My Sicilian series will resume shortly but today I am in Portugal. Rui Lourenço Pereira of Quinta Wine Guide is taking me on an exciting tailor-made private trip that will mostly focus on the region of Dão, and you will read all about it here. Yesterday night we drove directly from the airport to the stunning riverside Champalimaud Foundation rooms for the Alentejo wine tasting. 60 producers from this important region were pouring their wines for the public.
I used to follow Alentejo wines quite closely and it was interesting to see how the perspective has slightly shifted over the years. Many estates which were the tale of yesterday have somewhat faded, and a good example was Herdade dos Coelheiros which ten years ago numbered among Alentejo’s crème de la crème. Now it is a sorry pain to taste these overoaked, stretched, joyless wines, including the 2007 Branca da Almeida, a Merlot-driven blend with the mouth-puckering dry oak regime of a cheap La Mancha Reserva. I was also slightly underwhelmed by Fundação Eugénio de Almeida whose cheaper labels were lacking flavour and characterless, although they didn’t present the flagship Pêra-Manca and the 2009 Cartuxa red was a pretty good, evolutive, Old World glass of wine.
There were some exciting value wines however, such as the 2008 Pausa from Ilex Vinhos, a wine happily allying Alentejo’s inherent Mediterranean richness with restraint, and an absolute steal at 8€ retail. I was also impressed by the Terras de Alter wines of Peter Bright: all well-balanced making perfect commercial sense from the bottom to the top of the range. The Viognier-based whites are interesting here, as is the 2011 Alfrocheiro, a wine with more freshness and poise than you’d expect from Portugal’s hottest wine region (and it’s grest value too at 8€).
Moving up price brackets there were some good wines from Julio Bastos, Joaquim Arnaud and Margarida Cabaço (I’ll report on the latter two in a separate post after I polish off two bottles I received in better tasting circumstances). My wine of the night was probably the 2007 Quinta do Mouro, a big concentrated red with plenty of flesh and ripeness but stays on the right side of the dangerous icon wine border. At 30€ it shows that Alentejo can also make seriously good, distinctive wine that is a joy to drink. (I did prefer it to the more expensive 2008 Mouro Gold Label).
The economic crisis is clearly having a crunch on wine consumption in Portugal. People have no money and are spending less, so there is an explosion of bag-in-box and 2.99€ wines, while oaked Reservas and Private Selections aren’t as exposed as they used to be (and that’s at least one positive outcome of the crisis). But the Alentejo tasting was crowded with merry optimistic-looking people and it was a happy affair. With Portugal offering the best value for money in European wine, even 2.99€ wine is not such a bad perspective.
My trip to Portugal including flights, accommodation and wine tasting programme is organised and sponsored by Quinta Wine Guide.