so much to my taste.

Zambujeiro

Zambujeiro, a pretty 30ha estate in Borba,  has been owned by a Swiss wine lover since 1988.  It has all the hallmarks of a small, perfectly formed operation, right down to its perfectly stacked “Jenga” pallets (pictured).  It’s a good example of an estate whose grapes once went into the co-operative melting pot making great strides under private ownership.

Though new vines (including Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon) have augmented old, from the outset the aim was simple – to keep focused on Alentejo varieties (Trincadeira, Aragones, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet), but do something really special with them. I’d say they’ve succeeded admirably.  Sure, yields from dry-farmed vineyards are (very) low and grapes are handpicked – a recipe for concentration – but these wines also have character and balance, even elegance, in years like 2001 and 2004. No doubt schist soils and elevation (c 390m) help too.

Zambujeiro (the flagship wine, with 100% new French oak)

1999 – good freshness and minerality here, sweet fruit, red and black, quite a bit of red fruit.  Touch of tar.  Plum,  UK distributor- Raymond Reynolds originally now different Alicante Bouschet with Auto Chocolat.  40 euros

2000 – a very meaty nose, though less savoury on the palate which has black berry, currant and olive with dried/confit fruits (fig), though still good freshness.

2001 – a fresh nose, again that confit fruit sweetness from another hot vintage but this has mixed berry fruit of impressive purity and freshness on the palate with fine powdery tannins in support.  General Manager Nuno Malta says Luis Lourinho, who joined in 2003, worked hard to make an elegant blend, also the first two vintages had more Trincadeira.

2002 – new vines came on stream and this wine is much deeper in colour.  It shows a lifted nose with some mint/eucalypt and has good length and persistence with an elegant delivery of mouthwatering red fruits with lifted floral notes and raspberry – very Touriga Nacional.

2003 – good depth of colour with a nose and palate of parma violets and baked red fruit with a touch of tar on the finish, it shows the character of the hot vintage well.  Quite chalky tannins.  Good.

2004 
–  a deep, deep colour, with a tight floral nose.  Expressive and elegant in the mouth with a hint of cool mint and lively red fruits supported by firm, sinewy tannins.  A subtly powerful wine.  Very good.

2005 – deep plum colour, shows warm earth on the nose; this is a powerful wine, with sturdy tannins, darker black currant and berry fruit; still a freshness there though currently a touch dry and chewy on the finish. It needs time.

Terra do Zambujeiro (the second wine, with 50% French oak)

2004 – shows new oak on nose and, with a swirl, inky, floral notes emerge.  The oak is well integrated on the palate (as it is with the flagship wine), which shows round red and black fruits with a lovely freshness – a nice vintage!!!!!!  Very good.

Quinta de Dona Maria

Quinta de Dona Maria, also known as Quinta do Carmo, is an arrestingly beautiful 18th century estate in Estremoz at around 400m.  Owner Julio Tassara de Bastos, who still resides there, clearly has a knack with wines because his very first (pictured), Quinta do Carmo Garrafeira 1986, created waves following its release – I could understand why when I tasted this terrific wine.

Not long afterwards, he was approached by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), to whom he sold 50% of the company, including the Quinta do Carmo brand, in 1992.  Under Lafite, winery operations were moved to Herdade das Carvalhas and Bastos sold his interest in the company around 2000, retaining only the Alicante Bouschet vineyard.  Lafite subsequently sold Quinta do Carmo to Portuguese heavyweight Bacalhoa Wines.  A convoluted history then…

Today, Bastos makes wine at his estate under the Dona Maria label augmenting the old vine Alicante Bouschet with new plantings of Alicante Bouschet, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon (they reckon Lafite cuttings lend a capsicum character to the wine), Aragones and Touriga Nacional for reds.  He has restored the old winery, with its huge marble lagares and cement tanks.  I tasted some really exciting tank samples from 2009 – Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Touriga Nacional, all looking elegant with great fruit purity, nice freshness and fine tannins.

