Península de Setúbal

Setúbal Peninsula

Setubal.jpgThe Setúbal Peninsula lies across the estuary of the River Tagus directly south of Lisbon, and linked to Lisbon by two bridges.


The heartland of this seaside region is the Setúbal Peninsula, across the Tagus bridges from Lisbon. It’s a vibrant venue for Lisbon weekenders, and, since the opening of the latest, most spectacular bridge, home to ever more commuters. In summer, the magnets are the smart Atlantic surf beaches and golf courses of the west, as well as the sheltered southern coves beneath the wooded hills of the Arrábida Natural Park.


In amongst the Arrábida woods are hilly pastures for the sheep that produce the stunning Azeitão cheeses, and vineyards of Moscatel grapes destined for one of Portugal’s classic sweet wines, DOC Setúbal. The peninsula also has a star red grape, the Castelão, which dominates the fine red wines of Palmela, feeling far more at home here than in the rest of Portugal. The two DOCs are confined to the peninsula, but the VR Península de Setúbal extends around the marshlands of the Sado Estuary (a haven for wading birds and a source of salt and rice), 60 km down the Atlantic coast to the small town of Sines. The River Sado flows through the eastern side of the region, and strongly influences the ‘terroir’. VR Península de Setúbal can be made from a huge range of grapes, Portuguese and international, and wine styles vary hugely.

Vineyards and winemaking are a thriving business in these parts, despite growing pressure on land. Two of Portugal’s largest and most forward-looking wine companies have had a significant influence on development of wine quality and styles. There are also good wine co-operatives, and some smaller companies are making a name for themselves.

DOC Palmela has to contain at least 67 per cent Castelão, but it normally has more, supported by grapes including Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Trincadeira. Outside the DOC Palmela and the Península de Setúbal, Castelão grapes can be very hard to ripen. But Castelão is particularly happy here in the peninsula’s warm, sandy soils, and can ripen to perfection, producing lovely, fresh, fruity wines with moderate alcohol and ripe tannins, evolving with age to a complex, cedary, cigar-box character rather reminiscent of fine, mature Cabernet. Alongside plentiful red Palmela, white Palmela is in shorter supply, but can be appealingly dry and fragrant when blends include scented Fernão Pires and Moscatel de Setúbal grapes.


Many of the best grapes come from the limestone Arrábida hills high over the peninsula’s southern coast. DOC Setúbal has to contain at least 67 per cent Moscatel de Setúbal (Muscat of Alexandria) grapes, or Moscatel Roxo (Red Muscat). Those that contain at least 85 per cent Moscatel are allowed to call themselves Moscatel de Setúbal, or Moscatel Roxo. Grapes for these sweet, fortified wines, whether red or white, are fermented with their skins and then grape brandy is added to stop the fermentation. The fragrant, flavourful skins are left to macerate in the wine for another few months, and then the wine is drained off to be aged for a minimum of eighteen months in oak. Sold at this stage, Setúbal is yellow, sweetly floral and citrus flavoured, Moscatel Roxo darker, and rose-scented. Only small quantities are further aged in wood to become, after 20 years, a dark nectar, with complex, intense aromas and flavours of nuts and dried fruits, citrus and honey, ranking amongst the world’s greatest fortified Muscats.

Main white grapes:

  • For Setúbal: Antão Vaz, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel Galego Branco, Moscatel de Setúbal, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro Branco, Verdelho, Viosinho
  • For Palmela: Alvarinho, Antão Vaz, Arinto,Chardonnay, Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel Galego Branco, Moscatel de Setúbal, Pinot Blanc, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro Branco, Sauvignon, Semillon, Verdelho, Viosinho.

Main red grapes:

  • For Setúbal: Aragonez, Bastardo, Castelão, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Moscatel Roxo
  • For Palmela: Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Bastardo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castelão, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Tannat, Tinta Miúda, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira.