There is an exciting new wine region emerging in Europe. If you want to marvel at breathtaking landscape while enjoying a fantastic wine and food experience but not having to deal with huge crowds, you need heading to Alentejo now.
Portugal is making headlines as a very affordable travel destination. At the same time, Portuguese wines have become more widely recognized internationally. However, when Portuguese wines are mentioned the focus remains largely on wines from Douro Valley and Minho (growing the white varietal of Vinho Verde) in the northern part of the country.
The Alentejo on the other hand is rarely mentioned anywhere outside of Portugal. However, as elsewhere in the country, wine has been produced in this region for several thousand years. Today, there is a growing number of mostly young wineries and some traditional ones producing excellent medium to full-bodied red wines and increasingly white wines too. But even to the most accomplished wine traveller, this wide rural area remains largely unknown.
That said, the excellent quality of Alentejo wines is now making the region one of the most intriguing new wine regions globally, and visitor numbers are rising steadily.
In addition to making exceptional wines, in the past few years Alentejo has quietly upped the game in wine tourism, transforming its wineries to superb destinations of wine experiences or building such experiences around newly build boutique hotels.
For our trip around Alentejo, we had initially planned to visit several wineries to learn more about the local wines. Unfortunately, we were not very fortunate with the weather (even though I managed to capture several images with blue skies as you will see in a while). As a result, we decided to change plans and instead of touring various local wineries, we limited our wine tasting to the four wineries where we also had booked accommodation.
If you are keen to learn more about the wonderful Alentejo wines, these four locations will offer you a huge range of wine related activities. This includes different wine tasting options, which in most cases are not limited to the winery’s own wines. Instead, they will enable you to taste wine from several of the region’s most renowned wine estates.
In case you are looking to include more wineries during your visit, I’d highly recommend checking out the wine tourism site of Visit Portugal. It’s one of the most complete I’ve yet discovered when researching wine trips – just another sign how much work the region has put into an awesome wine tourism offer.
How to get to / get around Alentejo
Alentejo is less than an hour from Lisbon. Your best option is flying into Lisbon airport and renting a car. Indeed, having your own car is important, since public transport is not really well developed. The region is rural and whilst covering about one third of Portugal it is home to only 5% of Portugal’s population.
The only other option if you do not want to drive yourself is to join a wine tour from Lisbon for a day; or book a complete tour with one of Portugal’s wine tour providers. There are some nice options both with Wine Tourism in Portugal and Portugal by Wine but since I have never done a tour with either, I can’t really comment on them.
However, driving in the Alentejo is really easy. There are a number of regional motorways connecting the various small towns and traffic will be light during most times of the year.
Part of Portugal’s motorways are toll roads. The best way to deal with this is to include a toll option in your rental car package. This means, whenever you have to pass a toll station, you can simply drive through the ‘Via Verde’ lanes, which are those collecting tolls through a transponder in your rental car.
Driving into the small towns can be a bit more tricky as it means steep small cobble-stoned alleys, with parking likely the most difficult part.
In addition, keep in mind that legislation on drink-driving is very strict. Hence you need to assign a dedicated driver when going wine tasting.
What are Alentejo wines like?
The Alentejo is a vast area spanning some 27,000 square kilometres, which means there are regional differences, in particular different types of soils. That said, the overall prevailing hot and dry climate is perfect for the production of intense red wines and most wines made in Alentejo display strong notes of fruit, are full bodied, concentrated and smooth.
Like Portugal overall, the Alentejo is home to a large variety of grape varieties not found anywhere else in the world. On top of this, wine makers in this area also grow a several varieties of grapes from other regions across the globe.
Red varieties include grapes like Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Alfrocheiro, Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional; the latter being highly favoured by winemakers across Alentejo.
White varieties include Antao Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro.
Most of the wines produced in the area are blends including native and international grape varieties.
What else to know about visiting a winery in Alentejo
Most wineries offer the classic wine tasting experience, meaning a visit to their tasting room which often also includes a cellar tour.
However, before you go, make sure to arrange your visit in advance even at those wineries that provide regular opening hours on their websites. Given the still low number of visitors, these hours often simply indicate the time when a visit can be arranged but does not necessarily mean the tasting room will be staffed throughout this time.
So here is a rundown of the four wineries / wine hotels we visited during our trip across the Alentejo.
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
Including Herdade da Malhadinha Nova into our trip was a no-brainer.
The estate was founded in 1998 by the Soares family with the intension to make the best wines in the world; and it’s well on the way to fulfil this promise.
In addition to the production of excellent wines and olive oil, the estate also breeds black pork (the Portuguese equivalent to the Spanish acorn fed black pigs) and other cattle both for their own restaurant and selling to others across the area too. In addition, they recently added its own stud farm dedicated to breeding thoroughbred Lusitano horses.
