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Alentejo: Plush Red Portuguese Wine and More

Reading Time: [est_time] Mouth-filling reds that over-deliver their price points. That's was my past impression of Alentejo. While there are plenty of inexpensive, enjoyable reds to be found, Alentejo is much more than just cheap reds. There

Portuguese Wine Alentejo Wine

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Mouth-filling reds that over-deliver their price points.

That’s was my past impression of Alentejo. While there are plenty of inexpensive, enjoyable reds to be found, Alentejo is much more than just cheap reds. There are world-class wines to be found in the region, both red and white.

Over the past few years, Charine and I have tasted a few serious reds from the region which piqued our curiosity. During a two and a half week stint in Portugal, I got the opportunity to discover Alentejo in depth.

Alentejan Wine Grapes

Alentejo is a treasure trove of wine grapes, both indigenous and imported. According to Vinhos do Alentejo, there are currently 82 wine grapes permitted in the Alentejo DOC. Surprisingly, there are more white grapes (42) than reds. Interesting white-skinned grapes include Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Roupeiro while reds consist of Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Alfrocheiro, Castelão.

Alexandre Relvas of São Miguel believes that Touriga Franca and Trincadeira are the future of red grapes in the region. São Miguel’s top wine ‘Pé de Mãe’ is made of the later. “Trincadeira is great at retaining acidity in our hot climate,” he says.

Tasting different varieties with Alexandre Relvas.

Some international grapes have taken to the Alentejan terroir including Alicante Bouchet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Noir, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Petit Verdot, and Syrah. Alicante Bouchet may have found its natural home in Alentejo. Brought to the region by Mouchão, it can make wines that are spicy and serious.

Wine Styles in Alentejo

Value red and white wines are aplenty in Alentejo. The hot summers and warm autumns allow for red wine grapes and the tannins to get fully ripe. However, a shortage of water is a problem and it’s something the region has to tackle if the drought continues.

I had the impression that Alentejo was completely flat, which is dead wrong. While there are vineyards and cork trees planted on expansive flatlands, there are also many hills which create several microclimates. This is a hot region, more suited towards reds. However, the local grape Antão Vaz and Arinto (used in the Douro) keep decent levels of acidity and are capable of producing world-class wines.

The reds are Alentejo’s calling card though. There will always be a market for plush, affordable red wines and the region already has that nailed. For higher-priced wines, Alentejo is wise to focus on Portuguese grapes in addition to Alicante Bouschet. There are already a number of serious reds being made that should suit all types of palates. I look forward to following the region’s progress.

Alentejo has its own appellation dedicated to wines made in amphora, the Vinho do Talha DOC. This winemaking has a tradition spanning over two thousand years. In recent times, it’s a style that is experiencing a renaissance. Stay tuned to our page for an upcoming article dedicated to these wines.

A Word On Alentejan Cuisine

Thanks to wide-open spaces, access to the Atlantic Ocean, and plenty of olive trees the food of Alentejo is hearty and stands up to the robust wines. The greasy black Alentejan pork is excellent as charcuterie, braised, or grilled. The seafood is also prepared in a bolder style too, like the Carne de Porco à Alentejana (clams with pork) and the Sopa de cação (dogfish stew). You can also find perfectly prepared lamb and robust tomato soup. After all, hearty wine requires hearty food.

Wine Recommendations:

  • Esporão, Reserva 2016

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Esporão is one of the most recognizable estates from Alentejo, both locally and abroad. The Esporão Reserva is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragaonez, Alicante Bouchet, and Cabernet Sauvignon aged 12 months in oak. The oak stands out here but goes well with the lush black fruit. Big, plush, and soft red. It’s polished and full-bodied with round tannins. Good and crowd-pleasing red. I’ve been tough on this wine in the past, but this vintage is beautiful. Score: 90+/100

*I also highly recommend the Esporão Colheita Tinto 2017, it’s a fresh red wine that offers tremendous value for money and shows true Alentejan character.

  • Howard’s Folly, Sonhador 2015

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Howard’s Folly is the private project of David Baverstock, head winemaker at Esporão. The Howard’s Folly Sonhardor is simply a fantastic wine at a great price. It’s a blend of Alicante Bouchet, Syrah, Aragonez, and Touriga Nacional with notes of chocolate, dark red cherry, ripe strawberry, and pepper. It smells dark and dense but feels light on the palate. Chewy tannins and a good finish. This is a mid-range wine but I prefer it over the Howard’s Folly Reserva. Score: 90/100

*Thanks to Wine Concept in Lisbon for allowing me to taste through the Howard’s Folly portfolio.