Dona Maria Branco 2008 VR- this blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto and Douro variety Viosinho (good for freshness) shows some typical Antao Vaz tropicality and honey, though tighter citrus and succulent melon draw out/decompress the palate, bringing freshness and minerality.  Meno not tutti frutti!   Good.

Amantis Branco 2007 & 2008 – mostly Viognier, this is the 2nd vintage with c. 5% Semillon. Fermented in 400l new French oak with batonnage it has an attractive jasmine nose with some bacon fat and lavender (positive Viognier associations for me!).  In the mouth, these notes follow through on the attack which shows stone fruits and good freshness, but it lacks concentration to follow through. Bottled in May, the 2008 shows a weightier palate, still floral, but with apricot and juicy greengage hints, a stoney minerality, though it’s still a little lacking in flavour intensity – will be interesting to see thee ambitious applied to older vines – worth keeping an eye on this cuvee in future vintages.

Rose 2008 
– a very pale saignee blend of 60% Aragones and 40 Touriga Nacional, the aim here is for a Provence-style Rose and it’s well conceived here with just a dash of residual sugar (3.5g/l) and nicely textured creamy, delicate red cherry fruit.

Amantis 2005
 – Syrah, Petit Verdot and Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon and dash of Touriga Nacional – nice nose, fragrant, floral, black fruits, cherry and currant; good freshness in the mouth, some blackcurrant gum too, hint of eucalpyt.  Well made plus.

Dona Maria Reserva 2005
 – Alicante Bouschet, Petit Verdot and Syrah  – a deep colour, this shows attractive spicy capsicum on the nose and, in the mouth has a dryness, elegance, structure and finesse which is no doubt why Jamie Goode chose it for his 50 Great selection this year!  Ripe but sinewy tannins add to the impression of freshness and length in the mouth and it has an engaging dusty minerality to the finish.

Julio Bastos 2004 – this is made from old vine Alicante Bouschet (c. 40 year old).   Unsurprisingly it’s a very deep colour with an inky nose and some raisins, which follow through on a dark fruited/flavoured palate with linseed.  It has a sinewy heft, enlivened by peppery notes and complexed by a dusty minerality – a little tight today compared with how it showed at the Alicante Bouschet masterclass reported above.

Quinta do Carmo Garrafeira 1986 – a magnificent blend of Castelao, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet.  Very dark still, there’s little difference between rim and core.  The nose and palate bear the hallmarks of age, with linseed oil and spice box to its dark fruits and a trace of eucalypt, but overall, this is WOW, amazingly vital, balanced and vigorous.

Quinta do Mouro

Also based in Estremoz, Mouro is renowned for ageworthy reds of greater structure and acidity than others in the region, released with 18 months bottle age. You might then think that this is a long-established wine dynasty.  Not so.   Owner Miguel Louro, a dentist and wine lover, bought the estate in 1979 and made his first wines in 1994.

His son Luis explained that, back in the seventies, his father lunched every week with the well-known winemakers, Paulo Lourenco and Joao Portugal Ramos.  At around the same time that Ramos bought his own Estremoz property, Louro senior also decided to plant vines, making his first wine in 1994.  Until 1997, the wines were made by Ramos.   Today, Luis makes the wines in consultation with the ubiquitous Luis Duarte (see the Malhadinha and Sao Miguel write ups).

Luis is quick to emphasise that his father decides on the blend and looks for character, structure and freshness over fruit in order to express Mouro’s terroir – principally schistous soils which impart plenty of backbone to its Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Aragones.  Other varieties include Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

In the winery, the approach is handcrafted but hands off.  Unusually, in addition to French oak, Mouro also use Portuguese oak which tends to be blamed for rusticity in wines.  Luis comments that the wines simply need more time.  Great then that we tasted a vertical back to 1999.  Each wine was a veritable barometer of vintage, bristling with character, energy and potential, as wine should be!

Mouro

2005 – another bruiser from this dry vintage – very mineral, dark and firm with big-framed tannins – tons of potential.  Needs time.  Very good.

