December 19, 2012
I expect that the Costa Alentejana in Portugal wouldn’t immediately jump to mind on many people’s lists of the world’s foremost wine regions. The Alentejo, perhaps, but its coastal region? Probably not.
Yet, after a short visit (courtesy of our clients the Costa Alentejana Tourist Board and Sunvil Discovery), I discovered why this little-known wedge of Portugal is beginning to turn some wine aficionados’ heads.
Occupying a third of Portugal, the Alentejo boasts 22,000 hectares of sun-drenched vineyards and 250 independent wineries. And, despite being a relatively young wine region – it has only been a major producer since the 1990s – almost one in every two bottles of wine consumed in Portugal is now produced in the Alentejo.
The Costa Alentejana wineries are unique because of their location. Close proximity to the sea means less fluctuation of temperatures between day and night – with a hot sun and cooling breezes during the day – as well as, very often, sandy soils that contribute to the wines’ particular characteristics.
After meeting nine of Costa Alentejana’s wine producers and visiting four vineyards, I quickly realised that wine is not just a drink on the Costa Alentejana, but an expression of this region’s culture, too. Small, family-run vineyards dominate, and their desire to support their local communities and protect the environment is noticeable from the outset. Furthermore, the wine producers are not only striving for quality over quantity, but they are also keen to produce something a little bit different.
This determination, coupled with the Costa Alentejana’s unique climate and varied soil composition, means the region’s burgeoning reputation for wine is fully justified, and the scene is set for the production of a vast variety of wines.
Whilst some wineries choose to use the traditional grapes and blends, others are looking to take Portuguese wine production to the next level by introducing grapes from other famous regions – such as the French grapes Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – and blending them with typical Portuguese grapes.
At Herdade da Comporta, a blend of purely native Portuguese grape varieties holds sway. Here they create Paros (comprising Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional grapes) and No.9 (Alicante Bouschet) wines, both earthy tipples in flavour, and age-worthy due to a greater acidity. The Herdade da Comporta red wine (Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Franca), meanwhile, has a much fruitier aroma.
And then there’s Herdade do Portocarro, which is currently selling its wines in tantalisingly small quantities in London’s Zuma and Cinnamon Club restaurants. As a fan of French and Italian wine, Portocarro owner Jose da Mota Capitao (an agricultural engineer by trade) has gone one step further in his wine production by using a unique combination of key grapes from different wine regions.
His prized wine, Cavalo Maluco, which translates as ‘Crazy Horse’, is created from a rare blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Petit Verdot (principally used in classic Bordeaux blends) grapes, while his Anime wine uses the Italian grape Sangiovese to produce its intense flavour.