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Alentejo,Flavors from the World of Wine,Iberian Peninsula,Imports,Portugal,Vineyards,Viticulture,Wine,Wine Business

From Alentejo with Love: Understanding the Viticutural Area

In Portugal's Alentejo region, Alicante Bousch...
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Two comments from people reading From Alentejo with Love: Climate, Soils, and Trellising, inspired a bit more sharing of that region. While that one story took care of climate, etc., I knew – when I was writing it – that I was leaving out a huge part… Their viticultural regions and how they’re classified.

From Tucker Catlin… Tucker owns property in Napa Valley, and is a prominent Napa viticulturist:

Hey Jo, Lucky lucky you – “working” with the Portuguese!! I spent 2 wonderful years as president of a joint venture winery start up in the Douro with Jack Davies and consider those some of my very best years. Lucky lucky you – Tucker Catlin

The other comes from winemaker Jon Leahy of Leahy Castle Wines:

Really liked your entry today. My wife and I just spent the last year between the Alentejo and the upper Duro region / Tras-o-Montes. Loved every square inch and every drop of that great juice there. Seeing your pics makes me homesick (only backwards?) We got back in time to start crush this past fall and before I could turn around, realized it has been 5 months since returning from Portugal… your article really was wonderful to read, made me regret not bringing back more vino!

After reading their comments, I thought that it’s definitely worth sharing more for people who want to purchase a bottle of Portuguese wine, understand more about the label, and learn more about it’s origin.

Understanding a region is half the fun of enjoying wine for me. It never took much to convince me about wine terroir, once I tasted a California apple. That might sound weird to say, but comparing the flavors of California apples to those I used to pick right off the trees in Maine, that was my first impression and lesson in regionalism. While some may argue that California apples are every bit as good, I would argue that the rain we get in Maine doesn’t stays mainly on the plains… it stays in the apples. A drippingly succulent apple from a Maine McIntosh, say, can only be found in Maine; ergo, a Portuguese variety coming from Alentejo and the subtle differences it exhibits are delightful to taste and get to know.

For most of you, forget everything you’ve ever thought about, when Portuguese wines come into your head. Ports and sherries, even Mateus, might be the first wines that comes to mind; but, that’s not what I’m even talking about. Dry red and white still wines, no fortification, and impeccable vinification… You’ll be tasting a new world of old world wines, and the Alentejo has the love to go with it.

The following are three systems, as taught to me by Enoforum Wines, which control the defining of Portuguese wines, not only from Portugal, but also for the Alentejo, because that’s what this blog is all about… The Alentejo viticultural region.

  1. DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada, or Controlled Origin Denomination)
    • The system by which the Portuguese define their viticultural regions.
  2. CVRA (Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana, or the Viticultural Commission of the Alentejo Region)
    • Since May of 1989, the Alentejo wine producing region has been controlled by the CVRA. This independent inter-professional organization, recognized and authorized by the Portuguese Government, is responsible for controlling the rules and regulations that discipline regional production and for certifying wines, in accordance with the Origin Denomination.
  3. EU (European Union legislation)
    1. The Alentejo is registered in the Controlled Origin Denomination “DOC ALENTEJO” (similar to the French AOC) and of the Geographical Indication (GI) “REGIONAL ALENTEJANO” (similar to the French Vin de Pays). Both of these designations are protected by registration and regulated by law.

The certification “DOC ALENTEJO” can be awarded to wines associated with a very well defined and circumscribed region (former Portuguese differentiated region). Apart from the geographical origin, the rules to which they are subject and which are controlled and certified by the CVRA include the following:

  • Type of soil on which the vines are grown
  • Grape varieties used
  • Maximum yield
  • Winemaking methods
  • Profile of the wine.

The aim is to guarantee the characteristics of the Alentejo wine, established over many decades. The certification “DOC ALENTEJO” can be identified from the special numbered seal placed on each bottle.

“REGIONAL ALENTEJANO” wine has existed since 1992 (under a different name between 1992 and 1998). It is a Geographical Indication, which can be awarded to wines produced in the Region. The area of production coincides with virtually the whole of the Alentejo Region, with the exception of the coastal plains. A broader geographic area and a set of more flexible rules distinguish these REGIONAL wines from the DOC ALENTEJO wines. The certificate “REGIONAL ALENTEJANO” can be identified from the numbered seal placed on each bottle.

VINEYARDS

Vineyards currently comprise over 54,000 acres in the Alentejo. Annual production of wine averages 23 billion gallons, and is mainly red wines. The climate is distinctly Mediterranean, and the region experiences intense sunlight. With very long exposure to sun throughout the year, summers bring consistently high temperatures during the days. Cooler nights, cold winters, and a dry environment are also typical. The soils have very favorable conditions for growing grapevines. The region is clearly suited for the production of high quality wines. Due to its climate, the Alentejo is among the best wine producing regions with regards to the stability and consistency of the quality and quantity of grapes produced. Its morphology is characterized by vast and softly undulating plains. This allows for the most modern techniques and technologies in vine growing.

THAT’S ANCIENT HISTORY

Historians believe that viticulture was probably introduced in the Alentejo by the Phoenicians, travelling inland into the region along the Sado and Guadiana rivers over 2,000 years ago. These travelers brought grapevines and the knowledge of how to grow grapes, sharing them with the people who then lived in the Alentejo.

  • The presence of the Moors (led by Tarik) reached the region in 711 B.C., and they settled there for almost five centuries. They continued with viticulture and the use of wine in their diet.
  • When the Alentejo was taken over during the Roman Empire (about 45 B.C.), wine growing was strengthened. The typical diet of olive oil, bread, and wine was adopted, which to this day remains the traditional gastronomy.

Following the inclusion of Évora into the newly created Kingdom of Portugal in 1165, the city became the largest wine growing center in the Alentejo. Today wine is one of the most important economic activities in the region… And it’s being done really well.

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