Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
The enjoyment of wine as an integral part of a meal is part of Portugal’s gastronomic heritage. This passion for wine reflects the enormous pride Portuguese winemakers have always taken in their wine quality. Technical knowledge reinforced by links with university research and investment in the most up-to-date production equipment are many times combined with traditional production methods to greatly improve the resulting wines.
Red table wines are made mostly from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Alicante Bouschet, or Tinto Cão blended with a number of other varietals such as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Caladoc or Tinta Roriz to name but a few. Tinta Roriz or Aragonez are Portuguese names for Tempranillo, the leading indigenous grape used in making quality red wines in the Iberian Peninsula.
Alentejo is the name of one of the most important Portuguese wine producing areas, the largest viticultural area in Portugal; it covers about 1/3 of the entire country. Located on the Eastern part, slightly South from Lisbon and bordering Extremadura, Spain, Alentejo produces some easy-drinking, fruity white and red wines as well as some very serious reds that can easily compete as being some of the best wines produced in the Iberian Peninsula.
Wine producing estates are scattered throughout the Alentejo area. Visiting these producers is an unforgettable experience. Some, such as Quinta do Carmo for example, are not only interesting for their beautiful wines but also for the magnificent gardens and stately homes built as early as the mid-16th century.
An excellent Alentejo wine that I received for tasting was Herdade do Esporão’s 2013 Vinha das Palmeiras, Alicante Bouschet. This wine is produced only in exceptional years and is made from specific vineyard parcels that express the unique character of the Alicante Bouschet grape variety. This is a dark and silky wine with a full body that had a deep, concentrated color. On the nose and palate it exhibits ripe and bold berry fruit and dark chocolate and a hint of leather and cigar box. The finish was spicy with robust but integrated tannins. I would rate it at 92/100 points.
Herdade Mouchão Tinto 2013 was another bottle that gave me a lot of pleasure when I paired it with rare grilled lamb chops at a NYC steakhouse dinner. The wine is a blend of 73% Alicante Bouschet and 27% Trincadeira, another of the indigenous varietals the Portuguese winemakers use to improve an Alicante Bouschet wine. It is a wine powered by black fruits and juicy acidity, notable for hints of cedar, mint and cigar box. The entire winemaking process has remained practically the same since the 19th century; hand-harvesting and hand-selecting the grapes when they arrive at the winery, then they are foot-trodden and fermented in marble lagares (shallow stone cisterns) and aged for 24 months in 5,000-liter barrels of Portuguese oak and mahogany, and then another 24 to 36 months in bottle. Unfortunately, having tasted last year in Lisbon a 2011 bottle, the body was not as full in the 2013 as I expected, though the wine was eminently drinkable. I would rate this wine at 90/100 points.
To your health!
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