Iíve spent nearly a week visiting two very different wine regions Ė first of all the Alentejo district in Portugal, and then back in France but over to Burgundy.
The Alentejo is halfway between Lisbon and the Algarve and an area that is getting an increasingly good reputation for improving its quality efforts. You can get to the first vines around an hour south of Lisbon, near the gorgeous town of Evora (where I didnít manage to talk my way out of a parking ticket, but had a fantastic custard ťclair that made up for it!), but I went quite a bit further down to Cortes de Cima winery cortesdecima.com, and then to the very modern Herdade de Rocim www.herdadedorocim.com/ .
The Altentejo has been known for years as the cork centre of Portugal (the country produces around 60% of the worldís corks) and it is a very flat landscape dotted with wheat fields, grazing animals and the feathery tops of cork trees. This is cork season right now, and plenty of harvesting was going on. It has always made wine, but has been historically better known for mass produced and low quality white wine.
In recent years, it is the still wines of the Duoro that have been getting plenty of attention (with reason, of course, and it is an area that I have visited and been thoroughly impressed by), but the Alentejo has been quietly attracting new investment and coming up with some fantastic reds, usually based around a mix of international varieties such as Tempranillo (called Aragonez over here) and some that are better known in the Duoro such as Touriga Nacional.
Cortes de Cima, owned and run by Hans and Carrie Jorgensen for the past 30 years, is one of the leading quality estates in the Alentejo, and is currently doubling the size of its winery to respond to growing demand. They somehow managed to whip up a delicious lunch of omlette, salads and of course plenty of wine with about ten minutes notice. Among the range of wines that we tasted, I was particularly impressed by an excellent Syrah varietal bottled under the name Incognito.
Herdade de Rocim was very different - newly built in 2007 with 35 million euros worth of investment, it was like a winery that you would find in Rioja, or Argentina - art gallery, very sleek tapas and wine bar, and designed to within an inch of its life. Good wines also, but far less effortless than those of Cortes de Cima. I'm doing a full tasting of their wines in Bordeaux this Friday, so will be able to make a fairer judgement on them then.
Two of my favourite wines, though, were a white Vinho Grande from Casa Ferreirinha 2006, from the Duoro Valley, and a lovely Vinha Do Contador from the Dao 2007. Both of these were tried over a long lunch in Lisbon, accompanied by some freshly caught fish. A very interesting wine country, and one I am looking forward to getting to know better