Australian Peter Bright has been making wine in Portugal since 1982, and is one of a handful of people responsible for the significant rise in the quality of table wines in that country. He has personally won several prestigious awards.
Bright founded the Terras de Alter winery in 2004. It is in the Alentejo region, about 200km west of the capital Lisbon.
Grapes for his flagship wines are grown on a granite ridge of the Antes vineyard. Peter Bright said it was probably the site of a Roman villa and cemetery because this block is littered with terracotta tile fragments. “Hence the name Telhas [for the flagship wines, which is] Portuguese for roof tiles.”
The current release of the Terra d’Alter Telhas red is the 2010. The wines have a slightly different name from the title of the vineyard. The red is 95 per cent syrah with the balance viognier. Grapes are co-fermented with indigenous yeast in small open tanks. Fermentation is finished in mostly new American oak barrels with battonage followed by malolactic fermentation and 18 months maturation. Battonage is an old-world winemaking technique that involves stirring of the lees to increase flavours. Lees are the sediments left over after fermentation.
This red has a nose of violets and ground pepper with a hint of tar. In the mouth it is magic, with masses of ripe red fruits. Because of time in bottle, the fruit has integrated beautifully with the oak to give a savoury backbone of cedar and vanilla.
Bright confesses he loves viognier because it “has phenolics like syrah, also know as shiraz”. He recommends decanting this wine before serving to enhance the perfumed nose.
The 2012 Terra d’Alter Alfrocheiro is a very fruity red suitable for a range of dishes, with a savoury nose of mushrooms plus lots of bright fruit on the palate. The alfrocheiro grape is sometimes described as Portugal’s pinot noir. It has an aroma of ripe cherry and Oriental spices. The tannins are silky and feel rich.
“Afrocheiro is a unique variety with quite small bunches and berries reminiscent of pinot noir and trousseau (also known as bastardo), to which I think it is genetically related,” Bright said, “so I like to think of it as the ‘Pinot of Portugal’.”
Four in five wines produced in the Alentejo region are red. But whites have become much more popular in Portugal, and now represent half of all sales nationally.
Bright’s 2012 Terra d’Alter Telhas white was named best white wine in Portugal at this year’s Mundus Vini international competition in Germany. It is made entirely from viognier from the Antes vineyard and spends half a year in new American oak. It tastes like a high-end Condrieu, and Bright uses traditional methods familiar to that region of France. Indeed, Bright said he “saw the light” about viognier after tasting Condrieu wines by George Vernay in 2009.
The wine has aromas of apricots and green plums with a hint of toasty vanilla. The palate is ripe and bountiful with an attractive acid spine and slight grip at the finish that balances the richness of the fruit. It is drinking well now but would benefit from time in the bottle to appreciate its majesty.
The 2013 Terra d’Alter reserve white is a blend of siria, arinto, verdelho and gouveio (all 20 per cent) plus 10 per cent of viognier and another 10 per cent made up of antao vaz, encuzado and rabo de overlha. Yes, eight grape varieties in a glass. The viognier provides a boost in terms of texture and acidity. This wine received 40 per cent new oak.
It offers cascading aromas of white acacia, passion fruit and white peach with notes of apricots plus a flinty or mineral texture that is most appealing. We found a slight disconnect between the richness of the fruit and the mouth-puckering presence of the oak. If cellared for five years this wine will be brilliant, but who can wait that long?
Portugal has always been famous for its blending of grapes — the country has at least 250 varieties. Traditionally some winemakers had no idea of what they were growing, and they simply made wine with the available grapes. It is lovely to find a winemaker experimenting and seeming to have so much fun.
The 2012 Terra d’Alter siria is 100 per cent siria from an Alentejo old vines vineyard. Also known as roupeiro, siria is the second most planted white grape variety in Portugal but is seldom offered as a single-variety wine. Bright believes its qualities deserve better recognition.
This wine has aromas of pears and a range of green-tinged fruits like gooseberries and green plums. The mineral finish and tingly acid would help it pair nicely with a range of Asian foods.
Disclosure: The Delibo wine company in the United Kingdom provided tasting samples for this review. Thank you, Delibo.