Today we’re taking a virtual trip to one of my favorite Portuguese wine regions: Alentejo. This large inland region is known for sunny days, cork trees, agriculture and its wines. As with other regions in Portugal most wines are blends, but unlike other Portuguese wine regions the use of amphorae in winemaking has persisted since being introduced by the Romans. And, this group of wines includes the first rosé we’ve tasted from Alentejo. All wines were provided as tasting samples.
Vineyard plantings in the Alentejo have grown and contracted over the centuries, but, according to the Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana (CVRA) as of 2019 over 54,000 acres are planted to vines. As you might expect in a warm wine region about 73% of wines are red. The major red grape varieties include Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelão, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. White wines comprise about 25% of production and are made using Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Roupeiro among others. Rosè wines represent just a few percent of all wines made in Alentejo.
Annual rainfall here is modest, about 23 inches, and the region experiences some of the warmest temperatures in Europe. The region is also prone to drought. These factors, and the undeniability of climate change, have prompted the region to develop a voluntary sustainability program. The Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP) is the first regional sustainability program created in Portugal. It was established in 2014 by the CVRA. Membership started with 96 members and has grown to 422 growers and wineries that represent half of total vineyard acreage.
2020 Casa Relvas Herdade São Miguel Rosé, Vinho Regional Alentejano — palest pink with generous aromas of strawberries and other mixed berries. Flavor include strawberries, raspberries, stone fruit and citrus zest with juicy acidity and a dry finish. Easy sipping and refreshing. 12.5% abv. SRP $15
The blend is Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Aragonez and others. Touriga Nacional likely originated in Portugal’s Dão region, but is prized by winemakers all over Portugal for its rich, dark fruit flavors and tannins. Syrah, we are all familiar with, and Aragonez we also know as Tempranillo. The grapes were pressed, fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees in stainless steel.
Casa Relvas is a family-owned business with wineries and vineyards in two locations in Alentejo. The company’s large production includes 12 labels and is focused on the export market. Herdade São Miguel is the first single-estate wine made from vineyards in Herdade de São Miguel in Redondo.
2019 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Tinto, DOC Alentejo — medium ruby with generous aromas of dark plums, blackberries and dried tomato leaf. The flavor follow the aromas with ripe plums, blackberries, boysenberries, slate-like minerality and celery salt. Tannins are gauzy in a barely-medium body with good acidity. Easy sipping and also tasty slightly chilled. 13% abv. SRP $18
The blend is Moreto, Tinta Grossa, Trincadeira and Aragonez. Moreto (Moreto do Alentejo) is a hearty and productive red variety that thrives in hot, sunny conditions and is not widely grown elsewhere. Tinta Grossa (aka Grossa), like Moreto, likely originated in Alentejo. It is planted almost exclusively in the Vidigueira sub-region of Alentejo. Trincadeira, commonly also called Tinta Amarela in Portugal, likely originated in Oeste north of Lisbon where it shows the most clonal diversity. Although, Wine Grapes goes on to note it may have originated in Alentejo. Either way Trincadeira is widely planted in Portugal and capable of producing excellent wine.
From the technical sheet: “Vinification was done in the traditional way, in clay pots, and with no temperature control. The ancestral way to make such wine was fully respected. Fermentation took place using indigenous yeasts and with no addition or correction of must.” The wine was aged three months in the bottle before release.
When the Romans arrived in the Alentejo region, winemaking was already well established. The Romans introduced the use of amphorae, called talhas de barro, to winemaking in Alentejo and the vessels are still used to this day. These clay vessels can be up to seven feet in height and contain 520 gallons of wine. This video on the Wines of Alentejo website explains the winemaking process in the beautiful Portuguese language, with English subtitles. It is a labor of love.
2018 Cartuxa EA Red, Vinho Regional Alentejano — light ruby with generous aromas of roasted coffee, blackberries and candied cherries. Flavors are plumy, with blackberries and dark cherries. Tannins are drying in a barely medium body with juicy acidity. This is pure fruit enjoyment. 13.5% abv. SRP $9
The Cartuxa EA Red is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Syrah sourced from the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation vineyards. Alicante Bouschet is a cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet made by Henri Bouschet in 1851. Alicante Bouschet is a red-fleshed, dark-skinned variety capable of making darkly colored, fruity wines. This is a drink-now red blend made entirely in stainless steel, that has been filtered, stabilized and bottled.
Adega Cartuxa has historic connections to both the Carthusians and the Jesuits and takes its name from a nearby Carthusian Monastery, Mosteiro da Cartuxa. Cartuxa makes several ranges of wine made by the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation. The foundation is named for the family that rescued and renovated the ruins of the Cartuxa Monastery (Cartuxa de Santa Maria Scala Coeli), which was built for the Carthusian Order between 1587 and 1598 near Évora.
2018 CARMIM Monsaraz Reserva Red, DOC Alentejo — dense ruby with generous aromas of dried dill, dark berries and earth. Flavors lead with blackberries, stewed cranberries, ripe dark cherries, dried dill and dusty earth. Tannins are gauzy in a medium body with a slightly warming finish. Fruity, but not overly ripe. Worthy of a meal. 15% abv. SRP $16
This hearty red is a blend of now-familiar varieties: Alicante Bouschet (60%), Trincadeira (20%), Touriga Nacional (20%) aged in French and American oak for 12 months with 3 months of bottle aging before release.
CARMIM (Cooperativa Agrícola de Reguengos de Monsaraz) is a co-operative in Reguengos de Monsaraz established by a group of 60 growers to make and sell wine in 1971. Currently, 850 members produce 74 wine brands from nearly 8,900 acres in the region in a modern winemaking facility.
Once again, these Alentejo wines do not disappoint. There is so much to love about each of these wines beginning with their affordability. They reflect the warm sunny weather in the Alentejo without being too ripe and certainly none is over oaked. They’re well suited for a meal, the rosé included, but it’s also just easy sipping on its own.
Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for organizing our tasting.