This story is like a return visit to that old friend Portugal’s Alentejo (ah-len-TAY-zhoo); the oos and aahs of it all!
[PHOTO CREDIT for this story: Jo Diaz, all rights are reserved, unless otherwise noted]
The Alentejo wine region was the very first viticultural area I visited, outside of the United States. I had experienced many tropical adventures in culture and terroir, but not the Mediterranean, when I first flew into Europe years ago. The experience has become my virtual Portuguese Chapter on wine-blog.org.
Having slipped into day-to-day wine living in Napa and Sonoma regions, going abroad quickly was a reminded that visiting places afar can quickly become new threads of anyone’s enrichment core, and life begins anew.
The broadening of a palate opens up a new and exciting world, wine regions… each culture being completely unique, just like our children are each unique.
Portugal is like a healing breath from fresh, Atlantic’s breezes. It’s created a bounty of fish for all kinds of food and wine pairings, as does wild boar, and an abundance of sheep grazing in the vineyards.
Food and wines pair perfectly from their own bounty, genuinely and indigenously reflecting their origin. Thinking a white wine (like a Vinho Verde) for this presentation below.
FROM thebestportual.com Fish and seafood figure prominently in Portuguese cuisine. Bacalhau or salt cod is far and above the most popular fish in Portugal and it is consumed almost everywhere in the country. Indeed, cod fish is so popular that there are at least 365 different cod fish recipes (one for each day of the year), and some say there are more than 1,000. Bacalhau À Gomes de Sá is perhaps the most common preparation—a salt cod, onion and potato casserole roasted in the oven.
Thinking a red wine from this presentation below, since Portugal’s wild boar is one of their delicacies. I enjoyed this dish at Casa do Forno, in Monsaraz, with a Trincadeira red. [SIDEBAR: forno is Portuguese for “oven”] This dish really takes me right back to the Alentejo region of Portugal, with such fond memories in mind and palate.
The Portuguese embrace their native varieties, paired with their favorite foods. When dining, their wild boar recipes partners really well with both Portuguese white and red wines, by the way.
This link takes you to a list I researched of Portugal’s white and red grape varieties. It’s perhaps one of the most extensive on the Internet. If you click on the link, you’ll see what I mean. Italy might give it a run for its money on how many native wine grapes are in each country; but it would be by a very slim margin, from what I learned in the process.
They also make the effort to keep their culture, and to not replicate any other well-understood wine region. At their core, they’re authentic, as are their wines. Generous and kind, when they present a wine, they’re presenting their region’s soul. It was an incredible eyeopener for me. I spent my first 20 years on Lisbon Street in Maine… always wondering about Lisbon, never expecting to have a real-deal experience… But, there it was, and I’m ever grateful.
From Lisbon and its coastline, inland to the Alentejo
It was the first place I learned a bit about a Mediterranean climate. Moving from Maine to California, that’s what seasoned Californians seems to always reference. For instance, olive trees… I had now lived with them in California for many years, and that had made them a word association answer. I had honestly never felt it, though, quite like being in Portugal.
Things to Know About Alentejo
At the time, wanting to know more about the Alentejo, I asked my Portuguese colleague and friend Delfim Costa, about terroir. Delfim, living and working with a Portuguese wine company at the time, was a great resource.
“The Alentejo is a collection of vast, undulating plains. The main ranges are Portel (a fourth of a mile), Ossa (two fifths of a mile), and the São Mamede (three fifths of a mile). The surrounding mountain ranges help create the microclimates, which have an impact on our wine production.
“The vines are mostly located on the geological substrates of plutonic rock (granites, tonalites, syenites, and nepheline syenites). The vines are grown on a wide variety of soil layers (schistose and argilo-calcareous ), well suited to their environment.
“Also important to mention is that grapevines and olive trees are part of our rustic landscape. Normally planted on poor, shallow, and fairly barren, solid soils, productivity is low. Yet, these conditions are an essential part of the quality of life.”
Trellising in the Alentejo
To Delfim Costa, when asked, “What about your plantings and training Systems?”
The most widely used trellising system is the “bilateral cordon,” which is well suited to the widespread mechanization of cultivation. There are also some vines with a “double Guyot” system (cane and spur), but these are less common today.
The dry regional climate means that drip irrigation must be used. It’s normally placed on a first wire, which is from 17.72 to 19.69 inches above the ground.
The plant grows from 28 to 30 inches, to the height at which the second wire is put into place. It’s then distributed along the three remaining wires, placed at heights of 47 inches and 70 inches.
The grapevines are normally planted using a spacing of 43 to 47 inches on the line, and from 8.6 feet to 9.2 feet between lines. This means that about 3,000 plants can be planted per 2.5 acres. An average vineyard yield is 7.3 acres to 25 acres.
Now that you’ve got a sense of where you are in Portugal, let’s turn to today’s winery and wine feature, within this context.
Herdade do Esporáo
The key people that I met through a ZOOM meeting are the following:
- Esporão Group Chairman João Roquette, one of the most influential people in the Portuguese wine industry today, who briefed the group of media people on the evolution of his company’s founding estate and his vision for the future.
- And, Herdade do Esporão Director of Winemaking Sandra Alves, who walked us through recent happenings at the estate, and for those who had not already prepared, by tasted through the wines.
Please join me shortly for the continuation. It will be specifically about Herdade do Esporáo, in the Alentejo region. There’s still so much more to know, learn, and enjoy, my fellow wine lover.
Te vejo amanhã!