2004 –
 and another great 2004, this is tightly coiled with fruit, tannin and acidity perfectly in balance.  Plenty of spice and structure from the Alicante Bouschet.  Approachable but will keep on going – very good.

2003 – just a hint of confit to the fruit on the nose betraying the hot vintage.  In the mouth there’s a juiciness to its ripe, sweet blackberry fruit supported by firm but ripe tannins.  Long, persistent finish.  Very good.

2002 – a very spicy nose, almost white pepper, with a very firm palate with a lovely freshness and persistence to its red and black berry fruit.  The oak imparts a resiny tone.  Old fashioned but I like it.

2001 – deep red plum in colour, this is quite chewy with sinewy tannins, dry spice and a touch of tar.  A very hot year and though there is some freshness here, I find the tannins a bit stubby.

2000 – a vanilla/bourbon nose with generous red fruits (strawberry, raspberry) and more than a lick of oak with a varnishy/linseed character (Portuguese and French oak here). More developed than the 99 though not without freshness.

1999 – this was a very difficult harvest, initially hard to sell, on account of its firm structure and high acidity.  Aged in 100% Portuguese oak it has a linseed oil nose and, yep, it’s quite firmly structured (I can imagine it might have been a touch splintery in youth), spicy with well defined, still fresh and intense red fruits.  Very good.

Mouro Gold
 – first trialled in 1999 (500 bottles only), the Gold label has subsequently been made in 2000, 2002 and 2005 – it sees all French oak and longer in oak.

2000 – very youthful still, this is richer with a lusher flavour spectrum than the classic Mouro with a sweet core of cassis and a lick of vanilla sugar; still, firm Mouro tannins behind.  One for the long haul.

2002 – much drier with big tannins and an earthier flavour spectrum.  Luis says everyone hated this wine at first but reckon it will age the longest…

2005 – a gorgeous nose shows black fruits and a Touriga Nacional floral lift.  Very youthful in the mouth it has super-firm velcro tannins to its mouthfilling fruit – definitely one to come back to after a few years!

Other wines

Mouro Touriga Nacional 2003 – the maiden vintage of this single varietal wine saw 100% new French oak. A eucalypt nose leads onto a sexy, fleshy palate with some good structure behind.

M do Mouro Tinto 2007 – Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira – good freshness with juicy red and black berry fruit and ripe tannins – well done.

Mouro Casa dos Zagalos Reserva Tinto 2006 – again, good freshness and lift, this is dry (in a good way, especially for 2006 which can be a bit too fruit jelly for me), tobocco’y and spicy with fleshy damsons and red and black berry fruit supported by firmish tannins.

Herdade do Mouchao

My visit to Alentejo reinforced how, with few exceptions, quality winemaking is a relatively new phenomenon to the region.  Mouchao is one such exception and its wines are exceptional.   Even then, though Mouchao’s vineyards were originally planted by John Reynolds around the turn of the 20th century, it was not until the 1950s that wines were estate bottled (as opposed to being sold in bulk).

Since then, Mouchao has carved out a reputation for its long-lived Alicante Bouschet and, apparently, the 1954 is still fresh as a daisy!  Certainly the 1979 I tasted gave eloquent testimony to its powers of graceful ageing.  It was the last vintage to be made from the original vines – Mouchao was expropriated following the 1974 revolution and “co-operatised” for 10 years, during which time the vineyards fell into disrepair.  When the estate was returned to the Reynolds family they started afresh in 1986, planting 38ha across several vineyards. Trincadeira, Aragonês and Touriga Nacional plus some white varieties were planted on higher, well-drained ground.  Like the earliest plantings, Alicante Bouschet was planted on lower lying (c. 200m), deep clay soils located between two small rivers and bordered by trees.  As the wines demonstrate, but also the health of the vines (pictured), it thrives there, producing remarkably floral wines with more lift and finesse than any other single varietal Alicante Bouschets I’ve tasted.

