Tales From Alentejo: Revisiting the Portuguese Gem

I recently reviewed a handful of wines from Alentejo, Portugal, and instead of just posting them in the same old boring way, I thought I would include a former post I made about the region. This post comes from 2018 when I was traveling regularly to wine regions around the world and getting to write about much more than the contents of silly bottles. I have added the wine reviews at the bottom.

Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux: all towns, all well-known, all evoke “wine.” McMinnville, Walla Walla, Beaune, Bernkastel: more towns, though lesser well-known, but still conger up the concept of “wine town.”

Several months ago, as I have already started to document (Just Getting StartedEsporão, José de Sousa), I spent a week in Alentejo, Portugal, the largest wine region in Portugal. We stayed in the regional capital, a city of 55,000 inhabitants that has been inhabited for five millennia, became an outpost for the Romans, was ruled by the Moors for 450 years, and its city center was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Any guesses as to the name of the town?

If any of you came up with Évora (eh-ver-ah), I owe you a glass of Aragonez (red) or Antão Vaz (white) the next time we meet.

Évora is a fascinating town, about an hour and a half drive due East from Lisbon, the royal family of Portugal spent winters in the town for close to 300 years, during the 14th through the 16th Centuries. Our hotel, in fact, was a former noble palace, built in the 15th Century.

There are “royal” indications throughout town.

Évora was a Roman outpost and there are many ruins that remain in the city, including the Templo de Diana, in the center of town, at highest point in city. The style is 1st century Corinthian, built with local materials, to be the Roman forum. It was thought to be built for Diana the goddess of the hunt, but in the 1980s it was discovered that it was actually built for Emperor Augustus. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths destroyed most of what existed.

The weather is quite temperate for most of the year, but it can be quite hot during the summer—temperatures in the 40s Celsius (40°C = 104°F).

The Igreja de Santo Antao anchors the Praça do Giraldo, named after the General who forced the Moors out of Portugal in the 12th Century, at the center of Évora (the first city center in Europe recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is the focal point of the town all year long.

During the 13th Century, shortly after the expulsion of the Moors, over 4 kilometers of walls were built in the hope of thwarting future invasions.

The walls now house a series of public parks, which can be a space to escape.

Another prominent feature of the city, is the aqueduct, which was built in the 16th Century to replace the Roman structure. It was still in use through the 1950s.

City Hall was built in 16th as a palace for a wealthy family. Built on the top of a Roman bath, the ruins of which were found during renovations in 1987.

One of the main pedestrian streets in Évora, the capital of Alentejo, replete with plenty of golden trim, which is said to represent grain and wealth. It is also thought to help protect from ghosts.

The Cathedral of Évora, in the center of town, which was started in 1280 and opened in 1746.

Évora could be described as a city of churches with 22 Catholic churches in the city, many of which have some peculiar aspects to them. The Cathedral (“Se” in Portuguese) has a statue of the pregnant Mary which apparently is quite rare. Sculpted from stone and painted to look like wood, Mary is dressed like the Portuguese nobility of the time. The statue at the time was considered to be heretical, divisive, even sacrilegious, and the Cardinal of Portugal declared it should be hidden. Eventually, opinions changed and it was brought back in 18th Century, which started a worship to the pregnant Mary.

Pregnant Mary.

Perhaps the most visited site in Évora, however, is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). Reminiscent of the catacombs in Paris, the tiny Chapel contains approximately 5,000 skulls that were exhumed during the 16th Century. During the Middle Ages, cemeteries were placed outside the city, but as the city grew, the land was needed for new development. Instead of re-burying the corpses, they were moved to this chapel. At the time (and perhaps even today), this was seen as disrespectful to the dead, but the Franciscan monk at the time wanted to show that all were equal.

Roughly translated: “We bones that here are, await yours.”

Yikes.

From Wikipedia.

Whoa.

Oh yeah, there is also plenty of wine to be had in town and in the surrounding areas.

2020 Herdade de São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada Rosé, Alentejo, Portugal: Retail $15. 50% Touriga Nacional, 30% Syrah, 20% Aragonez. I have now had several iterations of this rosé from Alentejo and each one has impressed. Quite pale, barely pink even (with an orange tint), with great tropical fruit (even some banana) and minerality. The palate is tart, fruity, and expressive and while this is not the most memorable rosé I have consumed, it is particularly refreshing and delightful. Very Good. 89 Points.

2018 Carmim Monsaraz Tinto Reserva, Alentejo, Portugal: Retail $16. 60% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, 20% Touriga Nacional. I have said countless times that I am a huge fan of Alentejo: the people, the region, and of course, the wines. This is a perfect example as to why. Great fruit aromas of blackberry and plum, with a bit of spice thrown in. The palate is fruity and fun (without being big) but also balanced with acidity and a bit of complexity. At fifteen bucks? A steal. Yum. Excellent. 90 Points.

2018 Adega da Cartuxa EA, Alentejo, Portugal: Retail $12. Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão . I have to admit, I get a little happy when I open a bottle of wine from Alentejo. It has been a few years since I have been there, but the memories are still fresh, including a trip to Cartuxa in Evora. This is an entry-level wine for the Alentejano stalwart and a great intro to the wines of the region. Dark in color, but fruity and spicy in aromas, the wine is well-balanced on the palate between the fruit and acidity, a little short on complexity, but this represents the region and price point quite well. Very Good. 88 Points.

2019 Adega Cooperativa de Borba Adega de Borba Premium, Alentejo, Portugal: Retail $15. Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon. Another entry-level kind of wine from lovely Alentejo, which is fairly dark in the glass with dark fruit (blackberry, plum), anise, spice, and some dark earth–quite inviting. The palate is more of the same but not nearly as big as the nose suggests with a great balance between all that dark fruit and a zingy tartness. Very Good. 89 Points.

2019 Herdade do Rocim Alentejo Vinho Tinto Amphora, Alentejo, Portugal: Retail $18. 50% Moreto, 30% Tinto Grossa, 15% Trincadeira, 5% Aragonez. This wine was made in the traditional way, with indigenous yeasts in clay pots (amphora). Quite dark in the glass with black plum, blackberry, cassis, and a considerable amount of mocha. On the back end there is a decided green pepper element, which I really like, but I know I am in the minority on that one? Quite lovely on the palate with tart fruit (not quite as dark as on the nose), some depth and complexity, and just a touch of earth. Very Nice. 90 Points.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castelão, Moreto, Rosé, Syrah, Tinta Grossa, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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