Companhia das Lezírias
Portugal is quickly emerging as a world-class wine destination
The Companhia das Lezírias (literally marshy land) can trace its roots back to 1836, and was once Portugal’s largest farmer of agriculture, cattle and forests. At its heyday, Lezírias’ entire holdings amounted to almost 45,000 acres but its holdings have steadily been reduced.
Today, 320 acres are vineyards and the business has been placed in the status of a public limited company, wholly owned by public funds. The existing winery was built in 1944 but has been vastly improved since that time. A new state-of-the-art refrigeration system with a number of stainless steel vats and improved production facilities have made the Companhia das Lezírias a truly modern facility.
For many years, the Tejo Region was mostly a producer of bulk wines. In 2009, the region was renamed Ribatejo due to the area’s increasing popularity and the fact that many fine red wines were being produced. The river Tagus and its basin runs through the middle of the region and offers rich, alluvial soils that benefit from the sandy composition and availability of water. Up river, the soils become stonier and extremely high quality wines are made.
Foreign varietals like the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive in this area and are found in numerous locations. During the past decade, Ribatejo wines have risen in statue and now compare to many of their regional brothers. The price/value relationship of Ribatejo wines is excellent, even in the upper echelon wines produced there.
Frederico Falcao - Winemaker
Frederico Falcao is typical of the new wave winemakers of Portugal. A post graduate in enology, he has worked in the wine industry since 1995, and has served in various capacities with several top Portuguese wineries. He also served as a consultant to several more. Falcao interned at Taylor Wines in Clare Valley, Australia in 1998, and is the author of a book called Wines and the Oak. He joined Companhia das Lezirias in 2001 and also oversees the company’s large olive oil production.
Portuguese Wine History
Portugal’s wine history is well documented, starting with the First Century BC, when Roman Legions swept over the eastern side of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans even gave the country its current name that was derived from the Latin word portus or port as we know it today.
Wines have been an important aspect in Portugal for the next two thousand years and have survived a number of conquerors. Even the 7th Century Moorish occupation that allowed no wines or winemaking whatsoever due to the Koran’s strict forbidding of alcohol could not stop Portugal’s determination and fervor for wines.
Centuries later, a permanent union in the form of a treaty with England allowed Portugal to have preference over French wines, an occurrence that secured Portugal’s place in world wine history. The country’s first commercial wines were called Ports, or wines fortified with brandy, and were made around the northern city of Oporto. By the early 1500’s, millions of cases were shipped to England and Holland and Port had become the choice of gentlemen and royal courts of Europe.
While port remained Portugal’s leading export wine, a number of excellent Portuguese reds were also made. Few made it out of the country as little marketing was paid to the export of these unknown wines. Twenty to thirty years ago, a number of wineries (some were startups that were fueled by the success of other startup wineries in neighboring countries) broke with traditional Portuguese wine industry thinking and began the serious exportation of their wines.
What happened since then is amazing and a tribute to the merit of the entire Portuguese wine industry. Entered into international competitions (particularly the difficult British competitions), a number of Portuguese reds (and even a few whites) have placed high among the world’s finest wines. Even the exalted French reds have succumbed to the quality and finesse of a number of Portuguese reds in highest level competition. Whenever price/value is considered, the range of Portuguese reds proves extremely hard to beat.
As mentioned above, a new wave of small wineries has emerged and this fact has caused Portugal’s older, established wineries to create some new wines to compete with the newcomers. The overall movement is a boon to both Portugal and the entire wine world. These new wines are rare examples of extraordinary attention to detail and near-flawless winemaking.
It is our pleasure to introduce some of these wines through our International Series Wine Club program.