Winemaking at Mouchão is traditional despite the advent of electricity in 1991 (yes 1991!), which has certainly helped white winemaking.  Reds are foot-trodden with stems in old stone lagares and, save for recent addition to the range Ponte das Canas, aged in 6000 litre oak and hardwood vats (“tonels”).  Mouchao reds are aged for 2 years in bottle before being released 4 years after the vintage.   The flagship Tonel 3-4, only made in exceptional years, undergoes the same process but is always aged in two specific 5000 litre vats numbered 3 & 4 (pictured), made of Portuguese oak and Brazilian hardwood.

Mouchao Dom Rafael 2007 – Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, Aragones – the mid-weight “second wine” shows plum and damson fruit of nice fleshiness and freshness, making for good balance. Modern in its sleek fruit definition, traditional in its dryness, with no oak sweetener.  A refreshing, food-friendly combination.

Mouchao 2002 – roundly condemned as bad year but, like Mouro, it’s proved to be a winner.  The nose has a dusty mineral quality which follows through in the mouth – which has a saltlick, lean and mean minerality to its well-defined, intense berry fruit, supported by ripe but present tannins.  There will be a 2012 museum release.   Plenty of go – liked it very much.

Mouchao 1979 
– still great depth of colour though 30 years old!  Inky and floral it shows plush, slightly baked gamey/savoury red and black fruits which build in the mouth.  Powerful but ripe supporting tannins.  Very good – puts me in mind of a top Hermitage or Cornas.

Mouchao 2005 – 80% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Trincadeira.  quite closed on the nose with a mineral quality.  On the palate it’s richer than anticipated, flowering in the mouth – indeed, floral in character too before narrowing to a tight, sinewy finish – very good – an exciting wine, youthful now but lots of promise.

Tonel 3-4 2005 –  wow, this 100% Alicante Bouschet has a wonderful richness, florality and freshness – that sense of balance and harmony that made Douro reds from 2005 so attractive and approachable from the off.  Long, sensual and heady…in a word, seductive.

Additionally, here are tasting notes from a Mouchao dinner in London in June this year:

Mouchao Tonel 3-4 2001 
– Powerfully structured, refined and youthful it has a lifted eucalyptus, inky, floral nose and palate with fresh, small, tight dark berry fruit and fabulously sinewy tannins.   A long life ahead of this one.  Excellent.

Mouchao 1990– 70% Alicante Bouschet, 30% Trincadeira.  Pronounced balsamic notes, violets (almost parma) and ink on nose and palate with liquorice and spice.  Plenty of life and vigor here with firm supporting tannins and fresh acidity.  Very good.

Paulo Laureano

Paulo is the highly respected consultant winemaker at Mouchao and has a hand in many other top flight wines.  Grapes for his own eponymous label,  are sourced from two Alentejo vineyards – 80ha in Vidigeuira and 10ha in Evora.

Paulo Laureano Dolium Branco Escolha 2007 (Alenetjo) – made from Antao Vaz, a grape that could be dubbed the Chardonnay of Alentejo for its round, fleshy, fruity style and good affinity with oak.  This sports a tropical nose of mango and orange peel with spicy oak, The palate is exotic, rich and ripe with tropical citrus and rum baba notes, just about balanced by citrus acidity (all natural).  There is a hint of resin/oiliness so I reckon this is one to enjoy now.  Paulo’s Vidigueira vines are planted on schist which helps retain freshness and, though inland, the site benefits from some Atlantic influence owing to the topography of the region.

Paulo Laureano Reserve Tinta 2006 (Alentejo) – made from old vine fruit from a mixed vineyard of Alicante Bouschet and the thick skinned, exotic Tinta Grossa/de Nossa native to Vidigueira.  Exotic white flowers/orange peel nose with wild bilberry, notes which follow through on a bright, persistent palate with good freshness.  Very good.

Paulo Laureano Reserva Vinea Julieta Talhao 24 2006 – made from a small parcel of 1 hectare of Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Grossa on schist, this wine is named after Paulo’s mother.  It has a dusty, mineral quality to the nose, almost a saltiness.  It spends 24 months in oak and is tightly wound, concentrated and mineral with red plum fruit.  Needs time but shows promise.

