Alentejo – wines from the silent lands

Alentejo is a wine region in Central Portugal, where winemaking traditions can be traced back even before the Roman times. After several setbacks during its history, nowadays the region is up and flourishing, producing a variety of interesting wines within seven Alentejo DOC sub-regions.

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It is about time to start covering Portugal’s wine regions, and what is a better place to start as a Finnish person, than Alentejo! Why you ask? Well like Finland, Alentejo is a huge area with a ridiculously small amount of people. One very unfortunate difference (there are few, to be honest) is, that not even 5 % of the land is used on viticulture in Finland. Then again, this is the case in Alentejo! But before anything else, take a little glimpse back to the history of these silent lands in the middle of Portugal.

Slowly, and not so steadily

Many historical records strongly suggest, that the Romans, with their professionalism in farming and agriculture, are behind the winemaking practices used until to date in Alentejo. With this most probably being true, the Romans weren’t the ones actually introducing winemaking to the area. It is proposed that an ancient civilization of Tartessians were the first to familiarize vines to Alentejanian soils. Nevertheless, it took another 200 years and the presence of the Romans to root the winemaking traditions to Alentejo. Additionally, some fermenting methods were introduced, and even today some producers use talhas de barro – clay vessels, or ânforas, for fermenting and storing purposes. It has been argued, that the first wines exported outside of Portugal were exported from Alentejo to Rome.

anfora de talha
Picture from here

Active spreading of Christianity and the religion’s use of wine in some celebrations grew more markets and more needs of vineyard development also in Alentejo. This all came to an end in the 8th century, after the Muslim invasion in the Iberian Peninsula. The Islamic influences lasted for centuries, which was a great misfortune for the winemaking culture in Alentejo.

Only in the 16th century was the winemaking back on its feet and flourishing again in Alentejo. By the middle of the 17th century, the wines from Alentejo were the most famous ones in the country. This triumph saw its end when the War of Restoration started in the 1640s.

The late 19th century and its phylloxera epidemic were followed by two world wars which threw the country into a troubling economical state. As one of the solutions, Alentejo was suggested to be planted fully with a variety of different grains, to produce food for the country. Vineyards were reduced and pushed outside of the villages. Wine was only being produced for home consumption.

First regulations and the uprising of Alentejo’s wines

First DOCs were regulated in the region in 1988. The next year, a regional viticultural commission (Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana) was installed to clarify and regulate wines from Alentejo produced for commercial usage. The DOC Alentejo wines can only be produced in smaller sub-areas inside of the greater Vinho Regional Alentejo region. To be able to regulate grape-growing and winemaking in different microclimates, DOC Alentejo has been divided into 8 sub-regions: Borba, Vidigueira, Portalegre, Moura, Èvora, Reguengos, Redondo, and Granja-Amareleja. DOC Alentejo permits 14 red grape varieties, and 16 white varieties.

Regional wines labeled “Vinho Regional Alentejano” have been increasing in recent years, some from within the DOC regions, some from outside. Wines produced in all Alentejo can be listed as Vinho Regional Alentejano, and the list of permitted varieties is significantly greater than on DOC Alentejo, including many foreign varieties, that are gaining more recognition in the area.

Characteristics of “Vinhos Alentejanos”

Having only a few more elevated areas on the North side of the region, Alentejo doesn’t end up having much influence from the close-by Atlantic ocean to its wines. On the North, close to river Tagus, the humidity provided by the higher lands give the wines invigorating freshness that can’t really be found on the wines anywhere else on the region. On the other hand, the region is especially rich in its soil materials. Portalegre sub-region in the North consists largely of granitic soil, where Borba in the middle of the region has great areas of schist, which gives the wines rich tannins.

estremoz trincadeira 1

 

The traditional red varieties of Alentejo, Trincadeira, Aragonez, Castelão, and Alicante Bouschet result in here wines that are full-bodied, prosperous with tannins and aromas of black, wild berries.

Traditional white varieties Roupeiro, Antão Vaz, and Arinto give here soft wines with tropical fruit flavors.

Producers to keep in mind

Pêra Manca – a cult wine of Alentejo, and of all Portugal. Read the (extremely short version of the) story behind the link! Red Pêra Manca from the vintage 1994 can be purchased for 538,25 € from here.

Herdade do Sobroso – This enormous, 1600 hectares winery also holds a luxurious country house where visitors can taste wines, have dinner, and stay the night. DOC Vidigueira wines.

Quinta do Mouro – One of the most appreciated producers in Alentejo. A story about a dentist from Èvora who fulfilled his dreams and became a winemaker.

Outeiros Altos – A producer that still makes vinho de talha – wines are being fermented by variety in large clay pots.

Herdade de Coelheiros – Vineyard and winery located in Arraiolos, in the county of Évora. Winemakers believe in minimal intervention when making the wines,  and usage of sustainable practices that respect flora and fauna.

quinta do mouro_1

Are you already familiar with Alentejo wine region? If so, and if you have encountered some excellent wines from the area, please let us know! 🙂

❤ : Maria

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