The Wine Stylist Vol. 27 No. 01

6 REASONS TO DRINK ALENTEJO WINES NOW

Terra cotta wine casks in Portugal
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I am excited to talk about Portuguese wines, specifically the wines from Alentejo.  Portugal is high on everyone’s list to visit, and it is a hot travel destination with incredible cuisine and world-class wines.  Alentejo is a region where centuries-old traditions are merged with state-of-the-art technology to produce fantastic wines.

When in Alentejo, it may seem like you are in the middle of nowhere, but it is only a 90-minute ride from Lisbon.  It is a laid-back region that is rural and rustic with old-world charm.  It is also a simple area with a lot of history and traditions. A region with rolling hills and undulating plains dotted with olive trees, cork trees, vineyards, and historic ruins.  The history of the region is captured in small towns like Evora, which is listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.  A monumental charm, Evora is a picturesque village showcasing the people’s history, culture, cuisines, wines, and spirit.

6 REASONS TO DRINK ALENTEJO WINES NOW

The wines set Alentejo apart, producing unpretentious wines that are textured and voluptuous.  The white wines are fresh and elegant, while the reds are rich and bold.  Alentejo boasts exceptional winemakers who blend history, tradition, and modern techniques to create memorable wines.  If that isn’t enough for you to be intrigued, here are six more impressive reasons to drink Alentejo wines now.

1. AN ABUNDANT ARRAY OF NATIVE GRAPES VARIETIES

The Alentejo wine region is unique from the rest of the world. They have a wide variety of native grapes with an ancient lineage only found in Alentejo.  For a small country, they have an abundant range of indigenous grape varieties.  Starting with reds, Alentejo’s most widely planted red grape varieties are Aragonês (which, across the border in Spain, is known as Tempranillo) and Alfrocheiro.  The most celebrated red in Alentejo and its signature grape is the great Alicante Bouschet.

For whites, the workhorse grape is Antão Vaz, a grape unique to the region.  Antão Vaz is a grape that does well in an environment of global warming. It is a grape that thrives in warm climates.  With climate change at the forefront of the conversation, Antão Vaz will likely get more global recognition.  Arinto also does well in Alentejo and is known for its bright acidity.

Alentejo has unique grape varieties making them ideal wines to discover and learn different flavors, textures, and experiences.  These are interesting and intriguing varieties that you cannot find anywhere in the rest of the world.

2. CENTURIES-OLD HISTORY OF MAKING QUALITY BLENDS

In Portugal, Alentejo wines are the people’s choice.  One in every three bottles of wine consumed in Portugal comes from Alentejo.  Alentejo is a mysterious old region that somehow people relate to as the new frontier in wine when in reality, it is one of the oldest in the world.  Its wine-growing traditions date back to before the Romans, with over 2000 years of history.  It is believed winemaking traditions were brought to the region by the ancient Tartessian civilization.

Blending grape varieties has historically been the norm in Alentejo, producing structured and balanced wines.  The red blends are rich, warm, and generous and typically blend native varieties like Aragonês, Alfrocheiro, and Trincadeira.  The white blends are fresh, fruity, and typically made of local white grapes like Antão Vaz, Arinto, Verdelho, and Roupeiro.

3. ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS  REGION

Sustainability is another reason to love the wines from Alentejo.  The first of its kind in Portugal, the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program was formed in 2015.  It put in place a formal but voluntary sustainability program for winegrowers. João Barroso says that the award-winning program focuses on economic viability within a social domain focused on environmental protection.  Alentejo’s sustainability program supports improvements in environmental and social sectors and the economic performance of Alentejo’s wine industry.  Sustainability lies at the core of the project.  The project is flexible and adaptive, and they have learned to cater to the needs of its members.  Members share best practices, benchmarks, self-evaluation, and accountability with third-party certification. The program starts with empowerment to encourage members to participate.  Now, who doesn’t want to drink more wines from a region that focuses on sustainability?

4. UNBROKEN TRADITIONS OF AMPHORA (TAHLA) WINES

Making wine in an amphora is an ancient technique.  Today amphora wines are all the rage and are making a powerful comeback.  Alentejo has the longest, continuous tradition of making amphora wines.  They never stopped producing this style of wine which was first brought to the region in Roman times and has continued ever since.  They are leaders in this tradition and are reviving amphora wines in the Western world.  Locally in Alentejo, amphora wines are called tahla wines.

The Alentejo region has long been the guardian of tahla wines in Portugal. Here, the techniques developed by the Romans for making wine in the clay amphoras called tahlas have been safeguarded. The tahla winemaking process has been handed down from generation to generation throughout history, almost without change.

5. ALENTEJO IS A LAND OF CORK FORESTS

Cork trees are more than just trees; they are a part of Alentejo’s diverse ecosystems.  The cork oak (Quercus suber), is native to Alentejo and one of Portugal’s most common tree species. Alentejo is naturally abundant with cork forests and a variety of wildlife.  The mighty cork tree is an impressive site.  Cork covers the outside and is stripped away every ten years, leaving behind a beautiful red trunk for regrowth.  These enchanting cork forests turn Alentejo into a magical place of sun and shadows that remind you of the harmony that has always existed between man and nature.

6.  ALENTEJO WINES REPRESENT GREAT VALUE

Alentejo wines represent exceptional value.  Even at the top end of Portuguese wines that are the most expensive, Alentejo still offers great value. Across the spectrum, Alentejo wines represent outstanding value and offer exceptionally high quality-to-price ratios. The wines are offered at a fraction of the price of wines from other regions, making them very friendly on the wallet.

Alentejo wines are sustainably produced, have great flavor, and are incredibly food friendly.  These are not wines that are overworked or overoaked.  The wines connect emotionally; each sip gives you a reason to visit the region and explore.  The wines are gratifying, comforting, and delicious; they leave you with a sheer pleasure factor, imparting a sense of place and history in every bottle.

Images Courtesy of Wines Of Alentejo

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From Wall Street to the wine cellars, Rupal Shankar is living her best wine life in New York City. When she is not writing, Rupal is globetrotting the world exploring food and wine. Rupal is a professional wine writer who enjoys sharing her experiences of wine, food and travel. She loves learning about wine through her travels but also has formal certifications: WSET Level 3 and French Wine Scholar. Continuing her formal education, Rupal is currently enrolled in the WSET Diploma program, in addition, she is studying to get her master's certification in Champagne. A Wall Street professional by day and a yoga teacher and wine writer by night, Rupal loves combining her passions - wine and yoga. She offers wine and yoga classes and workshops, “Vinyoga”.

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