  • Herdade do São Miguel, Pé de Mãe 2017

This translates to “mother’s foot”. The Herdade do São Miguel Pé de Mãe is made from Trincadeira aged for 18 months in big barrels. This has a nose of black raspberry, violets, pepper, and tobacco. This has depth and distinction. For a wine from Alentejo, this has a lot of elegance. Tart fruit flavors and high acidity with firm tannins. After some time in the bottle, this could become quite Pinot Noir-esque. Only the second vintage of this wine. Score: 91+/100

  • São Lourenço do Barracol, Vinho Branco 2018

The São Lorenço do Barracol Vinho Branco is a fabulous entry-level wine, it’s available only at the estate (which also happens to have a fabulous restaurant). It’s a blend of Roupeiro, Marsanne, and Viognier. This has aged very well. Fantastic body with flavors of apricot, honey, dried peaches, and sage. This is more Rhône in style with body and low acidity. It still retains a lot of fruit with just a touch of natural gas. Phenolic and tasty. Score: 90/100

  • José Maria Fonseca, José de Sousa Mayor 2016

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The José de Sousa Mayor is a blend of Grand Noir, Trincadeira, and Aragonez. Around 50% of this blend is made in Talhas and aged in French oak for 9 months. Notes of blackberry, cherry, spice, and tobacco. This is surprisingly elegant for a wine from Alentejo. The tannins are present and round but not overly grippy. Good length on the finish. The high acidity makes this a wine that screams for food. Score: 89/100

  • Mouchão, Tinto 2013

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Mouchão is one of the premier names in all of Portugal. This producer was responsible for bringing Alicante Bouchet to the region. This tinto is 90% Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira. Fantastic red wine with notes of red fruit, raspberry, black herbs, and pepper. Svelte mouthfeel with impeccable balance and elegance. This tastes incredibly young, it shows no aging. Long and peppery finish. Score: 93/100

  • Mouchão Tonel 3 & 4 2013

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The Mouchão Tonel 3 & 4 is 100% Alicante Bouschet bottled only in great vintages. The wine is matured in two 5000L barrels numbered 3 & 4. Concentrated and inky with notes of rubber, black cherry, black raspberry, tobacco, and pepper. This has depth and concentration not found with this grape. This is structured in a great way. Firm tannins promise this will have a long cellar life, this is an extraordinary effort. Score: 95+/100

  • Quinta do Mouro, Tinto 2008

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The Quinta do Mouro Tinto is a blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a dark, inky, and developed red wine. Thanks to Vinhos do Alentejo for digging into their collection and passing me this sample bottle. There are notes of sweet tobacco, leather, black cherry, plum, charred earth, and pepper. Full-bodied and mouth-coating tannins. Long finish. Score: 91/100

*Thanks to Vinhos do Alentejo for pulling this out of their personal collection for me to taste.

  • Monte da Ravasqueira, MR Premium Tinto 2014

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The Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Tinto is a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Aragonez, aged 27 months in French oak. Developed wine with leather, plum, black cherry, and a touch of raisin. This is a full-bodied, polished red wine. Dense and fruity with a generous amount of sweet oak with big tannins on the finish. It’s a nice wine, but the price may detract many consumers. Score: 89/100

  • Vidigueira, Grande Eschola 2015

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What a brilliant red wine from a cooperative. The Vidigueira Grand Eschola is a blend of Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet aged for 12 months in oak. More serious than the price suggests (around 8 Euros in Portugal). Notes of black fruit, tobacco, black raspberry, mocha, and spice. A pretty serious wine for this price. It has fruit and nuances with a spicy intensity, soft tannins, and a persistent finish. Score: 90/100

  • Herdade do Rocim, Grande Rocim 2015

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The Herdade do Rocim Grande Rocim is made from 100% Alicante Bouschet, foot trodden in lagares, and aged two years in the barrel. This is refined, serious stuff. Notes of rubber, tobacco, cedar, black cherry, plum, and pepper. This is full but not brooding because of the acidity. Alcohol is balanced and there is a spike of fruit intensity on the palate. Round tannins and a long finish. Score: 92/100

  • Cartuxa, Pêra-Manca Branco 2016

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The Cartuxa Pêra -Manca Branco and Tinto are two of Alentejo’s most celebrated wines. The Branco is a blend Antão Vaz and Arinto, two-thirds of the wine is fermented in oak. Notes of pineapple, lime, mineral, and yogurt. Complex and balanced at the same time with good use of oak. It’s full and creamy with a citrus finish. This is the best white wine I’ve had from Southern Portugal to date. Score: 93/100

  • Cartuxa, Tinto Reserva 2015

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The Cartuxa Tinto Reserva is a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez aged for 15 months in the barrel and 15 months in bottle before release. This is oaky but has notes of expensive, well-integrated wood. Notes of black fruit, smoke, pepper, bacon fat, and black cherry. This is full-bodied and refined. This has intensity on the back end with a long finish. Score: 92/100

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Thanks to the Vinhos do Alentejo for providing the appointments and accommodation during my stay. Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are unsolicited and have not been paid for in any way by governmental bodies, enterprises, or individuals. We do not sell editorial content as that would destroy the legitimacy of our reviews and the trust between Exotic Wine Travel and its readers. On occasion, we extend the option of purchasing the wines we review or/and the products we spotlight. Some of these product links are set up through affiliate programs, which means Exotic Wine Travel gets referral credits if you choose to purchase these items via the links we provide.

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