Rolling sun drenched hills and hauntingly beautiful views that seem to go on forever.
That is much of Alentejo.
Alentejo is the largest province in Portugal, covering 1/3 of the country. It begins on the Easter border of Spain where the Tagus River flows into Portugal from Spain. It hugs the Spanish Border heading south to The Vale do Guadiana Natural Park and then curves out to the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the southern edge of Portugal t the Algarve Province.
The poet Florbela Espanca spoke of this region in her poem “My Alentejo”. She speaks of the wheat fields that give the region a dreamlike quality. In the immense sky the lone oak trees bring perspective to the vastness of the landscape.
The land is also dotted with history, from the Phoenicians to the Celts and the Romans, the Visigoth and the Arabs
This is the region that supplies almost half of the world’s cork, which for centuries has gone hand in hand with wine.
The Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana (CVRA) was founded in 1989 to protect the PDO and PGI wines of the region. The region is sustainably minded to start with, but the CVRA created a new certification Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP).
The region recognizes the dependence of the wine industry on natural resources and is working to collectively protect these resources. It makes sense in this place, where the landscape is wide open and nothing is easily hidden.
The Vinho Regional Alentejano PGI wines (Protected Geographical Indication) are split into three Districts within the Province, Portalegre, Évora, and Beja.
The PDO wines (Protected Designation of Origin), are the DOC wines. Within the DOC there are 8 subregions. From north to south they are Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Évora, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira and Moura.
Alentejo overall is relatively flat and open to the influences of the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, small hills and mountain ranges can significantly change this influence in these smaller sub-regions. Changes in altitude, distance from the coast, soils, and any barriers from the coastal influence set the regions and their wines apart from each other.
Esporão Group states the future they want on their website.
” To be a family company that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, capable of providing unique products and experiences that improve people’s lives.” https://www.esporao.com/en/about/who-we-are.html/
“Slow Forward” is their motto. The company began here in Alentejo with Herdade do Esporão and have since expanded into the Douro with Quinta dos Murças and Vinho Verde with Quinta do Ameal.
They tried to dial the essence of their mission, what Esporão is about, to one word and asked their staff to help…they couldn’t. Excellence, Quality, Nature, Family, Sustainability, Heritage…all these words came up. (Follow this link to watch the charming video)
Herdade do Esporão in Alentejo
In their Alentejo vineyards they have over 40 varieties planted in addition to several types of olives (they make olive oil also), plus orchards and kitchen gardens.
Perdigões Archaeological Complex
In 1996 when Esporão started to till to plant a new vineyard on their property at Herdade dos Perdigões they came across an archaeological site. This complex that was uncovered was dated to between 3500 and 2000 BC. You can read more about that here https://www.esporao.com/en/about/herdade-do-esporao-en/the-perdigoes-archaeological-complex.html/.
The Esporao Tower which you see on the Monte Velho labels, now houses over 200 pieces from this dig and serves as a museum.
The winery sits in the Évora District close to the Alqueva Lake, which is the largest artificial lake in Europe. The lake is formed by a dam on the Guadiana River, which provides electrical power as well as create a water source for irrigation in the region.
Back in May, we received 2 wines from Esporão.
The Monte Velho Rose and Monte Velho White, caught my attention because these were made from varieties that I was not familiar with. Portugal has around 250 indigenous grape varieties and only a few of these varieties have made their way out into the larger world.
We received these 2 wines as media samples. No other compensation was received and all opinions are our own.
Monte Velho 2021, Alentejo
Monte Velho White is a blend primarily of Antão Vaz, Perrum and Roupeiro. I’ll admit, these are not names I was familiar with. After a bit of research, I did find that Perrum is the same as Pedro Ximenez.
Here are some details on these varieties:
Okay, this grape is kinda sketchy in its origins, but we do know that originates here in Alentejo. In the sub-regions of Vidigueira and Évora, it is making very complex white wines.
It is a hot-climate grape, so it does well in the region. It has long been used for fortified and sweet wines. But if picked early, it makes a wine with sharp citrus notes.
Perrum (or Pedro Ximenez)
This grape from Andalucía, Spain is mainly known for its use in Sherry in Jerez. In Portugal, it is found here in the Alentejo. It does exceedingly well in the sub-region of Évora.
Many things I read reported that little is known of its origins. It is considered the oldest white grape variety in Portugal and goes by many manes in different regions.
This is evidently a love-it or hate-it grape. It has beautiful intense aromas but is prone to oxidation. The nose has floral notes as well as citrus, stone fruit, and melon.
The 2021 Monte Velho had aromas of white flowers, pear, green apple, bees wax, and Meyer lemon. In my mouth, I also noticed notes of wet stone.
At $12 SRP, this wine had much more nuance on the nose than I expected!
We paired this with lemon & ricotta-filled ravioli and green vegetables, which was outstanding! The pairing was way more satisfying than those we had done with more expensive wines earlier in the week.
I suggest you find this wine!
Monte Velho Rosé 2021, Alentejo
This wine is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Syrah, Trincadeira, Tinta Caiada and Arinto. Yep 5 red grapes and a white. The Arinto in this blend, definitely brings the acidity.
Most of these varieties I was familiar with, but Tinta Caiada was new to me. It is another name for Parraleta, believed to originate in the Somontano regin of Northern Spain.
As I stuck my nose in the glass there were fruit notes of raspberry and strawberries, herbal notes of mint and basil and finally dusty stone.
In my mouth the raspberry and strawberry was joined by tart cherry and the stones, dusty on the nose had more of a wet stone note.
We paired this with coconut shrimp and a pizza topped with heirloom grape tomatoes, bacon, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese. Again a truly satisfying pairing!
At $12 per bottle these wines are well worth stocking up on!
As I wrap up on these wines, I return to the thing I love most about wine. It can transport you. These bottles piqued my curiosity to learn about a region that I was only vaguely familiar with and to learn more about these indigenous grapes that I had not heard of.
It allowed me to run down some rabbit holes some of which led me to photos of the Alentejo countryside and poetry written about it. These things took this wine, which was delicious on its own and amazing with food, and made it something more. It allowed me to touch a place across the globe that I had never physically been to.
I can feel the expansiveness of the place, I can hear the wind as it rustles the grasses, and I can close my eyes and feel the sunlight. I picture the Romans as they walked through this countryside.
Much like reading a book, I found a new place in these wines and gained empathy and understanding, if only a little, for a faraway place.
All that with a $12 bottle of wine. The wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be transportive. In my opinion, all it needs is a story.
Resources and References (in case you want to head down the rabbit hole)
More on Portuguese wines from Crushed Grape Chronicles
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.