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    Impressively Different Wines from the Alentejo, and the Alicante Bouschet Grape

    Portuguese wine has been on a tear over the past few years, gaining international acclaim, awards and new followers.? There is no doubt that many excellent wines come from Portugal, and there is an astounding variety to be found from the cool, green north to the hot southern regions.? The Douro River, which flows from the Spanish border to the ocean, has long been a source of world acclaimed wines.? The great port houses line the river as you get near Porto.? There is nothing quite like a 30-40 year old vintage port.

    Alentejo Vineyards

    Alentejo Vineyards

    But it is the dry wine that has fueled the resurgence, using indigenous grapes as well as international varieties.? Many, many Portuguese reds are blends, and these also use the full spectrum of the grapes grown here now.? Formally, the DOC designation in Portugal stands for Denomina??o de Origem Controlada, and it is used to divide the wine making areas into distinct regions, as well as identifying the wines that carry this designation as being at the top of the quality pyramid.? For my money, the best of the Portuguese wine making areas, or DOCs, is the Tejo DOC. ? The Tejo River runs through this region, and south of the river lies the Alentejo, which means “Beyond the Tejo”.? Here, the reds are rich, complex and generally age worthy.? Let’s take a little closer look at the region and the grapes, and then we’ll talk about a side by side tasting of five different wines from the region.

    The Alentejo winemaking history goes back to Roman times, and they still do make some wine using the old amphorae, with some of

    Amphorae anyone?

    Amphorae anyone?

    the clay pots holding up to 520 gallons each.? It’s been a tumultuous, up and down ride for the wine industry here since then.? When the Arabs occupied the region for five hundred years, the vines were pulled out and the land planted to wheat.? After the occupation the vines were replanted, and the wines became recognized for their quality.? Then, in the mid-1700’s, the Douro region controlled the country’s politics and commerce, and protectionist measures enacted in their favor severely hurt the Alentejo’s winemakers.? When that finally subsided, and a revival started to gain steam, the dreaded Phylloxera epidemic hit, and then came the World Wars.? It certainly has not been an easy road.

    Flash forward to today.? The region now has more vineyard land than Napa Valley.? Red wines dominate in the hot climate, accounting for 80% of the region’s production.? The Alentejo gets more sun than San Diego.? The major red varieties are mostly indigenous to the region, and include Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet (a French cross introduced to the area over 100 years ago), Castel?o, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.? We’re going to focus on Alicante Bouschet in this article, a dark colored grape which is also used to give other wines more depth and color.? The reason for that is it is one of the few grapes in the Teinturier family.? These grapes have both red skins and red flesh, which means they tend to bring more color and intensity.? There are only a handful of this type of grape in the vitus vinifera species, which is where all of the fine wine grapes come from.

    Here in the Alentejo, they make more wine from Alicante Bouschet than you can find anywhere else, even though it is not originally a Portuguese grape. ?This includes both blends as well as 100% Alicante wines.? Most people familiar with Alicante would probably use the term ‘rustic’ to describe the wines, considering them local wines, or country wines.? We are about to dispel that myth.

    We have five wines from the Alentejo to review here, four of which are 100% Alicante Bouschet.? The other is 50% Alicante.? Here they are:

    IMG_2540

    2013 Mouch?o Red – dark ruby red, with a nose of dark fruits, spice, eucalyptus and some cherry after it opens up.? The fruit is IMG_2535ripe.? There is a touch of oak.? On the palate the wine is rich, with brisk tannins.? It is mouth coating and full bodied, but carries enough acid to remain fresh and balanced.? It is very long, with a big mid-palate.? You get more black cherry at the end.? This is really nice.? $60, and a bit pricey there, but a well made and impressive wine.

    IMG_25362012 Dona Maria Grande Reserva – this wine is only 50% Alicante Bouschet, with the rest made up of Petit Verdot, Syrah and Touriga Nacional.? On the nose there was caramel, mocha, cherry, smoke, dark fruits, oak and violets. This is complex.? On the palate it is rich and full bodied, and smooth.? We let this sit for day in the bottle, and on day two it was completely seamless, long and still rich.? In a blind tasting I might have guessed top notch Amarone.? It really is world class and a knock out wine.? $45 and worth more.

    2016 Herdade dos Grous Moon Harvested – another 100% Alicante Bouschet wine, this had a nose of very ripe fruit, almost IMG_2537overripe.? There was toasty oak, very good if you like more oak in your red.? The palate was less smoky, and rich fruit came through.? The wine is very well integrated.? After an hour in the glass it was more seamless, although the tannins were still brisk.? Dark fruit coated the palate and the wine is full bodied, and long.? When we let this go to day two more complex notes emerged, including tobacco.? $25, and good quality at this price point.

    IMG_25382016 Rocim Alicante Bouschet – dark purple red, and 100% Alicante Bouschet.? It has a nose of dark fruit (black plum prominent), herbal notes and some oak.? On the palate the wine is rich and medium+ bodied, with a long finish.? The only slight negative is it is just a little light in the mid-palate, but it is, in total, a very good wine.? We let this get some air for an hour, and at that point red cherry had emerged, and the wine was fuller.? The second day it had rounded out and was softer.? Of the five this is the lightest overall, and slightly less concentrated than the others. ?Of course, this is Alicante Bouschet, so the lightest of the bunch is still pretty substantial. ? $20, and a good value there.

    2013 Espor?o Vinha das Palmeiras Alicante Bouschet – this has dark fruit on the nose, with toasted oak, earthy tones and IMG_2539noticeable minerality.? You get pretty much the same on the palate, along with some leather and tobacco, and that is a good thing.? It is full bodied and long.? Another 100% Alicante wine.? Tannins here are softer, and the wine does fade just a bit before the tannins wrap around and hit you again at the end.? $45 and fairly priced for the quality.

    All of these wines clearly are well made, with beautiful fruit and their own individual nuances.? No one would ever use the term rustic to describe any of them, and they deserve a spot at any fine wine lover’s table.? The Dona Maria is pretty mind blowing.? This wine is on the list we’ll consider for our Top 25 of the Year in December.? It is exceptional.

    Try some Alicante Bouschet, try some Portuguese wine, and treat yourself to a world class bottle of red.? The beauty of the wines reviewed here is that you can accomplish all three of those goals by pulling a single cork.

    A votre santé!

     

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