In the grand scheme of the wine world, Portugal appears to be the county that stands tall, despite its relatively small size (about 575 miles long, and just under 140 miles wide). In Napoleonic-complex fashion, it makes up for its stature in other ways; Portugal is in the top ten worldwide in vineyard acreage, per capita wine consumption, wine exports to the USA, and almost squeaks into that list for wine production (coming in at number 11).
Given that, we tend to forget that Portugal’s land mass isn’t actually all that tiny; one of its largest production areas – Alentejo – is responsible for half of the world’s wine cork production, takes up approximately one-third of the country, and has portions in the south that stretch all the way out to the coast. Alentejo has eight sub-regions, over 35,000 acres of PDO wine production, and is about the size of Belgium.
The host of a recent Wines of Alentejo “Authentic Alentejo” event held (I was a media guest), Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein summed it up this way: “‘the People’s Republic of Alentejo,’ if you will.”
Wine has deep roots (ha ha) in Alentejo, stretching back about 4,000 years. The pre-Roman-era Tartessians likely introduced winemaking to the region, and the Romans cemented it into its DNA (including the amphorae methods of talhas de barro, still in use today). The region has more or less been making wine ever since, with only a brief decline during Moorish occupation in the 8th Century. In modern terms, tourism-stimulating attention from National Geographic and a nearly seven-fold increase in wine producers in the late 1990s have brought renewed vinous attention to the region.
Well, that and the fact that several of the wineries became known for the fruit-forward, full-throttle, probably-overblown style of winemaking popular with major wine critics during the last couple of decades.
But Alentejo wines don’t have to be overblown; at least, that’s the takeaway that I got from the wines presented by Goldstein and co-host Joshua Greene in the refractory of NYC’s Union Theological Seminary (best imagined as the Christian version of the main hall at Hogwarts)…