If you ever make it to Lisbon, Portugal, plan to visit the ancient walled-city, Evora (EV-or-a), located ninety minutes east. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with, among other attractions, the ruins of a Roman temple and history dating back five millennia.
Evora also has a university and, today, offers a modern, vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene that led to discoveries of some locally produced wine. Based upon a recommendation, we made a dinner reservation at Momentos, a small restaurant off a dimly lit alley known for its unique, fresh farm-to-table cuisine.
We were met at the door by George, the owner/chef, who personally seated at us at our table and described his menu, written out on a chalkboard. As he explained each dish in detail, his two young assistants held trays of local fresh fish, meat and vegetables for our inspection. After we decided on the zucchini and pear soup, a tomato, fig and goat cheese salad and the fresh monkfish, George recommended a 2017 Herdade do Freixo Alvarinho which is the name for the increasingly popular Spanish albariño grape, grown in Portuguese soil.
This wine was actually produced in the DOC Alentejo region, less than thirty minutes outside the city walls.
Like albariño, alvarinho is generally fermented in stainless steel tanks to create a crisp, aromatic wine with tropical fruit flavors, hints of spice with a very dry finish. It paired nicely with our entire meal and, before we finished dinner, George had arranged a few tastings at some estates the following morning.
For more than a century, Portugal was known exclusively for producing the world’s finest port. During the past few decades, they have made acclaimed red wines using touriga nacional, tinta roriz and other varietals used in port production. In recent years, their white wines, with varietals like alvarinho, have become increasingly popular and recognized.
Although Herdade do Freixo has been producing wine on the same estate since 1808, they are known today for a new, contemporary tasting room that was named Building of the Year by ArchDaily. On a much smaller scale, the building resembles New York’s Guggenheim Museum that allows natural light in throughout.
In addition to the alvarinho, Herdade dos Freixo produces a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and two reserve blends: Tinto, consisting of touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon and alicante bouschet in addition to a Branco, comprised of sauvignon blanc, alvarinho and arinto, a grape that flourishes in the warmer regions surrounding Lisbon.
I found the 2014 Herdade do Freixo Tinto blend, aged for a year in French oak and another six months in the bottle, to be surprisingly complex with ripened fruit flavors and a long, velvety finish.
Likewise, the 2015 Branco blend, aged in new French oak casks with batonnage was crisp with a rich texture and both fruity and savory flavors through the finish. Both wines are a great value if you can find them in the California market.
At the end of our meal at Momentos, George poured a glass of Vinho Rose’ Courelas da Torre, another local organic wine from the DOC Alentejo. Although a deeper red color than most rose’, this effervescent wine had hints of strawberry and other red fruit that served the post meal palate well.
Following the French Rhône Valley tradition, the Dona Dorinda Reserva 2015, another release from DOC Alentejo, blends Syrah (85%) with viognier (15%), a white varietal. After full malolactic fermentation, the Reserva is aged 12 months in French oak and another year in the bottle before release. Although not showcasing any native Portuguese varietals, it has typical deep ruby color, a spice and floral nose and rich expressive flavors, deserving of its high ratings. This one pairs well with lamb and red meats.
In the sub-region of Redondo, east of Evora, Herdade Sao Miguel has been producing mostly quality red wines for the past decade. The highly-rated Herdade Sao Miguel Reserva 2007, a blend of alicante bouschet, cabernet sauvignon and aragones delivers deep, rich and balanced flavors befitting a fine and expensive wine. Each of their wines deserves the attention of serious wine aficionados.
Our only regret was that we didn’t allow ourselves enough time in Evora to enjoy the picturesque old village that combines an ancient past with a modern vibe. The extent of wine production in DOC Alentejo exceeded our expectations and we needed another day to enjoy the more fruits of their labor.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.