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To Understand Portuguese Wines, One Must First Understand the People

Having spent 10 days in Portugal, as the guest of my client Enoforum Wines, my world of wine just became greatly expanded. It didn’t begin with the wine, though, it began with the people. In this coming week, I’m going to be exploring what I’ve just learned. It began the moment I was picked up at the airport my host, Delfim Costa.

Delfim and I met at the US Wine Bloggers Conference in 2008. Someone else from his company had queried me a year before that, and at the time I was too busy to even consider another client.  When Delfim handed me his business card, however, I recognized it from my past. As soon as I got home, I went into my computer’s history, and was able to track everything back to my earlier introduction to Enoforum Wines. “What a coincidence,” I thought. It wasn’t Delfim that queried me, but another person in the company.

At the WBC B-B-Q, I had given Delfim a ride back to the hotel, so he wouldn’t have to wait for the bus, and that began our adventure together. Little did either of us think at that time that the next ride would be Delfim picking me up at the Lisbon Airport and driving me downtown, but that’s exactly how it played itself out over a year later.

Last December, Delfim sent a book to me. I was so touched with his unexpected generosity, that it became my New Year’s resolution to learn more about Portugal in 2009. The book is called, The First Global Village, How Portugal Changed the World, and was written by the late Martin Page.

The stories contained within are much deeper than a simplified tourist’s guide to Portugal. It’s a complex Portuguese history of being on the receiving end of invasion and visitation – as soon as man could get himself around in a boat, by the Phoenician (they introduced grape vines and olives in Alentejo), the Celtics, the Germanics, the Romans, the Moors, and the Jews. These ethnic cultures, during their invasion and habitations, gave Portugal the gifts of their foods, their ways of living in not only mannerisms, but also their religious beliefs, their arts and their sciences.

This created a complex people who then went out into the world, themselves, to also establish world dominance, spreading their own culture to places around the globe. One only has to look at Brazil to see their affect. I, for instance, grew up on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Maine. The city to my east was Lisbon, and the next city was Lisbon Falls. It had Portuguese residents, as you can only imagine, and is about 25 miles from the Atlantic.

The Portuguese today are simply delightful, immensely compassionate, extremely courteous, and have a multifaceted diversity that has to be experienced firsthand to even begin to comprehend all that Portugal continues to offer the world. It’s a lot, I dare say, and it’s splendid.

It was an overwhelming trip, as it’s taken me a week to finally begin to put the pieces of my mosaic together for concentrated writings. I loved my journey, which began each day at 9:00 a.m. (give or take) to 11:00 p.m. (again, give or take), and that went on for 10 days. Besides Delfim, my other Enoforum hosts were Isabel Ramos , Luís Ribeiro, and José Fonseca. This team of four people were ever gracious and so attentive. They have given me so much to write about.

It was a whirlwind tour that I know I wouldn’t have wanted any other way. As my compatriot on the trip (winner of Why I Want to Go to Portugal to Visit Enoforum Wines with Jo Diaz) Gwendolyn Alley (WinePredator and ArtPredator) kept saying, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. She did better than I, by sleeping even less and blogging during her early mornings and/or late at night. I eventually told her she didn’t need to continue blogging, once I realized we’d have  just a bit of sleep, but she was on a tear to get it all out. She, too, had the trip of a lifetime. More than once we commented to each other, this is such an amazing gift we were both given, and it will last a lifetime, we both know.

What I will be writing about first are the wine companies in the Alentejo Region of Portugal that we visited. Check out the map below to see our daily route from Évora. The village of Évora was our based, and we traveled from there each day to the towns circled. (Thanks to Google for the Google map.)

Borrowing from the Douro Boys, these are my Alentejo Boys (Alentejo winemakers) in the order of our visits:

  1. Rui Veladas ~ Carmim ~ Reguengos de Monsaraz (Left)
  2. Óscar Gato ~ Adega Coop de Borba ~ Borba (Middle left person)
  3. José Fonseca ~ (Middle right person ~ Enoforum Wines ~ Évora)
  4. Pedro Hipólito ~ Adega Coop de Redondo ~ Redondo (Right)

Writing about not only the wines, but also how we spent the day in their Alentejo regions is going to be my first order of business…

Interestingly, I was just queried by a Bordeaux company for a visit. I said it would be a while, because I have just returned from Portugal. The person who was asking me to come to France mentioned, “You must have been tasting Ports.”

Today, this is the favorite wine that comes from Portugal and has the most history, since it was what Portugal delivered to England as a beverage for their enjoyment. In order to get wine from Portugal to England (on what could be a slow ship, taken off course for weeks by storms), the wine had to be fortified.

With this much history, it makes sense that so many people love ports, and the mere mention of being in Portugal today, brings back one’s favorite wines. (For my new friend in Bordeaux, and in a later blog, I’ll have to share the 1983 Porto that I enjoyed with one of the Douro Boys,  at the European Wine Bloggers Conference. I was part of a Sherry and Porto tasting.)

I wasn’t in the Douro region, though. I was in the south of Portugal, visiting the Alentejo, an emerging region with wonderful red and white wines. These will be the stories that I’ll be sharing, and these are the wines now coming into the international market. And, what the world will come to understand is that the Alentejo region has been growing grapes and making wine for their own consumption, never thinking “marketing” for years and years. It’s only recently that the Alentejo has opened up for worldwide distribution, and when you taste these wines and hear of their pricing, you’re going to be seeking out Alentejo wines… I honestly believe.

