White Wines of Portugal-Alentejo Region
A Summer Sampling
Portugal has the highest density of native grapes per square mile of any country in the world. Alentejo growers and winemakers appreciate the native grape varieties, many of which are versatile, drought-resistant, have acidity to spare, and/or ripen early, making them well-suited to Alentejo’s hot climate.
I gathered my tasting group together for a sampling of some of Alentejo’s finest white wines. Join us for some Portugal and Alentejo trivia and note the recommendations below for fragrant, zesty white summer wines.
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Portugal and Alentejo Wines The Numbers in Context
o Alentejo is about the same size as Massachusetts.
o At 56,500 acres, its vineyard plantings are slightly more than Napa’s 45,000 acres and about the same as Washington State.
o The Alentejo enjoys over 3,000 hours of sunshine annually, similar to San Diego and well above Portugal’s national average - already the highest in Europe.
o The Portuguese love Alentejo, source of one of every three bottles of still wine consumed in Portugal.
o Alentejo wines are gaining ground -- production has quadrupled since the mid-1990s.
Alentejo Cultural Trivia
o The Alentejo accounts for over one-third of the world’s cork forests. Natural, renewable, reusable and recyclable, cork bark is carefully harvested by hand just once every nine years.
o The Portuguese eat more seafood than any other European people group, barring the Icelanders!
o Thanks to a lack of light pollution, the Alentejo boasts Europe’s first Starlight Tourist Destination – the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve.
Meet the Grapes: White Grapes of Alentejo
Antão Vaz: Versatile, perfumed, and shows great solo or blended. Antão Vaz is Alentejo’s white star.
Alvarinho/Albariño: One of the most well-known white grapes of Spain and Portugal.
Arinto: Alentejo's best white blending variety, thanks to its exuberant acidity. Discreet aroma. Green apple, lemon, and lime freshness and mineral notes favored by many wine lovers.
Fernão Pires: Extremely aromatic (faintly reminiscent of Muscat), with distinctive peppery notes on nose and palate, Fernão Pires matures early and softens with oak aging. Suited to hot climate.
Roupeiro – aka Malvasia and Siria: Roupeiro used to be the most widely planted white in Alentejo. Often paired with Antao Vaz and Arinto, this grape is best enjoyed young, with its seductive citrus notes of orange and lemon, hints of peach, melon, laurel, and forest flowers.
Verdelho: An undervalued grape that over-delivers, Verdelho styles range from fresh and fruity when young, to rich and unctuous (an “oily” palate-coating trait like Riesling or Chenin) when older.
Portugal White Wine Recommendations
Herdade do Esporão Colheita Branco 2021, Alentejano, Portugal, $18
Best of Tasting
The 2020 was 90 points, Wine & Spirits
Torre de Palma Arinto & Alvarinho 2021, Alentejano, Portugal, $40
The 2020 was rated 16.5 of 20 by JancisRobinson.com
If you go to Alentejo, stay at the Torre de Palma Wine Hotel.
Rocim Mariana White 2020, Alentejano, $16
86 Points, Wine Enthusiast
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