Quinta do Centro

Quinta do Centro is owned by the english Portuguese specialist wine writer, Richard Mayson who, in partnership with winemaker Rui Reguinga, makes wines under the Sonho Lusitano Vinhos label.  To date, one wine has been produced, Pedra Basta, whose name reflects the rocky terrain, as does the designer winery’s barrel cellar (pictured with Rui) with its granite outcrops.

The vineyard is located in Alentejo’s northernmost outpost, the subregion of Portalegre on the slopes of the Serra de São Mamede which rises to over 1000m.  Portalegre’s elevation (Quinta do Centro is at about 500m), rugged landscape and granitic soils have more in common with the neighbouring Beira Interior (see the report of my July visit to Beira Interior here), though the varieties at Centro tend towards Alentejo’s usual suspects.  Old (30-40 year old) vines major on Trincadeira, Aragones, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir (new to me!) with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon.  New plantings (2007) yet to come onstream comprise Aragones and, new to Portalegre, Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Viognier.

Pedra Basta 2006 – this has calmed down since I last tasted it when it was all exuberant, glossy fruit.  It’s now less bouncy, more “winey”, with juicy damsons and the Cabernet Sauvignon really coming through with blackcurrant to nose and palate.  Slightly chewy tannins have mellowed and become better integrated with the fruit too.  Good.

Pedra Basta 2007 – less “loud” than the 2006 and I prefer it.  There’s a little less Cabernet and the 07 shows more red fruits supported by firm but ripe tannins.  More elegance and persistence than its predecessor  – it seems better to capture Portalegre’s potential for this mid-weight style and no doubt also reflects a cooler growing season.

Rui Reguinga

For Rui’s own label, Terrenus, he has sourced fruit from very old (80-100 year old) mixed vineyard bush vines of local grape varieties (pictured) in a bid to express terroir as accurately as possible.  His white is a blend of Arinto, Roupeiro, Bical and a little Moscatel and his reds are a blend of Aragones, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelao, Baga and Touriga Franca.  He explains that the presence of northern varieties reflects the fact that, a century ago, when there were no vines to speak of in Alentejo, cuttings came from the north.

Terrenus Branco 2008 – a tight mineral nose and palate shows flashes of green fruit and citrus and hints of spicy (nutmeg) oak.  Natural acidity informs a taut palate, carrying a long, slightly salty finish.  Quite austere now, needs time to unravel a little but impressive.  (When I first tasted it in March, it showed more grapey, spicy Moscatel character).

Terrenus Tinto 2007
 – a lean and mean palate shows tightly coiled redcurrant fruit and spicy plum framed by firm tannins.  A little pinched when opened (the wines were quite cool) but, by lunchtime, had opened up to show eucalpyt and fleshier plum and black fruits on the palate. It certainly has the tannin structure for food.  (Looking back at my notes from March when I first tasted this wine, I remark on its impressive tannin structure fleshed out by ripe fruit so the cool temperature of service certainly affected this wine dramatically).

Terrenus Tinto Reserva  2007 
– a tight, firm, grippy, mineral nose and palate, the oak quite marked at present.  It remains tight over lunch, so this is most definitely one to come back to and I’d like to come back to it and see how it evolves.  A wine for Baga fans with patience!

Monte d’Oiro

En route home to Lisbon, I called in at Monte d’Oiro whom I first visited in 2007 when the Vinho Regional was still called Estremadura.  Today the VR is Lisboa, so hopefully people will remember it’s near Lisbon and it’s certainly not in Spain (which also has a region of this name).

Monte d’Oiro coined its reputation on Syrah, planting the first vines in Portugal in 1992. When the maiden 1997 vintage was released in 1999 it was regarded as the finest expression of an international variety in Portugal. Owner, business tycoon José Bento dos Santos is a gourmand who loves to pair food with wine so perhaps unsurprisingly, he is not looking to make a Shiraz, instead looking to the Rhone for cues. In fact 2ha of his Syrah are a selection massale from Hermitage and, since 2006, he and Michel Chapoutier of Rhone fame have worked together on the Ex Aequo label, a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Touriga Nacional.  Chapoutier is also advising on biodynamics with which Monte d’Oiro are experimenting.

