Eastern Portugal’s Alentejo plains are the country’s premier wine-producing areas, rapidly acquiring fame for producing excellent DOC reds – full-bodied and similar in taste to Australian wines – as well as less expensive but very drinkable table wines known as Alentejano VR.
Stretching from the Atlantic coast south of Lisbon and touching on the Algarve in the south, the sprawling Alentejo wine estates enjoy a reliably hot and dry climate. Although wine has been produced here since Roman times, the region is currently making an impact on the world thanks largely to European Union funding.
Another factor in the region’s recent success was the introduction of French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the result of a linkup between Rothschild winemakers and local growers in the 1990s. Traditional Portuguese grapes, including Antão Vaz and Castelão, are still commonly used and some fabulous whites are also produced here.
The region’s tasting center is in Evora, an historic UNESCO World heritage city east of Lisbon. There are three tourist routes through the wineries and cork plantations of the Alentejo, where the vines stand in regimented rows stretching far into the distance. These scenic driving tours each make up a day trip from Lisbon and offer the chance to stop off at several wineries for tastings en route.
Important growers of the area include Mouchão in Casa Branca. A traditional ‘adega,’ it is open daily for tours and tastings. The cellars are also open at Monte da Ravasqueira in Arraiolos, where day-long wine courses are also held. The prestigious Adega da Cartuxa offers cellar tours plus wine and olive-oil tastings close to Evora.
- Sasha Heseltine