Alentejo

Alentejo

Alentejo.jpgThe Alentejo region covers about a third of Portugal, and winemakers in the remaining two-thirds can often be heard to complain about the popularity of Alentejo wines.

This huge, sun-drenched area, covering much of the southern half of Portugal, has in recent years become an important source of big, ripe, fruity, easy-drinking reds which often dominate the wine lists of Lisbon restaurants.

The Alentejo attained its first sub-regions in 1989. Portugal’s entry into the EU had brought long-overdue investment in vineyards and cellars. Modern technology - especially temperature control – have made it possible to make good, softer whites as well as rich reds. The Alentejo also has some wonderful old vines.

 


Region

The Alentejo is vast and varied. Only five per cent of the land is planted with vines. One of the most exciting areas is right up in the north-east corner, around the city of Portalegre and over towards the Spanish border. This high mountain country has a much cooler climate than the rest of the Alentejo, and the potential to make more elegant wines. The central Alentejo, wide, rolling country around the towns of Évora, Borba, Reguengos and Estremoz, is hotter, and makes wines with a good balance of acidity. Even further south, in the bakingly-hot country around Beja, winemakers are producing some excellent wines. Soils vary hugely, from granite and schist to chalk.

Between towns, you can drive for miles without seeing a soul, through cork and olive groves, past sweet-scented lavender fields, golden wheat, maize, sunflowers, vines, and grazing livestock.

Sub-regions

DOC Alentejo wines can be made only in certain small enclaves within the greater Vinho Regional Alentejo region. For the purpose of regulating grape-growing and wine-making in the varying microclimates and terrains, DOC Alentejo is divided into eight different sub-regions: Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Vidigueira, Reguengos, Moura, Évora and Granja/Amareleja. All DOC wines are labelled DOC Alentejo, and sometimes qualified by the name of the sub-region as well.

An increasing number of regional wines are labelled ‘Vinho Regional Alentejano’, some of them made outside the DOC areas, some within, but outside the rules. A long list of grapes is permitted for Vinho Regional Alentejo, including many foreign varieties, such as Syrah, which is seriously gaining in importance.

 

The prettiest and most pleasant time to visit is April or May, when everything is still green and aromatic, before the heat and drought of the summer months. Less than five per cent of the Portuguese population lives in the Alentejo. Occasionally you catch sight of a whitewashed farmhouse atop a gentle hill, or ‘monte’. (You will meet the word ‘Monte’ on wine labels – it is used here to mean farmhouse or estate.) The Alentejo is famous for its beef, and for deliciously moist and flavoursome ham and pork from the black pigs that roam free in the cork forests, feeding on acorns. 


Main red grapes (variable according to sub-region):

  • Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão, Alfrocheiro and Alicante Bouschet

Main white grapes (variable according to sub-region):

  • Arinto, Antão Vaz, Roupeiro, Fernão Pires, Perrum