In the winery, winemaker Graca Gonsalves shows a light touch and all wines are naturally fermented without addition of tannins etc – nerve-wracking, she admits, for someone who produced a research paper on inoculated yeasts!  But as she puts it “we want different wines every year and interesting wines to have with food.”

Madrigal 2008 – a delicate, subtle Viognier – yes, they exist!  A sweet fruited nose and palate shows lifted, almost muscat-like aromatics with lychee and pear skins which follow through on the palate together with stone fruits and a hint of cedar spice.  Only around half the wine is barrel fermented and aged with batonnage.

Lybra 2006
 – 100% Syrah, entry level.  Bright ruby colour with equally bright pomegranate and red cherry fruit and spicy plum supported by fine but firm tannins.

Monte d’Oiro Reserva 2006 – a blend of 96% Syrah with 4% Viognier, a deeper plum hue it takes time to open up and evolve in the glass. It unfurls well-defined red currant and raspberry fruits with spice – less of the black fruits that I associate with previous vintages and this wine has greater clarity/purity of fruit. Apparently it has seen less new oak (30-40% not 100%) and less time in barrel, also it was from the earliest picked vintage, all of which makes complete sense.  Though 14.5%, it wears it very well; a finely wrought wine worth sitting with while it unfurls.

Aurius 2006
 – Touriga Nacional 50-60% and Syrah 35-50% and Petit Verdot.  Perfumed, rock rose, nice fleshiness, some spice and a sweet “Touriga Nacionaless,” though firm, sinewy tannins lend backbone.

Bentos & Chapoutier Ex Aequo 2006 
– wilder, darker yet sweeter with morello cherry and blackberry with savoury wet earth undertones (good); fine powdery tannins lend an attractive mouthfeel.   A seductive wine.

Ribatejo, Setubal & Terras do Sado

Here are my highlights from a free pour tasting at ViniPortugal’s Sala Ogival in Lisbon (pictured) – open to the public, it’s a great place for visitors to taste Portuguese wines.

Casa Santos Lima Palha Canas 2008 VR Estremadura – good ripe stone fruit, round palate, bit sweet, tinned peach, but a well made, bright and fruity commercial wine.

Quinta da Cortezia Vinha Conchas 2008Fernao Pires 76.3%, Arinto 23.7%, VR Estremadura  –  pale, floral, slightly vegetal a la Fernao Pires, so good varietal typicity.  Has a nice texture on the palate which is dry with characterful salty green olive notes.  Good.

Domingos Damasceno de Carvalho 2008
, VR Terras do Sado, www.damsaceno.net.  Spicy dark berry nose.  Quite sweet fruited, blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, fresh fruits, spice, nice balance.  Well done.  All US oak.  I prefer this to the Reserve wine where the oak is a tad overwhelming.

Malo Tojo, Malo Platinum Tinto Reserva 2006, VR Peninsula de Setubal (Azeito) www.malotojo.com – dark, spicy nose, chocolate edged black berry fruit and on the palate, nice freshness, some balsamic notes; nice balance, ripe tannins.  Well made.

Herdade da Comporta C 2007
, VR Terras do Sado – sample, very smooth raspberry fruit, nice freshness, persistence and delicacy here, just needs a little cleaning up though.

Val d’Algares Guarda Rios 2007 VR Ribatejano – deep colour, ripe, blackberry fruits, some liquorice, spice; nice balance, present but ripe tannins.

Quinta da Cortezia Touriga Nacional 2007
 VR Estremadura – dusty rock rose nose.  In the mouth  quite firm but ripe tannins are fleshed out with attractive floral-edged (violets/rock rose) fruit with rich chocolate notes.  A mid-weight, approachable yet characterful red with good varietal typicity.

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