On the premises you will also find Malhadinha Nova Country House, which is often described as one of the best wine hotels in Portugal.
What we did not expect was the huge challenge actually getting to the winery. Whilst our GPS announced ‘you have reached your destination’ we were still on the motorway with no opportunity to exit. Though we could actually see the unpaved road leading towards the winery, we were at a loss how to reach the road.
Significantly more than an hour later, after trying our luck on some of the surrounding small rural roads, consulting Google maps and asking for directions, we finally made it to the winery.
If you are planning to visit, you need to exit IP2 at the sign ‘turismo rural’ about four kilometres after you have passed the town of Albernoa, which will lead you on a bridge crossing over IP2. From there, keep following the signs ‘turismo rural’ and ‘adega’.
Wine making at Malhadinha Nova is strictly focused on quality, with works in the vineyard still largely carried out manually. In the cellar, gravity is used to limit the impact on grapes being moved around. Wines are still made the traditional way, which means grapes are crushed by feet and wines are aged in French oak.
If you wonder what’s the storey behind the artful labels, these are designed by the children of the Soares family. They remain the same for the Malhadinha range but change for the Monte da Peceguina range with each new year.
The winery offers a wine tasting which includes a guided tour through the vineyards in one of the estates jeeps, a short cellar tour and a wine tasting in the cute little wine shop where you can taste between three to five wines.
Visiting Malhadinha Nova, I would really recommend you plan enough time to include either lunch or dinner at the wineries own restaurant. It is consulted by Michelin-star chef Joachim Koeper, working with on-site chef Bruno Antunes and offers seasonal menus focused on traditional Alentejo cuisine. A wide range of the produce is coming from the Malhadinha Nova estate or is otherwise locally sourced.
Herdade Da Malhadinha Nova
7800-601 Albernoa. Beja – Portugal
GPS: 37° 49′ 50.60″N, 7° 59′ 20.91″ W
Torre de Palma
Wine growing has a long history on the grounds of today’s Torre de Palma Wine Hotel. Going back to the time when the land was owned by the Basilii, a leading Roman family which is believed having started to produce wine and olive oil here as early as the 5th century.
Today, wine production is focused on the use of natural processes and most of the grapes grown on the estate are indigenous, including red varieties of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional e Tinta Miúda whilst white varieties are mainly Antão Vaz, Arinto and Alvarinho.
The winery you find on the premises was inaugurated in 2016 and offers cellar tours and wine tastings by appointment.
There are a range of different tasting options, including vertical red and white tastings.
In case you have not made a prior appointment, you can still try the wines at the hotels gorgeous little bar. Here you can order wines by the glass and if you like add a selection of tapas to go with your wine.
In addition to wine, Torre de Palma also produces its own olive oil.
Herdade de Torre de Palma, Monforte
GPS: 39º 4′ 6” N,7º 29′ 20” W
Though L’AND Vineyards is first and foremost a luxury resort catering to guests staying at its luxury suites, there is a small wine making facility on-site and a range of wine-related experiences are offered both to hotel guests and day visitors.
Visiting either as a hotel guest or only for wine tasting, I definitely recommend you to go for a full tasting and eno-gastronomic connections course.
What you can expect doing this course?
Well, it’s a wine tasting course focusing to activate your senses to better understand how to identify tannins and acidity in a wine, be able to sniff different types of wood in a wine, understand how grape varieties change the color from region to region and most importantly, how the taste of wine can be impacted by food.
Included in this tasting are four quality wines from Portugal, thus it is not focusing on L’AND wines only.
Another great option of wine tasting at L’AND Vineyards is to book a table in the resorts Michelin-starred L’AND restaurant (dinner only). Here you can chose between a four-course and seven-course menu with the option of a matching wine pairing.
In addition to wine, L’AND also produces its own olive oil and honey.
Herdade das Valadas, Estrada Nacional 4 Apartado 122, 7050-909 Montemor-o-Novo
Convento do Espinheiro
Admittedly, this is more a hotel than a winery and wine tasting is exclusive to hotel guests only.
I am nevertheless including it here as the Convento is located just outside of Évora, the capital of Alentejo and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus it is a perfect base to explore the town and its surroundings, including a number of excellent wineries at easy reach.
Hotel guests can enjoy a daily free guided tour of the convent followed by a wine tasting in the stunning wine cellar. This includes three different wines from the Alentejo, typically a sparkling, white and red wine (or alternatively to the sparkling there could be a rosé).
The free tasting is open to all hotel guests and you can expect a good number of people attending. If you want a more intimidate tasting, including more wine options, a private tasting can be arranged upon request.
Though Convento do Esphinheiro is bottling its own wines, the wine cellar is mainly stocked with bottles of wines from other Alentejo wineries.
Convento do Esphinheiro
Have you been to the Alentejo yet, or tasted Alentejo wines? Let me know about your experience!