If you get a chance, you’ll be doing yourself a tremendous favor, when you discover the Wines of Portugal.

As my host, Enoforum Wines introduced me to winemaker Pedro Hipólito of Adega Coop de Redondo (established in 1956). Based in the town of Redondo, in Portugal’s Alentejo district, this is a municipality of the Évora District, in Portugal. As I’ve written earlier this week, to understand the people and their culture helps to understand the wines.

This old, medieval hill-top town, like all the other areas where I’ve visited, has many points of historical interest. Renowned for its pottery and fine Alentejo wines, it’s situated 21 miles due east of Évora on the Vila Viçosa road. It’s a delightful little town that’s also based around an imposing castle. There are many examples of wrought-iron balconies (indigenous to all of Portugal) and window boxes decorating their white-washed homes.

When we arrived at the winery, Pedro Hipólito was there to great us. We first toured the winery’s production area, which is massive. (“We” being Delfim Costa, GM of Enoforum; Luís Ribeiro, Enoforum’s management; Jóse Fonseca, winemaker for Enoforum; Gwendolyn Alley, wine blog winner of Enoforum’s contest, and I).

The reason all of the wineries that we visited are so large, is that in the Alentejo region, most of the adegas are operated as coops.

In the Alentejo region, which is now beginning to emerge as a world class player, has had a few companies create an interesting way to approach how their wines are to be marketed. Growers keep to the business of growing grapes, and wineries make the wines from grapes that are brought to the winery during harvest. Strict quality control standards must be met; consequently, the winemakers have the best quality wines with which to work, and to then offer the world.

This way, instead of flooding the market with a myriad of brands from which to choose, further confusing consumers, they’ve collectively banded together as regional growers, and are therefore producing wines under only a few labels. Each coop has very stringent rules and regulations for their growers in order for them to be part of the company. FYI, there are waiting lists for each coop.

As we entered the back of the winery, there they were again. I couldn’t help but ask, “What are those white globes?” I had seen them in many places. For a brief, uncomfortable moment, all the men squirmed a bit. Then, someone finally broke the silence… I think it was Delfim… and I was told, “We call them Brigitte Bardots.”

I loved it… and their reason for concern melted away.

Because the Alentejo heats up to about 100 degrees in the summer, and some of their storage tanks are located outside, wine inside those storage tanks would easily spoil. The answer has become these concrete, global tanks. Adega de Redondo’s tanks are lined on the inside with a ceramic, which also doesn’t allow for any evaporation, and does allow for the perfect holding of wine. A hidden benefit to the ceramic lining that was discovered, once lined, is that it also makes the inside of the tanks very easy to clean.

Meanwhile, inside the winery, all traditional methods are used for storing, including underground… as pictured above. I’m going to digress for a moment, because I have to reflect on what I know in the United States as compared to Portugal. I’m totally fascinated by California, having lived in Maine for over 40 years, and am now a CA resident. Basements on the East Coast are just a way of life. In California, that’s been replaced by garage storage. Could it be that earthquakes have kept everything above ground? I just don’t know, but in California it’s all into the caves, if a winery has that kind of hillside access. At Adega Coop de Redondo, there is a basement.. A real, honest-to-God basement. Check out the hole above, which leads to a tank below. That’s where wine is stored, until blending and bottling occurs.

Adega Coop de Redondo has a basement, where people work with the bottoms of these tanks (with the holes on ground level) to do all that must be done in the basement. And, yes, there were also glorious caves.

The sterility of Adega Coop de Redondo is impeccable and very important to everyone. Each winery that we visited is very pleased with their high level of cleanliness. Like the others, Pedro threw open his doors to show us every inch of the winery. In fact, we tasted in the lab, where the winemaker had all of this wines waiting for us after our tour. I loved this stainless steel spittoon. One would have to have a really bad aim to not hit this one. Again, cleanliness. Add a bit of water, and our presence in the lab was easily washed away. This is the best dump bucket I’ve ever seen. I cannot stress enough the cleanliness of the wineries, the people, their manicured cities, and their meandering lands.

