Old and new

Terras D'Alter composit @

We happened to be the first to arrive at a friend’s dinner party. He suggested it would be fun to decant the bottle of wine we had brought to do a blind tasting.

When the other guests arrived, our host asked everybody to guess the provenance of this very special wine. Glasses were filled and moments of silence ensued while everybody focused on taste and smell. Many highly appreciative comments followed. Some guests thought that the wine was from the old world, probably from France, perhaps from Côtes du Rhône. Others thought it was a wine from the new world, possibly from Australia. The wine was Terras d’Alter, Outeiro, 2008.

Terras d’Alter has impeccable old-world credentials. The grapes come from old quintas in Alentejo.  But the wine is made by an Australian enologist, Peter Bright, who eschews traditional wine-making methods in favor of new-world technology. The result is the best of the old and new worlds.

When we drink Terras d’Alter, we feel transported to a sun-drenched day in Alentejo, our body soaking in the warmth, our mind relaxed by the endless vistas. How can other wines compete with this feeling?

Click here to see the web site of Terras d’Alter.

 

Wine lessons

Adega Mãe Composit

If you’d like to learn more about wine, we have the perfect plan. Adega Mãe, a new winery in the Lisbon region, organizes one-day courses on wine appreciation that are seriously fun.

The morning is devoted to the theoretical aspects of wine making and wine tasting. After a coffee break, the practice begins. Guided by an experienced enologist, you taste Portuguese wines made with different varietals and compare them with foreign wines.

Once your palate is trained, lunch is served in the beautiful dining room that overlooks the vineyards. Wines produced with grapes from these vineyards are carefully matched with each different dish.

After lunch, there is opportunity to ask more questions and taste more wine. Don’t leave before trying Adega Mãe’s elegant Alvarinho white wine!

Adega Mãe is located near the town of Torres Vedras. Click here for their website. To ask about their wine appreciation courses email enoturismo@adegamae.pt

Adega Mayor

Adega Mayor

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.

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

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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.

Bottled Summer

QuintaMontedOiro

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.

Traveling with Julia Kemper

Julia Kemper

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!