I love my glass of wine and have travelled to quite a few wine regions in Europe & covered many wine routes. Before this trip, I’d had a few Portuguese wines but had no idea that Portugal was one of the finest wine producing country. I knew “Port Wine” came from there, but I honestly didn’t know that they produced some of the finest reds & whites in the world as well. Simply put I was just blown away with the quality of wine being served in Portugal overall and it may be a bold statement to make, but they are probably making better wines than the average French or Italian wines. The best known wine regions in Portugal are the northern hilly ones – the Duoro Valley & the Minho region, however, we chose to explore the lesser known but upcoming region of Alentejo which has recently grown to become the second largest wine producing region in the country.
Alentejo literally means beyond the river “Tejo’ or “Tagus” and is one of the largest regions in Portugal, bordering Spain on one side. Its largely a landscape of large expanse of plains with Cork trees, vineyards & wheat production.
The largest town in Alentejo is Évora, however we chose to stay in a much smaller town called Vila Viçosa, which has a population of less than 10000 people. Its a small little town with its own castle, wine and some superb food. We made this town the base and drove around the region’s wine country.
ADEGA ERVEDIERA :
As we drove through the Ervediera vineyards, to the beautiful wine shop & tasting room,it welcomed us in with warmth and we were made to feel part of the family immediately. We were the only ones there & got a personalised tasting tour. I have to mention Anna who did the tasting for us, she is one of the most passionate people about wine I have ever met and she ensured we had one of the greatest tasting experiences!
We started with the idea of tasting 3 bottles, but soon it became an ‘unlimited’ tasting & we just had to stop ourselves after 6 bottles. The wines of course top quality and if we didn’t have travel restrictions, we’d have bought all 6 of them!
Adega Ervideira has been making wine since around 1880, and are one of the bigger producers in the region.But, despite their size, they try to maintain the winery with as much of a family feel as possible. When Anna heard that we had been to one of their shops in town & bought a bottle of wine there, she actually made the grand Wine Tasting Free of charge for us.
HERDADE DO ESPORÃO
Esporão is one of the most famous & probably the largest wine estate in Portugal. It’s on a beautiful, sprawling property overlooking a lake, on the outskirts of a small town. As we drove in, we cut through miles of vineyards leading to the main house which also houses their very well known restaurant. It’s a beautiful place with their own lake and we used the time before the tasting session started to just soak in the beauty. The sunset at the estate is something to wait for. The winery offers tasting tours every few hours and its better to book in advance, and there are a set of tasting options you can choose from. We chose the one that made us compare Alentejo & Duoro wines to compare the differences in wine from the two regions.
After visiting a few vineyards across Europe, I felt I knew it all, until we were shown these massive clay pots at Esporão where they are still following traditional methods to make small batches of “Talha” wine. This is a 2000 year old method used by the Romans that has somehow managed to stay alive here. Its probably the original form of the modern day wine barrels, the porous clay pots (which can hold upto 2000 litres of wine each) are lined inside with a paste or some resins, it ensures the wine doesn’t evaporate, and at the same time passes on its characteristics to the wine, similar to an oak or a sherry barrel today.
MONSARAZ, THE TOWNMonsaraz, one of the oldest places in Europe, is a walled ancient hilltop village is a must visit when you are in Alentejo. This is a fairytale town within fortifications from the times of the Knights Templar has cobbled streets, amazing medieval feel with 16th century houses lining the streets. Its inhabited by 150 odd people and is a travellers delight with many of its homestays, little restaurants and wine shops. I would definitely vote to add this town to the most beautiful smalls towns in the world lists!
The Ervediera Wine Shop in the town is inside an old school and is really nice, we also tasted some amazing local wine at a small wine shop (I forget the name, but it is on the main street and a charming lady who made us taste some of the best wines of the region)
In Alentejo, the main red grapes they use at in the region include Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, and Alfrocheiro. The white varieties include Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, Perrum, and Arinto, along with Alvarinho and yes, I had never heard of any of these varieties before coming here.While I struggled to keep up the names, I was able to appreciate the amazing wines, and the long history of wine making in the region.
Some tips if you are visiting the Alentejo Wine Region.
- The wine region is really big and spread out, unlike some of the better known wine regions in Europe that you may have visited, here you have to plan which wineries to visit, reserve the tasting and drive especially to them. The vineyards here are not really concentrated in one area and the wine tourism is also as its nascent stage, so to avoid wastage of time when you get there, better to do your homework and reach there with a fixed plan.
- It goes without saying that its almost impossible to explore the region without your own car. We got a car from Lisbon and drove down, the other option could be to reach Evora and get a car from there.
- Each restaurant we visited here typically had their own labelled house wine – try them out and experience how good the general quality of wine is here.
- Take some time to plan and explore the region, having just a day or two is not really enough (we didn’t have enough time to explore as much as we would have liked to)
- http://www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt/# – the best website where you can find all wineries in the region listed
- http://www.winesofportugal.info/pagina.php?codNode=3907 – an encyclopedia on everything about wine in all of Portugal
- http://nelsoncarvalheiro.com/ – the best Portuguese Wine and Food blog
As an old Portuguese proverb says, Alentejo to me is “Of oil, wine, and friends, the oldest.” A must visit before the tourism industry hits it hard!