As a wine-producing country, one of the many strengths of Portugal is its diversity. The country has a number of wine regions that enjoy different climates thanks to the soil, topography, and the Atlantic.
One region that stands out is Alentejo, the country’s breadbasket and one of the largest producers of cork not only in Portugal but in the world. Apart from the grains and cork, Alentejo is also a big name in wine production.
Beyond the Cork
More than being ‘cork central’, the Alentejo region is Portugal’s largest wine region, taking up almost one third of the country’s land mass.
Alentejo includes eight subregions, with the entire region entitled to use the Vinho Regional designation “Alentejano VR.” This is the area’s unique system of protected designation and it’s the origin for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products. However, some areas are entitled to use the higher classification, Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) level under the designation Alentejo DOC.
More than the names and special labels, this designation system ensures producers maintain a high standard of quality for the wines associated with the region. This includes using only certain grape varietals, regulating maximum crop yields come harvest time and reaching a minimum alcohol content. It also includes aging the wines in oak barrel or in the bottle for a certain period.
Wine in Cork Central
Alentejo is better known for its non-wine products, most notably, cork, and also beef, pork, olive oil, and cereals. Portugal produces around half of the world’s commercial cork, and export of the product over recent years account for about 70% of the global cork trade.
More than that, however, Alentejo is home to a handful of vineyards that produce some good, affordable vinos. The region’s forte is red wine, and their local white wines are continuously improving to suit a more global flavour profile. At their best, the region’s red wines are ripe, nearly full-bodied, and has a welcome fruitiness to it. Overall, the country’s wine export is on the rise, with local wine bottles heading to the US, the UK, and other places.
The region’s reputation for being a wine destination and producer was arguably made popular and solidified by Herdade do Mouchão Winery and the Adega da Cartuxa Winery. The two estates are home to some iconic reds, produced from the stalwart varieties of Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, and Trincadeira.
Back in the 1990s, other pioneering vintners helped put Alentejo on Portugal’s wine map. This included Cortes de Cima, Herdade do Esporão, and João Portugal Ramos and they created fruit-forward vinos with broader appeal. In their best, these wines are sleekly sophisticated, but still with a unique character that’s evocative of the region’s food (and drink) flavours.
Most of Alentejo’s red wines are warm, easy-going, and generous, just like the people. Non-DOC or non-Vinho Regional reds may contain Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, in addition to non-native varieties Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.
When it comes to white wines, Herdado de Esporão is the leading name. Whites are improving flavour-wise, especially since local varietals Antão Vaz and Roupeiro are growing with a fruitier taste.
Portugal’s most famous winemaker, João Portugal Ramos, explains that fruity, easy-drinking wines with soft tannins was a relatively unfamiliar style in Portugal, but slowly became a favourite among the locals. And the blend was first produced in Alentejo
All in the Soil
Throughout the region, the subregions enjoy unique climatic and environmental factors that give their wines its distinct flavours. The scorching summers in Granja-Amareleja and Moura, for example, gives grapes and wines a strapping, rustic flavour. The elevation and chilly nights in Borba, Evora, Redondo, Reguengos, and Vidigueira allow for the growth of robust yet balanced red grapes.
When it comes to soil, the best vineyards are often those with granite, limestone, and schist. One notable exception to this is the Herdade do Mouchão winery, which grows Alentejo’s adopted flagship variety Alicante Bouschet in deep clay.
There’s also Dona Maria’s Júlio Tassara de Bastos winery that grows the Alicante Bouschet. The wine produces some of their wines the old-fashioned way: foot-trodden in lagares made from locally-sourced pink marble.
Flavour Notes on Certain Wines
The region produces great quality wines from distinguished vineyards. João Portugal Ramos’s Vila Santa Reserva Red, for example, beautifully blends Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional grapes.
This elegant, full-bodied wine features an intense garnet colour brought on by the blend of local grapes. Overall, it’s a powerful, full wine with whiffs of ripe black fruits and a mix of spices imparted by the barrels. Its soft tannins and big flavours pair well with game meats (partridge, pheasant, quail), grilled/roasted meats and local cheeses. It also goes well with European delicatessen food, particularly foie gras, pâté, and presunto.
Over at the Herdade do Mouchão Winery, their Mouchão is a must-try for its full, deep colour. As the estate’s most important label and flagship wine, this blend was first sold in 1954 and this has helped Herdade’s reputation greatly. .
Made mostly with Alicante Bouschet with a small percentage of Trincadeira, the wine has a rich concentration and spiciness from the Alicante Bousche. It’s enhanced further by the elegance of the Trincadeira. It has a solid yet not overpowering tannic structure that allows for further development of the wine in the bottle.
When it comes to whites, the Esporão Reserve White is arguably the most popular and sought-after name from the region. This was the first wine produced by the estate, in 1985 and made in the classic style made from grapes grown on the estate’s grounds. This white has a rich, ripe character and a consistency that’s sought after in Alentejo’s best wines.
Alentejo may not be as popular as other wine regions in Singapore, but it offers just as much to the wine lovers, if not more.