Riding through the rolling hills of Portugal from Lisbon to Evora in the Alentejo, sleepy from jet lag and struggling to keep my eyes open, listening to my hosts share tidbits of culture and facts about wine along the way, I was startled wide awake when I heard that Portugal has over 2000 native grapes, second only to Italy for the number of indigenous grapes, but with more concentration in a smaller area.
Two thousand native grapes? Coming from California where it can be difficult to find anything beyond Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, all French grapes that thrive around the world, and as a relative newby in wine, this fact floored me. How could you ever even taste a fraction of those grapes?
On that trip, I tasted many of those lesser but better known grapes, and I learned that some of the grapes that I didn’t think I knew I did know because they have their own names in Portugal.
For example, the grape in the Alentejo known as Aragonês aka Aragonez aka Tinta Roriz in the Douro when it is in Port wines is better known around the world as Tempranillo. and which brings flavors of Cherry, Dried Fig, Dill, Cedar, and Tobacco.
But I’m here today to focus on grapes that are little known outside of Portugal. And in this case, organic ones from Esporão!
For example, an important Portuguese red grape that you may have tasted but not known by name is TRINCADEIRA aka Tinta Amarela, which originated in Southern Portugal. Dry, with a full body and medium to high tannins and medium acidity, it offers flavors of raspberry, plum, and blackberry jam with peppery spicey notes.
If you’ve ever had Port wine, you’ve likely enjoyed TOURIGA NACIONAL which is the most common grape, and which originates from the Dão region in Portugal. This full bodied dry wine has high tannins with medium to high acidity and notes of blueberry, Black Currant, Violet, Rockrose, and Wet Slate.
For native Portuguese white wines, one of the better known ones is VERDELHO, with origins in Madeira, but is now growing well in Spain and the US as made into a Dry wine with Light Body, Medium-High Acidity, and flavors of Gooseberry, Pineapple, Ginger, Honeydew Melon, and, surprisingly, Brazil Nuts.
Definitely check out ANTÃO VAZ from Alentejo, a dry, Full Body wine with Low Acidity and flavors of Pineapple, Tangerine Peel, and Papaya with Minerals.
ARINTO from Buçelas is Bone Dry with Light to Medium Body, and High Acidity offering Lemon Zest, Grapefruit, Hazelnut, Beeswax, and Chamomile.
A third important white is ROUPEIRO aka CODEGA from the Beira Interior which has Medium Body, Low Acidity with flavors of Citrus, Peach, Honeydew Melon, and Bay Leaf.
HERDADE DO ESPORÃO
Located east of Lisbon in the Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC in the Alentejo’s montado ecosystem which is cork oak forests with high diurnal shifts and biodiversity, the Esporão estate measures 4,522 acres with boundaries that have remained unchanged since 1267. Of this area, 1,710 acres is planted with vineyards, olive groves, fruit and vegetable gardens that are grown organically.
With the 2019 vintage, all grapes are organic, making them one of the largest organic producers in the world and on track to become THE largest.
Sandra Alves serves as Director of Winemaking at Herdade do Esporão where she oversees the production of 30 wines made from fruit grown on 1,236 acres of vineyards. In 2020, she moved into the position from her role assisting David Baverstock who is now Director of Education and Wine Culture at Herdade do Esporão, Quintados Murças in the Douro, and Quinta do Ameal in northern Portugal. While Alves’s grandfather made wine from backyard grapes, she earned a degree in Oenology (2000) from the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (Vila Real), followed by a master’s degree (2007) in Viticulture & Enology from the School of Biotechnology at the Portuguese Catholic University in Porto. In her internships she worked with the native white grapes of Roupeiro and Arinto while today she works with these grapes at Esporão in Alentejo which is “Not an easy region for making whites, as it is a warm area,” she says.
It is to Sandra’s credit that Herdade do Esporão obtained organic certification in viticulture to become the largest certified organic vineyard in Portugal and one of the 10 largest in the world. This move has increased the quality of the grapes, she says.
To increase sustainability, she has dramatically reduced water use from 2.5 liters of water for every liter of wine produced to one-to-one with this ratio projected to drop further.
Alves is also a fan of making wine in amphora or “Talhas” a traditional way to make wine in the Alentejo 2,000 years.
Notes from a ZOOM with Sandra Alves:
“We produce over 40 million bottles of wine annually from our 3 estates, plus a Vinho da Mesa (Vin du Pays) brand we market, Our production is roughly 80% Red and 20% White.” In 10 years they see continue to move into the international market.
With changes for climate, they are looking at other varietals, recovering them, using ones that need less water.
In 90s when got water moved away from dry farming. Keep water lines in soil — typography. Grow trees and vegetation to help with humidity and drain the water to the right place. Vegetation covers the benches and offers protection extreme sunlight in summer; experts in dealing with excess sun and heat in Alentejo.
transition to organic had to be good for everybody and everything
Preferred to get into market sooner but took 12 years to keep growing and be good for everyone. Sandra alves, dir of winemaking says:
They do 16 million bottles a year
- foot treading
- 7 soils: diverse
- healthy soils = better fruit = better wine
- dry warm so water management important
- different grapes for climate change
- farming w/o pesticides
- protect the business
- enhanced product
- environmental preservation
- increased sustainabilty
“The majority of our own grape reds are food trodden both in Alentejo and Douro, not in vinho verde,” they said. Using Amphora, they do around 5000 liters/year, red and white, “a beautiful way to make wine and quite hard to work with 200 year old, clay 500 liters vats. White — clean fruity white, sense of place, blend. Grapes some better adapting than others. Native grapes better.
