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Posted by portugalpress on June 22, 2017
Monte da Penha is a family property which began producing wine in 1998
Portalegre is a region with many small vineyard holdings and wine producers, somewhat like the Douro Valley

How the future of Alentejo wines could lie in Portalegre’s cool climate

It is no secret to most of us (with the exception of Donald Trump) that climate change is well and truly a reality. In a warm to hot wine growing region like the Alentejo, this is of considerable concern, and the obvious alternatives are to look for cooler growing conditions and grape varieties that are more well adapted to an increasingly hot climate. In the case of the former, there are only really two solutions – the Alentejo Atlantic coast, where, amongst others, Cortes de Cima have successfully planted a large 40 hectare vineyard near Zambujeira do Mar, and the higher altitude mountainous conditions of Portalegre, on which I will focus for this edition.

In researching this article, I looked up information on the region of Portalegre online and found plenty of stuff on the natural park of Serra de São Mamede, historical sites including castles and aqueducts, religious architecture and much more, but nothing relating to wineries and vineyards. I also consulted Richard Mayson’s reference book, Portugal’s Wines and Winemakers, published in 1998, and he mentions three producers for the region. An article from last year in Revista de Vinhos on Portalegre had 10 producers listed, but there were a couple of notable absentees.

Interestingly, I compared the two subregions of Portalegre and Reguengos, with current information from the CVRA (the local Alentejo regulatory body). Portalegre has 18 wine producers registered, a total vineyard area of 752 hectares, and in 2016 produced 578,000 litres of DOC wine.

Reguengos has 11 wine producers, 4,350 hectares of vineyard, and in 2016 produced 13,655,707 litres of DOC wine. Esporão alone produces more DOC wine than the whole of Portalegre.

All this is to highlight the fact that Portalegre is a region with many small vineyard holdings and wine producers, somewhat like the Douro Valley, and produces very little wine compared to other Portuguese wine regions, all of which adds to its fascination and potential. It is a growing region, as seen by the large increase in producers over the last 20 years, but is still very much in its infancy, in terms of quality and visibility.

Portalegre, situated in the Alto Alentejo, is an incredibly diverse grape growing region, with vineyards at 100 metres, with Monte da Raposinha in Montargil, through the ‘planalto’ area of Alter and Fronteira, where Terras de Alter have their vineyards at 200-400 metres, through to the Serra de São Mamede, where Rui Reguinga has his Terrenus vineyards at perhaps the country’s highest elevated vineyard, 750 metres. The geology is very complex, varying from the deep alluvial soils of Montargil to the granites, schist and quartz of the Serra de São Mamede. In these mountains, the diurnal temperature range is large, ideal for ripening high quality grapes.

What has recently given focus to the area was firstly the purchase of the Portalegre coop by the Licor de Beirão people (no idea what their plans are, but for sure it is not to produce cool climate Licor de Beirão!) and secondly, and most importantly, the purchase of the Altas Quintas property by the Symington Group. I think it is highly significant that having made a success of their table wine operation in the Douro, the largest Port wine producing company has now chosen the Alentejo as the region to expand into, and in particular, the cool climate region of Portalegre. The Altas Quintas property is the largest single vineyard holding in the area with some 40 hectares of established vineyard and a large functioning winery.

I should also mention our own interest in the region. Esporão has, over the last 10 years, built up a significant supply of grapes, with 10 hectares of our own vineyards and another 25 hectares of land to be planted, and 55 hectares of grapes, which we buy from farmers. We have yet to launch a range of wines from Portalegre, preferring to incorporate the fruit in some of our blends until we fully understand the region, its terroir and fruit quality.

Now to some of the more important wine producers, chosen to reflect the different wine styles and eclectic nature of the region, in terms of its relative youthfulness, diverse range of soils and geography.

Tapada do Chaves

Tapada do Chaves is an absolute reference, a legendary producer that has been around for nearly a century. They have some old vineyards with around 85 years of age. Wine quality has varied though, perhaps its best years were back in the 1970s, but it was recently bought by the Murganheira group and should be back on track again soon.

Terras d’Alter

Terras d’Alter have done well since emerging on the market back in 2004. They have an impressive, modern winery setup, an excellent range of varietal whites and some top reds including Telhas and Outeiro. Focus is on Portuguese varieties, supplemented with a few internationals such as Petit Verdot, Syrah and Viognier.

Reynolds Wine Growers

Reynolds Wine Growers are a family-based winery making distinguished wines, both white and red, which have great longevity in the bottle. They have some 40 hectares of vineyard, with Alicante Bouschet being the prominent variety, and the winery contains a large number of classical French oak vats for red wine fermentation.

Sonho Lusitano

Sonho Lusitano is a joint venture project between English wine writer Richard Mayson and Portuguese winemaker Rui Reguinga. The Pedra Basta wines are well-made and great value for money. Rui’s own project includes Terrenus, made from high altitude, mixed old vine plantings – the red is incredibly deep and complex, the white has great character.

Monte da Penha

Monte da Penha is a family property which began producing wine under the Fino family management in 1998. They have 22 hectares of vineyard at around 500 metres and make wines which are elegant and intensely fruity, with good acidity reflecting their terroir. They release some of their reds with significant bottle time, showing their ability to improve with age.

Susana Esteban

Susana Esteban, in a very short time, has created a couple of wines, Procura and Aventura, both red and whites, that have become references and given added focus to the region. She started her project in 2011, after stints with Côtto and Crasto in the Douro, and is a great believer in the future of Portalagre for producing some of the best wines in the country.

And just to show that I too really do support this region, I have started my own small winemaking project called Sonhador, near Urra, 7 hectares of red grapes at 500 metres altitude, which is mainly geared up for export but will be increasingly available on the local market.

By David Baverstock

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