If you’re a wine lover traveling in Alentejo, don’t miss the chance to visit a wonderful winery called Adega Mayor. It is located in Campo Maior, a region on Portugal’s border with Spain that was once the stage of fierce battles between the two countries.
Adega Mayor was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect who received the Pritzker prize. He is famous for his ability to create buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings. At Adega Mayor, he succeeded brilliantly. The winery is a subtle white accent on the Alentejo landscape, toped by a terrace with amazing vistas. It is extraordinary to sit on the terrace at sunset and watch the Alentejo sky painted with colors others skies can only dream of.
The wines of Adega Mayor are produced with immense skill and care. But they offer much more than technical perfection. They carry in them the soul of Alentejo.
We left Adega Mayor with a warm feeling of optimism. We saw ancient battle fields turned into peaceful vineyards that produce extraordinary wines.
Click here for Adega Mayor’s website.
The name of this wine estate near Lisbon means golden hill farm. It is a fitting designation because this is a place where grapes are treated like gold and wines are made with a jeweler’s precision.
The soil of the farm is similar to that of Côtes du Rhône, so José Bento dos Santos, the farm’s owner, planted the same grape varieties that thrive in that French region: Syrah and Viognier.
Graça Gonçalves, the estate’s enologist, talks about each parcel of the farm as if they are old friends. She knows their qualities and shortcomings and choses cultivation methods that help each of them thrive. We ask which is her favorite parcel and quickly realize it is an impolite question. Graça does not answer, but when she talks about parcel 24 her eyes shine more than usual. This parcel is planted with Syrah grapes that came from old vines in Côtes du Rhône. Each plant is different and it is this variety that creates the quinta’s top wines, such as the aptly named Syrah 24.
When harvest time approaches, Graça walks through the vines, taking samples to analyze in the lab, tasting the grapes, imagining the wines that will be produced. When the time is right, the grapes are picked by hand and carefully selected. There are then numerous decision to make, such as how to press the grapes and whether to stage the wine in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats. Why such meticulous care? Graça explains: “Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion.” It is impossible not to feel this emotion when you open a bottle of Quinta do Monte d’Oiro wine.
Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.
Tasca do Joel, a great restaurant in Peniche, teamed up with a wonderful wine estate, Quinta do Monte d’Oiro, to make wine that celebrates the joys of the Portuguese Summer. They called it “surf wine” and the label reads:
“To those who didn’t go out last night and those who didn’t sleep, to the tourists and the locals, to the crazy ones who plunge ahead and the ones who hesitate, to the ones who like the right and the others who prefer the left, to lovers of the beach break or the reef break, to those who came out of the barrel wave and those who tasted sand, to all of these, and to the surf in Peniche we make a toast!”
We don’t know what magic went into the production of these wines. But it is impossible to drink them without longing to spend the Summer in Portugal!
Click here for the Tasca do Joel web site and here for the Quinta de Monte d’Oiro web site.
The Dão is one of the oldest Portuguese wine regions. It is a place where granitic soils force vines to work hard for their sustenance, producing small grapes that are full of flavor. We heard wonders about Julia Kemper, a new Dão producer, and we finally got a chance to try her wines.
We first opened a bottle of red wine made with Touriga Nacional, the queen varietal of the Dão region. The taste took us back to hot Summer days in the Dão valleys, when the sky is indescribably blue and everything is at peace.
We then opened a bottle of white made with Encruzado, another emblematic Dão varietal, and Malvasia Fina. The taste reminded us of cool nights in the Dão plateaus, when all the stars come out to worship the beauty of the Estrela mountain.
What a privilege it is to drink wines that take us on a journey to their terroir!
If you keep a list of ideas for fun activities, we would like to suggest a new entry: visiting a port-wine cellar.
Port wine is made in the Douro region where Summers can be very hot. So, the wine is shipped to Vila Nova de Gaia, a town adjacent to Oporto, to be stored away from the heat. There, the wine is kept in dark, cool cellars until it trades the brashness of youth for the refinement that comes with maturity.
Most port-wine houses offer tours of their cellars. The tour guides teach you to distinguish between tawny, ruby, late-bottled vintage, and vintage port. They also regale you with interesting stories and facts about port-wine production. You’ll learn, for example, that the “share of the angels” is the fraction of the wine stored that is lost to evaporation. At the end of the tour you are invited to a port-wine tasting, so you’ll also get a share of this precious nectar.
Sandman’s and Taylor’s are two of the most popular cellars to visit. Click here and here for information about their tours.
Madeira is a fortified wine produced in the island of Madeira. Brandy is added during fermentation to kill the yeast and prevent it from converting all the sugar into alcohol. The result is a sweet wine that can endure the changes in temperature that used to occur during shipping.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson kept their cellars well stocked with Madeira. So did John Adams, who said that a few glasses of Madeira made anyone feel capable of being president. Perhaps for this reason, both the signing of the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were celebrated with Madeira.
There are several different types of Madeira, depending on the varietals used in their production. The most popular varietal, Malvasia or Malmsey, produces a sweet, smooth wine. Sercial makes an excellent dry aperitif. Verdelho makes an elegant semi-dry wine. Bual produces a dark amber semi-sweet wine.
They’re all irresistible, which is why, in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Falstaff is accused of selling his soul to the devil for a glass of Madeira.
You cannot judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a wine by its cork. Low-quality wines use plastic corks or other cork substitutes that do not allow the wine to breathe. The next step up in the quality ladder are wines that use stoppers made of agglomerate cork. Better wines have solid corks, and the very best wines have beautiful waxed corks with the winery’s name carefully imprinted. So, when a wine critic is not available, use the cork as your guide!