Last week at the Wines of Portugal tasting at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I sampled several very tasty wines from a Portuguese wine region that I had previously known very little about – Alentejo. Located in the southern part of Portugal, the region’s wines can be labelled as Alentejo DOC or Alentejano VR (vinho regional). According to the encyclopedic wine book simply titled, Wine, by André Dominé, Alentejo has now surpassed Dão as the third most important quality wine region in Portugal, after Porto and Vinho Verde.
“Vinho Regional” is the equivalent to the French “Vins de Pays”, but unlike most vins de pays, the VR wines of Portugal are not necessarily the more basic wines of the region. In fact, some Portuguese producers put their best brands on the market under the vinho regional label, and as a result, the brand name has become more important than the designation of DOC. The VR category is also used for blended wines that may not fit in to the DOC regulations. In addition, some of the best vineyards are located outside the DOC and can only be labelled as VR. So…don’t automatically disregard the VR wines as being inferior!
For centuries Alentejo was best known in the wine world as an important supplier of high quality cork to stopper wine bottles. After the military-led revolution in the 70’s and early 80’s the economy of the region was in a state of confusion. Co-operatives previously established with government support produced basic quality wine for the local market. It wasn’t until the European Union offered financial support that the wine-making potential of the region began to shine. New technologies and modern wine-making methods were adopted which proved essential in an area with a climate considered far too hot for the production of fine wine. Irrigation, necessary in this hot, dry area, was established and temperature controlled wineries and fermentation vessels were invested in.
Most of the wine produced in the region is made by 6 large, but very competent co-operatives; however, the number of private wine estates is continuing to increase. In 1994 there were only 40 private wine estates and now there are over 300.
Most of the vineyard space is taken up with red grapes, but about 10% are white grapes producing fresh and pretty wines. A few of the important white varieties are the relatively bland Antão Vaz; Arinto, prized for its ability to retain acidity in the hot climate; and the gently aromatic Roupeiro.
Some of the important red varieties are the deep coloured and blackberry fruity Tricadeira; Aragonez (Tempranillo) which has less tannin and acidity here than in the Douro and produces juicy, plummy, spicy wines; the Teinturier grape Alicante Bouschet, which produces wine with good colour, tannin, and fruit; Alfrocheiro, with its blackberry, spice and soft tannins; and Syrah which, I’m told, grows very well in this southern Portuguese region.
Tasting Notes: these are just a few of the wines I enjoyed from Alentejo that were available at the tasting. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to all of them.
Herdade Paço do Conde White 2008 Alentejano VR: A blend of Antao Vaz and Arinto. A lovely minerally, citrus nose. Light and refreshing. A simple sipping wine for a hot day. Terroir Wine Imports (www.terroirwineimports.com).
Herdade das Albernoas White 2008 Alentejano VR: A blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Roupeiro. More fruit aromas than the wine above with a lovely lavender floral note (probably from the addition of Roupeiro). A very pleasant summer wine. Terroir Wine Imports (www.terroirwineimports.com).
Quinta do Quetzal Guadalupe Selection 2005 Alentejano VR: A blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, and Alicante Bouschet. A very pretty nose of violets and black and red fruit. It has similar flavours on the palate with a somewhat short finish. Still a very nice wine. Terroir Wine Imports (www.terroirwineimports.com).
Quetzal 2007 Alentejo DOC: A blend of Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet. A more intense nose is evident with lots of dark fruit and red cherry with an appealing floral note. Soft and supple on the palate with an appetizing finish. A really enjoyable wine. Terroir Wine Imports (www.terroirwineimports.com).
Herdade do Esporao 4 Castas Red 2008 Alentejano VR: A blend of Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Alfrocheiro, Petit Verdot. Pleasant aromas of spicy dark fruit. Similar flavours follow through onto the palate with supple tannins and a good length. FWP Trading Inc. – Food and Wines of Portugal (www.winesofportugal.ca).
Herdade do Esporao Reserva Red 2007 Alentejo DOC: Blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira. Although this was one of my favourite wines of the tasting, it is a bit closed right now and needs some more time to open up. Decant before serving or age a few more years. Attractive aromas of violets and ripe dark fruit. The firm tannins could also use some time to integrate. Good length. FWP Trading Inc. – Food and Wines of Portugal (www.winesofportugal.ca).
Herdade do Esporao Aragones 2007 Alentejano VR: Aromas of spice, black pepper, dark fruit, and plum. Similar flavours are evident on the palate with firm tannins and a good length. A balanced and delicious wine.