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2012 Dom Rafael Tinto, Herdade do Mouchão, Alentejo
The Alentejo region covers nearly a third of continental Portugal, stretching all the way from the coast eastwards to the frontier with Spain. The moderating influences of the Atlantic diminish sharply inland, with late Spring frosts and low summer rainfall being continual problems.
In Portugal the majority of ex-pat English winemakers seem to have settled in the Douro Valley and to focus on making top quality ports with distinctly English names such as Taylor and Graham. One or two more adventurous souls, in this instance the Richardson and Reynolds family, have ventured further south, to the fecund vineyards of Alentejo, which are located between Lisbon and the Algarve. Braving the wilder excesses of the intense climate, the wild rabbits and pata negra pigs, not to mention, in April 1974, the Portuguese Revolution, they have persevered and the vinous results are outstanding.
Dom Rafael is the 2nd label of the celebrated Herdade do Mouchão and the wines are softer and more approachable in youth than their illustrious sibling. While Mouchäo is made using strictly traditional methods, the Dom Rafael wines are made using modern technology in their own spanking new state of the art winery. The red wines (from Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, Aragonez) are packed with concentrated fruit whilst the whites are aromatic and vibrant and rounded on the palate.
There are over 200 different grape varieties used in modern wine making (from a total of over 1000). Most lesser known blends and varieties are traditional to specific parts of the world.
Alentejo is a region of diverse landscapes (plains, hills, mountains) characterised by a very hot climate (up to 40C in the summer). Alentejo wines are very popular, accounting for nearly half of all domestic sales in Portugal. Wine estates are fairly large and hence able to achieve economies of scale, and as a result Alentejo wines can combine quality with competitive pricing, in contrast to some of Portugal’s more northerly regions.
Some white wines are made in the Alentejo, but the region has earned much acclaim for its red wines of generously fruity, soft-textured, full-bodied character. Alentejo, with its clay and limestone soils, provides some of the most exciting wines in Europe, in perfect counterpoint to its port-influenced cousins further north in the Douro Valley. With a climate enjoying the best of both Atlantic and continental influences, and a loyalty to traditional grape varieties, Alentejo nurtures wines of character and individuality. Add to this the investment and savoir faire of big wine businesses like Sogrape and their result is fascinating indeed.
The principle red varieties are Aragonez, Antão Vaz, Castelão, Rabo de Ovelha, Síria and Trincadeira, however newcomers such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are beginning to gain ground, often in blends with the local varieties.
The white wines are light, easy-going and subtly fruity made from Arinto Galego, Assario, Fernão Pires, Manteúdo and Síria (Roupeiro)- among the many indigenous varieties.
The Alentejo region is divided in 8 different sub-regions. Some wines are named after their respective sub-regions, but most use “Alentejo”on the label, a more “powerful” and recognised brand name.
The Évora region has made impressive progress, having won international awards for its wines. The sub-region Moura has earned its own Denomination of Controlled Origin- DOC designation in recognition for its potential for quality wine. Portalegre has a dramatically different landscape from the rest of Alentejo; the vineyards are perched at high altitude on the hills of the Serra de São Mamede and its red wines are more structured and elegant.
Other regions include the centrally-located Borba, Redondo and Reguengos de Monsaraz, and the hot, southern regions of Granja-Amareleja and Vidigueira.
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