WINE IN ALENTEJO
Alentejo is frequently described as the ‘California of Portugal’. And the comparison is not so far-fetched: ochre-coloured wheat fields and juicy green vineyards embrace one another on its smooth plains to form a patchwork – and in between them grow olive trees and cork oaks, which provide pleasant shade in the hot sun. Alentejo is quite important as a wine producer: with some 22,000 hectares, it has roughly a third of the total area under vines in Portugal. In terms of production, Alentejo produces 17% of the total volume of Portuguese wine, of which 80% is red and 20% is white. Nearly every other bottle of wine consumed within the borders of the country comes from Alentejo. The sunny and warm climate of Alentejo with its cool nights and dry winds is conducive to practising a very near-to-nature style of viticulture. Additionally, there is a great number and variety of distinctive microclimates. Some of the subregions are so dry that vines must be irrigated in their early years in order to survive and bear fruit.
3000 Years of History
Like the region itself, the wines of Alentejo have a long and rich history. Viticulture in the region can be traced with a reasonable degree of accuracy back to the ninth century BC. Later on, the Romans brought their highly developed culture of wine production and wine consumption to the region. During the Migration Period – roughly the fourth to eighth centuries AD – and during Moorish rule, wine understandably played no great role in the fortunes of Alentejo. It’s only since the 1980s that viticulture in Alentejo developed to the level of prominence that it currently enjoys.
Find out more about the history of wine.
Simply made for viticulture
Alentejo basks in more than 3000 annual hours of sunshine – a figure that lies even above the average for Portugal; it is certainly the highest in Europe. No wonder, then, that the grapes thrive to such a degree in this sunny and warm climate. Perfectly suited to the conditions of the weather and the soils, Alentejo’s indigenous grape varieties have developed here ‘naturally’, growing on slate, granite and quartzite, yielding intense wines with remarkable character.
In Alentejo there are some 350 estates that traditionally produce both olive oil and wine, some owning cork oak forests as well. Most establishments remain under family ownership – there are some cooperatives, but these constitute only a small proportion of wine producers.
Find out more about the production of red wine and white wine.
Grape names as tongue-twisters
The sheer multiplicity of grape vines found in vineyards of Alentejo is nearly indescribable: there are more than 260 types of grape cultivated here, of which a great number are native to the area. Many of them are not only native, but also unique to the area – and even if they are not, then most likely the names they bear will be. The most important white wine grapes in Alentejo are the Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, Verdelho, Fernão Pires, Gouveio and Viosiñho. The most important red varieties are Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Tinta Miuda, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Grossa, Tinta Caiada, Moreto, Syrah and Cabernet.
Find out more about grape varieties in the Alentejo.
Every wine has a background
Residents of Alentejo are justifiably very proud that more than half of their wines bear a designation of protected origin (PDO = Protected Denomination of Origin). In addition there is another protected designation (PGI = Protected Geographical Indication) which offers more flexible regulations and allows the grower greater autonomy so far as the choice of grape variety is concerned. The first protected designation of origin for the wines of Alentejo was established in 1988; since 1989 all wines of Alentejo have been evaluated and certified by the CVRA (Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana). Alentejo today has eight PDO regions: Borba, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira.
Find out more about the PDOs and PGIs of Alentejo.