New wines from the Alentejo region of southern Portugal are encountered this week. It is unclear when vines were first grown in the region but some historians suggest the Tartessians first cultivated grapes on the Iberian peninsula about 2,000 years before Christ.
The Phoenicians, famous as some of the first maritime traders, took over the Tartessians’ commercial interests. Later the Greeks succeeded the Phoenicians about 200 BC. We know about the Greeks because of the presence of remnants of clay jars, known as amphorae, in the region.
The use of amphorae for fermenting grape juice, known as must, and to store wine is still occasionally practised. The jars come in various shapes and sizes: the largest hold 2,000 litres of must, weigh up to a tonne and can be two metres high.
Jars are porous but are made watertight with pine resin. Successive generations of artisans have practised these skills, though they are now almost obsolete. It is believed secret recipes handed down from father to son and specific to each family gave distinctive flavours and character to each clay vessel.
Modern winemakers mostly use stainless steel tanks for winemaking.
Four wines from the Monte Seis Reis vineyard in the Alentejo region arrived for tasting. All wines were made in stainless steel. The vineyard’s name translates as the farm of six kings. The back label says the kings ruled the town of Estremoz in Alentejo. All grapes come from the Estremoz sub-region of Alentejo.
A colleague who will co-write this column later this year and I tasted the whites first. The 2013 Boa Memoria white has a vibrant pale lemon yellow colour with aromas of pomello, grapefruit and pineapple. In the mouth the wine has good texture and a long after-taste.
The texture is a result of good acids and vibrant fruit. This is a nice wine with a slight lactic note and some sophistication. The very low residual sugar, at 1 gram per litre, explains the sense of dryness in the mouth. It is suitable for most seafoods.
My colleague found it focused like a chablis. The wine is a blend of arinto, antão vaz and viognier though details of proportions were not provided. The viognier contributes to the texture and sense of volume. It is designed to be drunk soon after vintage. The wine we tasted had only recently been bottled. Its name translates as “good memories”, and it provided them.
The 2013 Arte Real white is a blend of arinto and fernão pires, though again the proportions were not available. The wine has reasonable acidity and a fresh finish but in the mouth it tastes watery and thin. An email from the vineyard told us this wine was designed for immediate drinking and sells for about 2 Euros a bottle.
The 2012 Arte Real red is made from aragonez and trincadeira grapes. In neighbouring Spain aragonez is known as temperanillo, one of the country’s best-performing grapes. Arte real translates as “real art”.
Sometimes we describe a wine as “jammy”, indicating very ripe fruit. But when a wine is too extracted it means the wine spent too long on the skins – known as the maceration process – which explains the jammy taste and dark colour. It also produces a wine that feels “hot” in the mouth because of the high alcohol. Perhaps this wine would taste better if served chilled. The tannins are pleasantly soft.
The 2010 Boa Memória red is a blend of aragonez, trincadeira and alicante bouschet grown on schistous and limestone soil. Alicante bouschet provides the dark colour in the glass while the other grapes supply the flavour. The limestone soil contributes to the acidity.
On the nose the wine has aromas of ripe fruit like blackberries. In the mouth the wine feels well balanced with soft and supple tannins, the result of six months in the cellar and controlled use of oak.
The accompanying notes recommend the wine be drunk at 16ºC but I think it would taste better if chilled to around 13C. With this wine it was a case of much better memories.
Monte Seis Reis vineyard is a promising newcomer that seems to be focusing on the inexpensive end of the price continuum.
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