We traveled from the city of Lisbon, to wineries in the Alentejo. We visited vineyards, olive groves, a cork plant and drove through cork forests. We saw indigenous animals that live in communion with the landscape and flora. It was an amazing symbiosis of the way a natural life still exists in an ancient land of this magnitude. It was more than I could have ever imagined, and more than I can ever explain, but I’ll try to give it some justice, as my heart was opened further in Portugal.

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18 Responses to “To Understand Portuguese Wines, One Must First Understand the People”

  1. Yes, it was an amazing trip! Love the map of stone & the google map which shows where we went. Great collage of our 4 Alentejo Boys–the wine makers who showed us around and shared their wines with us.

    (PS I have been catching up on my sleep! I was “dead tired” by the time I got back!)

  2. Nancy says:

    What a fun read, Jo! I’m looking forward to the next entries! nancy

  3. Jo says:

    The stone map is going to play itself out later, because I photographed every ship, with every date, in every harbor. This will allow for a blog to be written about where the Portuguese went during their heyday of importing and exporting, beginning in the 1400s. It will be a great history lesson for me, as I research all of their adventures. (Most of it is in the book on Portugal, written by Martin Page, that Luis gave to you.)

    Don’t you just love the “Alentejo Boys?” I think they’re every bit as hot and personable as the Douro Boys. That will be a very interesting panel of compare and contrast, when we set that one up.

    (PS I, too, had massive catching up on sleep to do. I’ve traveled a lot in my time, but never have been hit so hard. Coming back in time, on Continental Flight CO 41Y (that was like a refrigerator, and asked four times to turn up the heat, to no avail + had a baby screaming bloody murder from Newark to SF) didn’t allow for any sleep. That challenged my body further. It took me all of last week to come back to California. I’m finally back and had a great time writing over this weekend. I got to relive all of our adventures. You were a great traveling companion, Gwendolyn, and a perfect person to have won the Enoforum trip.)

  4. Jo says:

    Thanks, Nancy.

    As I’m writing my blogs for this coming week, I’m reliving all of my days in Portugal, and continue to pinch myself… I’m pleased you can travel this journey with me. I am so fortunate, as was my traveling companion Gwendolyn Alley.

    Everything was done in a very classy way for us… Kinda like our Mondavi hospitality days, when we were responsible for being so sharp and on our toes, in THOSE wonderful days that you and I shared… and what you no do at Goosecross!

  5. Roger says:

    A great story Jo. I can’t wait to see how the map plays out in the future

  6. lgking says:

    Took my family on holiday last year to Spain and Portugal. Portugal by far stole my heart. My favorite ‘wine’ country.

  7. Jo says:


    I saw the map on my first day in Lisbon, before Gwendolyn had flown in. Then I saw it nine days later. By then, I knew what I shoulda coulda done on the first day – if I hadn’t been a newbie in Lisboa, and completely on overload from the entire experience. So, on my return trip, I went to every single ship and photographed each on on the glob of the world. It’s mostly the Portuguese who know their amazing history and place in world culture, but now I’m fascinated and can’t get enough.

    Hopefully, I keep the readers of this blog equally interested, and don’t become overwhelmingly Portugal centric. I’ll try to be good…

  8. Jo says:


    I so know what you mean about the stealing of your heart. There’s something very magical about Portugal… the land where Julius Caesar (as a poor man) made his fortune and then went back to Rome to buy votes to be put into power…


  9. Great post, Jo. I recently went to a big Portuguese holiday festival in Napa Valley where I met hundreds of Portuguese-Americans. I was indeed amazed by how kind, friendly and spiritual they were, from the eldest to the kids. Wonderful people, just as you wrote.

  10. Jo says:

    Thanks, Steve.

    Yes… you witnessed what the Portuguese are all about. Collective societies revolve around their elders. They (elders) play a major role in that society’s daily fabric, because they have so much to contribute. I found so many wonderful people that I’ll be sharing in the next year… One is a very famous restaurateur, Manuel Failho. He had a book being released the following day. He personally signed copies for both Gwendolyn and me, before the book had gone anywhere else. This is a very famous restaurant in Evora, and much more than he had to do… I was so touched. He’s an elder of that community and still has a wonderfully great spirit. It’s such an honor to have been given these rare moments with such great people. I’m so delighted that you, too, now know what Portuguese offer the world as a people.

  11. Fred says:

    Hello all,

    I am born and raised in Lisboa, Portugal. I have travelled the 4 corners of the world in my 34 years, yet I still live here.

    I was delighted to read this blog and to find that Alentejo wines are being discovered at last. Port is a great wine, no doubt, but there is much more to discover here.

    Thank you for your kind words about my country, and come back whenever you feel like it. A good wine deserves good company 🙂

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  14. Claudia says:

    Being Brazilian has helped me to understand Portuguese people, and their love of wine. I was there some ten years ago and loved drinking their wine. It was expensive though, but strong, full bodied and delicious! I want to find the best bottle of Port wine here in AZ.

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