In Portugese, Alentejo means beyond the Tajo River that crosses the Iberian Peninsula.
By J.M. Towers
Already in Phoenician times—more than 3,000 years ago—vines were grown in Portugal’s Alentejo region, an expanse of land that makes up about a third of the country covering central and southern Portugal. In Portuguese, Alentejo means "Beyond the Tagus," the great river that crosses the Iberian Peninsula and generously irrigates its territory.
The region includes Baixo Alentejo and Alto Alentejo. With more than 22,000 hectares of vines, it is one of the most important wine producing areas in the country, with a designation of origin (PDO) that covers eight sub-regions: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, and Vidigueira.
Most of Alentejo consists of rolling plains and hills. The larger mountains are located only in Portalegre, in the Serra de São Mamede, at the border with Spain. The winds, rainfall and cold temperatures of the area are favorable for the production of excellent red wines made with grapes from old vines.
The regions of Borba, Évora, Redondo and Reguengos—in the center of the country—enjoy benevolent weather conditions, and their red wines are mild, harmonious and palatable. The conditions are harsher as we move southward towards Granja-Amareleja, Moura and Vidigueira because the limestone soil is poor, and the climate is considerably warmer throughout the year. However, these disadvantages did not prevent a new generation of producers from recently settling around Vidigueira, where they are making some unique wines.
The wines of Alentejo usually feature the local grapes. The whites—made from Antão Vaz—possess an extraordinary acidity and hints of tropical fruits. The arinto and roupeiro grapes also show a marked acidity, especially in coupage (mixtures) with diagalves, manteúdo, perrum and rabo de ovelha. The red Tempranillo is known as aragonez in Alentejo and is the most cultivated. Also noteworthy are the French Alicante Bouschet, treacley, Alfrocheiro, castelao and Trincadeira and, of course, the valuable moreto, red grossa, and Caiada, used to make interesting coupages.
When someone asks me to recommend a good wine from Alentejo, I find it a difficult task because this vast region has more than 250 wineries. But if I had to recommend some excellent wines, I would mention the white Esporão produced by Herdade de Esporão winery, one of the largest in Portugal. Or fabulous reds such as Marques de Borba—produced by João Portugal Ramos—an award-winning wine noted for its intense aromas of fruit and elegance, and whose quality is comparable to a good red Burgundy or Piedmont. But, I think it should be you who enjoys to tries a fine Alentejo to delight palate and spirit. I am sure you will recognize the spirit of a wine region with some of the world’s best vineyards. ■
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