Each winery taught me something new about Portuguese culture. At Adega Coop de Redondo, the use of ceramic tiles was everywhere. In Portugal, the use of ceramic is pervasive, period. I’ve yet to write about this aspect of Portugal, but I’ll have an entire blog (in the future) using the tiles that are not only inside of homes (as we think of them), but they’re also used on the facings of the outside of home, buildings, and offices. Portuguese tiles decorate, or are combined together to create murals, like this one of harvest. I can only imagine the artistic side of creating this kind of ceramic… the designing, firing, then lining it all up to create a complete the image. I don’t know if any of you have worked in clay or ceramics before… I worked with pottery years ago, and now I can only wonder and appreciated the artistry that went into creating this mural.

There were three defining murals, as we walked through this adega. This next one, in fact, inspired one of their wine labels. The wine companies I’ve been writing about this week, are some of the most successful wineries from the Alentejo. This means that you – with some searching – should be able to find some of these wines in the US, as they’ve established some export relationships. I’ve not gone looking yet in stores in my area, but I’ve found them on the Internet, while I’ve been doing some research.

These are the wines that were waiting for us in the lab. We tasted from left to right, beginning with the Porta da Ravessa Branca, a non-vintage wine. [That said, we were tasting the 2008 vintage… one of the last bottles in existence.] This is the brand from Adega de Redondo that has the gateway mural’s label, the doorway to the famous landmark, the Castle da Redondo. This white wine from the 2008 harvest is a completely sold out product. Winemaker Pedro Hipólito told us that this wine, the most popular white wine from Alentejo, is a non vintage wine from year to year. It’s harvested in August, bottled by November, and released by early December. To date, they just can’t keep this vintage from being immediately released after harvest, because the demand is so great. It’s been out of stock for the last two months. They just can’t make enough of it. It was a beautiful wine tasting of white grapefruit, citrus, and Fuji apples. Priced at $6.89, it’s easy to see why this wine runs out each year, and must be bottled and released so early.

We next tasted the 2009 tank sample of the Porta da Ravessa Vihno Branca, about to be bottled. This wine was very aromatic in the nose. The fruit was bright and fresh, and I could see why it would be released very soon. It was ready to be, as young as it was. I couldn’t imagine what the flavors would be before tasting it, being so young, but this wine was not disappointing. It delivered. It will also sell for $6.89 in the United States.

2008 Porta da Ravessa Vinho Tinto: Violet red in color with firm tannins, the black fruit and blue berries gave way to toasted almonds on the finish. This wine would be great with rich foods. There was no fining of this wine, because Adega de Redondo has a new cross-flow filter that it’s using for their wines. It’s a gentle, state-of-the-art system, which now guarantees less intervention in wine making, giving the wine maker a better and more flavorful wine. $5.00 US

Anta da Serra Vino Tinto: Varieties for this wine are Trincadeira, Aragonêz, Alicante Bouschet, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Black fruit, with a hint of mint, brought forth a wine with a firm tannin structure. All of these red wines will age about five years, but are crafted to be enjoyed upon release. It’s a great value at $10.26 US

2007 Reserva ACR Vinho Tinto: This wine has made Adega Coop de Redondo the most successful company in Portugal. A wine with 13.5 percent alcohol, deliciously rich fruit had a beautiful tannin structure that will hold the wine for a few years; but like the others, this wine is ready to enjoy now with rich foods. I keep repeating rich foods, because the wines are so dry that foods with rich sauces are a beautiful complement for the wines from Alentejo. $7.64 US

2006 Syrah Vinho Regional Alentejo: This red wine is another great value wine, with a label intended to appeal to Millennials. A beautifully deep purple wine, the flavors of this wine’s rich, black fruit dominated. Saddle leather with dry spicy fruit, this wine almost reminded me of a Burgundy, but was so much drier than a Pinot… But it still had similar characteristics for me. This was another very easy drinking wine.

This day was to end our stay in Évora and the Alentejo, by-the-way. After our visit with Adega Coop de Redondo, we drove back to Lisbon. On the way out of Alentejo’s wine country, I was able to see, once more, the sheep in the meadows and the cows in the cork forests (no corn). Delfim wanted Gwendolyn and me to experience a final day devoted to learning more about the culture of Lisbon specifically, and more of Portugal in general, so we headed into the sunset, as I snapped my last shot of sheep and cork trees along the way.

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