Posted by: tomciocco | December 14, 2012

ALENTEJO – ACROSS THE RIVER TO THE LAND OF CORK…

All in all, Portugal is not that big – just about the size of the State of Indiana, actually – and that smallish size is reflected fairly well linguistically. With its face to the sea on the west and south, and it’s back to hot and barren Extremadura, Spain, the Portuguese language is well defined, with only minor dialectalization. This uniformity however is definitely NOT true of Portugal’s climate and topography. The Tras-os-Montes region in the extreme northeast of the country is elevated, damp, and almost never hot, while the coastal Algarve region in the extreme south is warm and sunny all year round.

Neither one of those regions makes very much wine, but The Algarve’s neighbor to the north and west – Alentejo – definitely does. This scrubby, dry, and undulatingly hilly region of Portugal is, as the title implies, The King of Cork, which is quite convenient for a major wine region. Alentejo’s Cork Oaks actually supply most of the entire world’s demand (along with some help from Spain and Sardinia) for the old spongy wood plugs.

The name “Alentejo” defines the region’s northern border, meaning “on the other side of the Tejo (a.k.a. Tagus) River, and here in the northern end, the region is steeply hilly and quite green, but as the region rambles south, it becomes just rolling to flat, and near-desert terrain, showing again how much the Portuguese territory varies, even within a single region. The region is planted, like much of Portugal as a whole is, with local vines, vines native to other Portuguese regions, as well as varieties associated with other nations, and this wine happens to perfectly capture that aggregate nature, blending 50% Aragonez (a several hundred year old Portuguese clone of Spain’s Tempranillo) 40% of the very friendly Alentejano variety Trincadeira, with the balancing 10% made up of the fine Alfrocheiro grape from north-central Portugal’s Dao region.

The Portuguese are master soup makers – nearly every Portuguese meal begins with something you need a spoon to eat, so who am I to break the tradition? – well, maybe just a bit – in the form of a mostly traditional Caldo Verde soup with a few non-traditional ingredients (like rutabaga and carrot) in addition to the greens, white beans, potatoes, chourico, etc. and then my own Alentejano-palette inspired casserole of bacalhau (salt cod), chickpeas, tomato, white wine, eggs, herbs, etc.  With bread. Always with bread. The Portuguese love their bread, and there’s a lot to love too…

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Vihna das Lebres Tinto Vinho Regional Alentejano 2010

Medium magenta/garnet color. Direct and rustically elegant nose of cherry and blackberry fruit, supported by notes of clove, pine sap, and tree bark. The wine is medium in body with a satiny texture, bright acidity, and slightly austere but still sweet tannins, and “clear” flavors of watermelon, red currants, roasted herbs, walnuts, and mocha. Quite long, slightly black licorice-y finish.

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