HERDADE DO ESPORÃO WINES
- Colheita White 2020 / SRP $18
- Reserva White 2020 / SRP $20
- Colheita Red 2018 / SRP $18
- Reserva Red 2018 / SRP $25
- all wines samples for my review
- all wines from the 2019 vintage on are certified organic
- Cumin and Paprika Papas Fritas
- Alentejo Style Pork loin with clams
- Kale with prosciutto
- Spanish cheeses: Iberico, Manchego, Aged Manchego
- Spanish crackers with thyme and rosemary
- Olives and almonds
2020 Esporao Colheita White wine, Alentejo
- Certified Organic
- ABV – 13.5%
- SRP $18
- Grapes: Antão Vaz 30%, Viosinho 30%, Alvarino 30% (Albarino in Spain)
- Importer – Now Wine Imports
Color: Pale, golden, very clear and translucent.
Aroma: Green, meadow, fresh meadow grasses and flowers,
Palate: Fresh citrus front to mid palate very tart with a tropical fruit finish. There is also a lot of salinity with some bright acidity,
Pairing: The salinity in the wine is such a perfect match for fresh seafood. Fantastic with the clams, it is clamtastic stated Marshall. The parsley also helps highlight the herbal floral quality. Handles the heat in the pork nicely, responds well to the earthy richness and spices in the potatoes. The kale dish was perfect with the wine. Think kale soup.
2020 – Esporao – Reserva
- ABV – 13.5%
- SRP $20
- Grapes: Antão Vaz 30%, Arinto 30%, Roupeiro 30%
- Importer – Now Wine Imports
Color: Pale yellow, buttercup
Aroma: Herbaceous, sage, chaparral, light fruit pomelo, more about the herbs than the fruit
Palate: Pomelo, there is a bitterness, definitely citrus fruit, mid palate, very round mouthfeel, nice brightness, nice lengthy finish.
Pairing: Very nice with the Manchego loving the creamy richness in the cheese. Great with the pork and clam dish. The wine responds nicely to the parsley and garlic. It is interesting to have a wine go so well with the dish that did not have to cleanse any rich fattiness in a meal. Alright with the kale dish, it is a bit bitter on the finish, but is still nice enough.
2018 – Esporao – Colheita Red
- ABV 14.5%
- SRP $18
- Grapes: Touriga Nacional 30%, Aragonez from Spain, Touriga Franca, and from France, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet
- Importer Now Wine Imports
Color: Deep and dark, plum, fushia rim
Aroma: Plums and pipe tobacco, hooka, perfume, nicely rich like perfume, roses, dried roses, potpourri, very subtle yet very powerful,
Palate: Lots of big bold tannins and acidity, definitely a food wine, plum comes across on the palate and the finish. This is relatively simple wine. There is not a lot of complexity, but it is nicely pleasant. This is a table wine that would compliment many dishes.
Pairing: We thought this wine was so big and bold and tannic when we tasted it for our tasting notes, with food it is a completely different ball game. Cured meat cuts through the tannins and brings out nice fruit in the wine. The aged Manchego brings out fruit in the wine and tames the tannins. Perfect with the garlic and spices in the pork and clam dish. Pork can be a mild mannered meat, but this wine brings a zest to the dish even with the clams and elevates everything.
2018 Esporao Reserva Red
- ABV 14.5%
- SRP $25
- Grapes: Aragonez 25%, Alicante Bouschet 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%, Trincadeira 15%, Touriga Nacional 10%, Touriga Franca 10%, Syrah 5%
- Importer Now Wine Imports
Color: Ruby in color with a garnet rim, medium density
Aroma: Cherries and pipe tobacco for Sue, I got dill pickles as well as cherry and plum,
Palate: Blue fruit, menthol, sage, big bold tannins, complex finish, fruit comes through to the finish. Nicely complex yearns for food.
Pairing: So absolutely perfect with the aged Manchego, the nutty creaminess of the cheese brings out fruit and nuts in the wine. Great with cured meat. The olive oil of Alentejo Great with the potatoes and the kale loving the spices in the potatoes. It takes the edge off of the kale and brings out interesting qualities in the wine.
Curious about grapes that may be new to this group of wine writers? Join our Saturday 8am Pacific twitter chat and check out these articles:
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- ENOFYLZ Wine Blog serves up A Taste of Castelão; 2017 Casal Figueira “Tinto”
- Cooking Chat has a Pork Tenderloin Pasta Recipe with a New Italian Wine
- Vino Travels pours Barone di Serramarrocco Pignatello with Barbequed Ribs
- Gwendolyn Alley Wine Predator invites us to Discover Portugal’s Native Grapes with Peri Peri Chicken