Monte da Peceguina
Portugal’s wines are numerous, diverse and distinctive.
To many of the world’s more educated wine aficionados, the only serious wines originating in the narrow country are called ports and are considered a staple for dessert loving food lovers around the world. If the current explosion of table wine consciousness continues as it has for the past decade, port lovers will have to give Portugal’s emerging table wine industry its just due. National and international wine periodicals have already jumped on the wagon and given many of Portugal’s new wave of wines (mostly reds) significant awards and scores against the finest wines in the world.
This news might not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has attended the wide range of Portuguese wines that have been available for decades in limited quantities. Most of Portugal’s top wines were consumed internally, while the world market was flooded with the likes of Mateus Rose or a number of other low end wines.
A closer look at Portugal’s production shows a remarkable number of new wave wines originating from a large group of wine producing regions, from the esteemed Duero growing area in the North to the warmer Alentejo in the country’s southern region.
This new push is long overdue since the Portuguese have a remarkable history of growing grapes and one of the tightest sets of wine laws in the entire world. Wine can be traced back to the first century BC, when the Romans conquered the lands on the eastern side of the Iberian Peninsula. The name Portugal is derived from the Roman word portus or port. Vines have produced wines in Portugal in one form or another for the past two thousand years. Throughout the myriad of conquerors, the gentle country has managed to persevere and continue producing wine. Even during the difficult period of Moorish occupation beginning in the 7th Century, wine somehow survived. When the Koran forbade the use of alcohol in any form, wine and winemaking techniques somehow persevered the thorny times and flourished. It is truly a reflection of the determination of many dedicated Portuguese growers and vintners who guarded their wine heritage with fervor and in many instances, with the aid of the Roman Catholic Church who used the wines as part of their services. During the 14th Century, England and Portugal cemented trading relationship with a treaty that was followed in 1703 by the treaty of Methuen that granted Portuguese wines preference over French wines for importation into England thereby securing their place in wine history. Given the ongoing status of French wines in general, such an event was surely a deep black eye in the mind of the French wine world.
The first commercial wines (called Ports and fortified with brandy) were made around the town of Oporto, and by the beginning of the 16th Century, more than a million cases a year were being shipped down the Duero River (River of Gold) for reshipment to England and Holland. Port became the choice of gentlemen and royal courts and the Portuguese wine industry flourished with the aid of British Wine Merchants and the fact that Great Britain and France were usually at war, a situation that created a natural shortage of wines. Even though Port was the leader in commercial exportation and also the measure that the wine world used in viewing the country’s output, the Portuguese wines continued to be produced but were generally consumed internally. That changed during the 1960’s when Mateus became the darling of the awakening American wine market. Millions of cases of the basic rose were exported in the colorful smallish rounded bottles that adorned many American mantels. But progress was slow and few of Portugal’s excellent red wines made it out of the country and onto the tables of the world’s more knowledgeable consumers.
As mentioned above, a new breed of Portuguese wineries emerged around ten or twenty years ago that was determined to bring Portuguese reds (and in some cases whites) into the upper echelons of wine respect and reputation. By breaking with the traditional aspects of Portuguese winemaking and aging, these new wineries have hurtled forward and accomplished things that few thought possible. Portuguese wines now regularly score on a level with their French and California counterparts and bring prices for their products that were once reserved for traditional port wine alone.
It is truly amazing to see what has been accomplished in such a short amount of time.
Quinta do Vallado:
Vallado has been in the Ferreira Family since 1818, and was thoroughly renovated in the 1960’s. For many decades, the property was simply utilized for growing grapes that were then sold to the big port lodges around Oporto. In 1992, current owners Guilherme Ribiero, Francisco Ferreira and their cousin, winemaker Francisco Olazabol, restructured the steeply terraced vineyards in order to be able to make high quality table wines. A new winery was added in 1997 and the Quinta do Vallado began its ascent to the top ranks of Duero producers. Now considered one of the ‘Duero Boys’ (one of the top five wineries in the area) the Quinta do Vallado is a unique blend of the old and new. Much of its vines are 60-plus years in age, thereby providing totally mature fruit for its wines. With its ultra modern winery and equipment, the Quinta do Vallado seems poised to remain at the top level for many years to come. The modern winery also houses a guest house and restaurant that spreads across the banks of the Corgo River at the very point where it meet the larger Duero, thereby making it one of the most picturesque places in Portugal and a must for any visitor to the country.
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova:
The property that comprises Malhadinha Nova was acquired by the Soares Family in 1998 was formerly an abandoned farm. It is on the smallish side, with only a bit over 44 acres under vine, relatively minute for a Portuguese vineyard. It was the Soares’ intent to transform this property into a first class vineyard, capable of making world class wines. Amazingly, the process has taken less than ten years and the Herdade de Malhadinha Nova is currently among the Alentejo’s premier wineries. More important, the winery is considered state-of-the art as far as equipment is concerned and contains a natural gravity-flow system that requires no pumping. The family owns a number of retail wine shops and a distribution business in the Algarve where they reside. Along with the vineyards, the Soares’ property contains cork oak forests and a number of a breed of black pigs that constitute the famous Pata Negra Hams. These pigs must be fed solely on acorns from the cork trees and each pig requires a bit more than 2 ½ acres of acorns to munch on. But make no mistake, the vineyards and winery is the darlings of the Soares Family. Through the scores and awards of Malhadinha Nova, the entire area has risen dramatically in popularity.
It is our pleasure to share these wonderful Portuguese wine with you through our International Series.