The Wines & Gastronomy of Portugal – The Alentejo

With it’s gently undulating plains and endless horizons, the Alentejo covers about a third of the country and is divided into eight DOC sub-zones.  Once regarded simply as a poor agricultural backwater, the ‘bread basket’ of Portugal, it is a land of large estates or “Latifundios” and has recently come into its own as an internationally acclaimed wine producing region.  While much of its vast surface is still given over to the production of cereals, wheat being the most important crop, the poorer soils are reserved for olive trees, cork forests and more and more now, vineyards.  The region’s climate escapes the influence of the Atlantic, allowing for hot summers and cold winters, perfect extremes for producing the bold reds the Alentejo has become noted.  Favored by Lisbon cafés, bars and restaurants, the rich reds can be found on wine lists throughout Portugal.  Whites are more difficult to grow in this hot climate, but some excellent ones are being produced by select vineyards.  Wines From this region could have been among the first to be exported to ancient Rome.

Cork harvested from the cork forest of the Alentejo

One out of every two bottles of wine sold in Portugal today comes from the Alentejo, with Herdade do Esporão being the largest producer with some 700 hectares of vineyards under production, plus olive groves and other crops. The wines of this region are smooth, full bodied, generously fruity, accessible and very affordable, with Borba, Évora, Redondo and Reguengos being typical of the Alentejo, with smooth, harmonious, very easy-drinking reds.  Although white wine is produced, the Esporão Private Selection White 2018 recently received 95 points in the Wine Enthusiast, the Alentejo reds are leading the way, forging the region’s reputation for outstanding wines and putting it firmly on the world map.  Along with a dozen traditional indigenous grape varieties, wine here today is being made with such international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Chardonnay and the ever popular Tempranillo grape, known locally as Aragonez.

Storks resting the trees in the vineyards of Herdade da Malhadinha Nova

Évora is about a 1-1/2 hour drive from Lisbon.  Herdade do Esporão lies another 40 minutes to the southeast, so you should plan on staying in the area if you are going for wine tasting and lunch.  One of our favorite destinations, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, is located in the heart of the Baixo Alentejo region, in Albernoa (Beja), another 1-1/2 hours south on the way to the Algarve. There are also several excellent Pousadas de Portugal in the area that you can use as a base to explore the region, including in Arraiolos, Estremoz, Vila Viçosa, Évora, Alvito and Beja.

Pousada Convento Arraiolos

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