Tales from Alentejo: Two Takes on Cartuxa

This month I have been chronicling my trip to Portugal last Spring. The trip started on a Monday in late May with a visit to the medieval town of Monsaraz, then to the wineries of Esporão and José de Sousa.

Tuesday began with a trip to another large producer in Alentejo, Adega Cartuxa (pronounced car-TOO-zhah), best known for Pêra-Manca, its cult-level flagship wine.

We were greeted by a tour guide who spoke English far better than I speak Portuguese (which is not at all) and she started right away on a very well-rehearsed script as we toured the old winery (several years ago, a newer, modern winery was built a few kilometers away–the old winery now just serves to age many of the wines in casks).

A few of the barrels in the old winery.

As is my wont, I tried to get our guide off her script several times by asking questions that would hopefully lead the tour to a discussion rather than a lecture (yes, it was the old History teacher in me coming through).

It didn’t work.

Although she dutifully responded to my many questions, she steadfastly trudged ahead with her no doubt oft-repeated presentation.

Dejectedly, I decided to just give in and take notes.

Just a couple of kilometers outside of Évora, the capital of Alentejo, Cartuxa started in a Jesuit monastery in the mid-18th Century. Due to conflicts with the Portuguese government, the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal in 1759 and the government took control of the monastery. A little more than a decade later, the government transformed the property into a significant winery, taking in grapes from all over the region.

Outside the old winery, there are several thought-provoking sculptures….

Another century on, in 1869, the Portuguese government sold the winery to the Eugenio de Almeida family of Lisbon. Yet another century more, in the 1960s, the heir, Vasco Maria Eugénio de Almeida, without an heir of his own, created the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, whose “statutary aims are cultural, educational, social and spiritual, focused on enhancing human achievement and overall development of the region of Évora.”

Our guide described the Foundation as a “social solidarity institution” which has to donate 50% of its profits to social causes.

Being the closet Marxist that I am, I thought all of this sounded great–making wine and donating the profits.

Win-win.

Then came the movie.

Maybe it’s just me, but showing a movie (it was only about 10 minutes long, but felt like I was watching Anna Karenina in Russian–another language that I do not speak all that well) at 10 a.m. to a bunch of wine-geek journalists still suffering from jet-lag was at best a stretch.

Add that the film touted how mechanized and efficient the new winery was, well, I decided I would not like the wines and stopped taking notes.

Obviously, perhaps, if the story ended there, I would not be writing about it, nor would you be reading about my experience with Cartuxa.

But the story did not end there.

Later in the trip, we went to another arm of the Adega Cartuxa family, the Cartuxa Enoteca, for lunch in the center of Évora.

Outside the Enoteca. I can’t say this for sure, but by strategically placing this bicycle at the entrance to the Enoteca, I think they knew I was coming.

I could not decide which picture I preferred, so I included them both.

At the Enoteca we met with one of the Vice Presidents of Cartuxa, whose English is not only better than my Portuguese, I think it is also better than my English. Over lunch, we discussed a variety of topics, but we also tasted through most of the wines produced by the winery.

Here were those that stood out for me:

2015 EA Branco (White): Retail 4€ (about $5–not yet available in the U.S. but will be soon for about $10). 40% Antão Vaz, 40% Roupeiro, 20% Arinto. Bright aromas of peach and a little citrus. Wow. Light and lively. For $10-ish? Buy this by the case. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2015 Cartuxa Colheita Branco (White) Alentejo: Retail $16. Same varieties as the EA. About the same percentages too. On the lees for eight months. Nose is grittier less fruity and more savory. Rounder but more complex with salinity on the finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

Next, we tried a two EA (one of the six brands from Cartuxa) Tintos (Reds). The first spent 4 months on oak and is designed for the US market. The second has no oak aging and is only available in Portugal. Perhaps needless to say, I preferred the latter (but only slightly).

2015 EA Tinto (Red): Retail $10. 40% Aragonez, 35% Alicante Bouchet, 15% Trincaderia, 10% Syrah. Four months on oak. Dark berry and meaty. Perfect BBQ wine perhaps. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2015 EA Tinto (Red): Retail 8€. No aging in oak and only sold in Portugal. Bright and fruity. I changed my mind. This is the perfect BBQ wine. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

2013 Cartuxa Colheita Tinto (Red) Alentejo: Retail $20. Aragonez, Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet. Almost a Bordeaux blend nose. Currants, blackberry, tobacco. Fruity and fun with plenty of structure. At $20? Holy cow. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2013 Cartuxa Colheita Tinto (Red) Reserve Alentejo:: Retail $45. Aragonez, Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet. Similar profile but deeper and more profound. While similar, this is more complex and better integrated. Very nice. 15 months on new French oak. Close to a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points. 

2014 Pêra-Manca Branco Alentejo: Retail $60. Antão Vaz and Arinto. While we did not get a chance to taste the $240 Pêra-Manca Red, we did get our lips around this, the most expensive white wine in Alentejo. 60 bucks for a Portuguese white?? Well, after one sip, that needs no justification. Rich and creamy with plenty of depth, despite the different varieties involved, this reminds me of a young top-tier Chassagne-Montrachet. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.

My take-away? Cartuxa clearly deserves its reputation as one of the top producers in Alentejo–I have already purchased a few wines since my visit.

But ditch the movie, please.

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Posted in Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Antão Vaz, Aragonez, Arinto, Roupeiro, Trincadeira, Wine | Leave a comment