Chris's quick guide to Alentejo Wines for guests of Quinta Azenha do Ramalho.
Your stay is too short to drink bad wine.
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When you stay at Quinta Azenha do Ramalho you are in a very interesting area for some excellent Portuguese wines. If you don't have their rich flavours lodged in your brain's memory bank it had just as well be empty.
If you are visiting the Quinta from abroad and you like wine, especially red wine, I would like to guide you towards some of the best Serra de Sao Mamede or Portalegre region wines so you don't spend your limited time sipping the not so good local wines. I'd like to maximise your quaffing pleasure.
These are the wines I think you should not miss. I have tried these recently.
It has been a while since I tried these but they were very good at the time.
I recommend these but they are not local to the Serra de Sao Mamede area.
These are other local wines. They include those I don't think are the best and those I haven't tried.
These are the local wines I have tasted recently and I hope you will enjoy when you stay at the Quinta.
I haven't tried these recently so they are not on my recommended list but from past experience I think they are likely to be good. By all means let me know what you think.
These I recommend. I have kept them separate because although they are from Alentejo they are not local to the Portalegre / Serra de Sao Mamede region.
These are local wines that I don't recommend because either I have not tried them recently or I don't think they are among the best. Your time at the Quinta is too short but do try these if you like the look of them.
Most of these wine can be found in the larger supermarkets at the southern outskirts of Portalegre and E Leclerc seems to be best and it has a good layout. Also Pingo Doce at the top of the main park in the centre of Portalegre is good too.
Some of the wines are quite new and not so widespread and you are more likely to find those in Artesanato shops. Those are the artisan produce and handicraft shops which are dotted about in places tourists might go. For example, I was impressed with the range in the kiosk shop next to the swimming pool in Portagem below Marvao. Who would have thought?
The world seems a bit fixated on single grape variety wines but in Portugal it is better to put that concept behind you. Portugal is blessed with grape varieties which are virtually unknown elsewhere and in the Alentejo at least, they are nearly always combined into blends. It is fun to see what those varieties are yet it is the recipe that you will enjoy.
Some of the new wines include a little Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz alongside the Portuguese varieties like Trincadeira, Aragonez and Castelao. I suppose including the world famous varieties adds a little marketing zest to make the non-Portuguese drinker a little more comfortable. Though of course it could also be that the wine makers know what they are doing. The French variety Alicante Bouschet has been common in Alentejo for a long time.
Nearly all years are good and some are exceptional with even richer fruit. From the vine's point of view the weather is fairly consistent from year to year and so is the wine. I have heard Serra de Sao Mamede locals say that if you don't harvest by the second week of September you are pushing your luck because of the threat of rain. So a year with early September rain might not be so good but that is virtually unheard of.
What you see on the supermarket shelves is usually the latest release with no overlap from earlier years but if you get a choice and one of them is 2010 then that is the one to go for. You are more likely to find 2010 for the higher priced wines, the lower priced 2010's having be enjoyed long ago.
Some said 2013 should be good because of the wet start to the year with a good long dry summer. However the Serra de Sao Mamede had a couple of rainy days at the end of August so who knows how that will pan out.
A lot of Alentejo white wines are rich, interesting and distinctive blends of unfamiliar grapes. That's a polite way of saying a lot of them dissappoint visitors from other countries who are used to lighter clean varietals like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
Most of the wines on my list are red since that is what I prefer. Sorry. I'll put more "effort" into finding good white wines. If you are into searching for yourself, white wines with Arinto as the principal grape are more likely to be good.
The Portalegre sub region of Alentejo is a Denominação De Origem Controlada (DOC) which means Controlled Designation of Origin. The Portalegre region is recognised as a DOC because the hills of Sao Mamede are said to have both Mediterranean and Atlantic influences which creates a micro climate. Some vineyards have granite based soil giving a different character from the rest of Alentejo.
The altitude of the Sao Mamede hills gives cooler nights which could slow down the ripening season and help produce richer wines. The red wines are deeply coloured and while still young give off an intensive aroma of the red fruits of summer, backed by a certain sharpness and full body.
Not many wine growers bother with the DOC regulations which limits the grape varieties and they opt for the lower classification of Vinho Regional Alentejano which gives them more freedom.
Some local wine producers have joined the Wine Tours project Vinhos do Alentejo, promoting visits to their wine cellars and wine tasting sessions - by appointment. Around Portalegre they are Adega da Cabeça, Portalegre Co-operative, Monte da Penha and Tapada do Chaves.
Charles Metcalfe & Kathryn McWirters' The Wine and Food Lovers Guide to Portugal says:
A wonderful retreat 3km south of southern Portugal's highest mountain, Sao Mamede. You'd be 8km from the nearest shops, in the village of Alegrete, and 21km from the magical village of Marvao. The house is beautifully equipped .... The loudest sounds will be birdsong, distant goat bells, the soothing gurgle of the adjoining mountain stream ......
For further information on wine and wine production see: www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt