Madalena Vidigal spends her days "Entre Vinhas" (among the vines) and feels that wine tourism is visiting wineries, eating in a good restaurant, a cottage in the countryside, stories told by genuine people, and getting to know the origin of the wines she drinks. Madalena hopes to further inspire your wine tourism passions with her blog.
Forget all about emails and calls, smartphones and watches because, in Alentejo, life flows at a different pace. Everything feels much calmer, the days are longer, and time is in no hurry.
Alentejo takes up most of the southern part of Portugal and it’s the largest wine region in the country. Beyond the endless acres of vineyard, you’ll find olive and cork trees, both sourcing some of the most traditional products coming from this “haven country by the sea.”
Summer days are indeed hot, but that’s also when the contrast between the golden fields and bright blue sky show the unmistakable colors of Alentejo.. However, the best time for a visit is spring, when the grapevines turn green and the temperature is more moderate!
Alentejo wines – which use mostly the Trincadeira and Aragonez varieties for reds and Antão Vaz and Arinto for whites – have a strong, intense and full bodied character that makes them the perfect match to the local cuisine with its generous use of sausages, pork, migas assadas (a traditional hard bread based dish with well-seasoned pork meat), cured cheeses and heavenly desserts rich in eggs and almonds.
Voted the world’s best wine tourism region in 2014 by USA TODAY and 10Best, Alentejo is apart of the country where the wine tourism experience is more developed, structured and well-rounded.
Here is a list of some of the places to visit, from cellars to wonderful restaurants and home stays, which will ensure you don’t miss out on the best this region has to offer:
Adega Mayor - Picnic lunch, visit to the winery and the Coffee Science Center
If there is a place where wine and coffee go hand in hand, it is at Adega Mayor. The company started off as a coffee trading business, and remains the country’s biggest coffee brand. Winemaking came later, but by no means is it any less successful!
Wine production started in 2002 in a cellar designed by one of the most famous Portuguese architects, Siza Vieira. On the terrace, you are welcome to enjoy wines from the tasting room by the lake.
The lovely picnic set up on the grass, with a view over the plains, will include traditional local nibbles, as well as the tasting of several reds and whites. Before leaving, we recommend popping by Coffee Science Center to learn about the story and origins of the vibrant coffee grain!
Herdade do Freixo - Visit to the winery and wine tasting
The most recent and modern wine cellar in Alentejo is in Freixo, a small town close to Évora. The project was lead by a northerner with extensive experience in the Dão region, known as the birthplace of one of the oldest winemaking traditions in the north of Portugal, and the bold architecture of Frederico Valsassina. This combination makes the estate the perfect blend of winemaking know-how, technology and refinement.
As you journey down the spiral passageway which goes up to 40 meters below ground level, you will discover the multiple recesses that make up the cellar. Each aspect of the building, from the tasting room and the shop, to the VAT and oak barrels room, to the well decorated nooks and spaces, is designed to welcome visitors in the good old Alentejo way.
Dona Dorinda - Visit to the vineyard and wine tasting
Dona Dorinda could be the name of a typical Alentejo matron but instead it stands for this 1932 estate, run by an American-Dutch couple. The winery itself is only 10 acres and produces one single red wine, but the colors, sounds and aromas that surround it are bewitching. The heavily deteriorated manor was repaired following the local aesthetics, blending in beautifully with the landscape, whereas the surrounding fields were set out as a fully organic vineyard.
There are only two grape varieties – Syrah and Viognier – used in the making of Dona Dorinda, a slowly revealing but intensely flavored red wine. Aside from the vineyard, there is an orchard, an organic vegetable garden and a rearing pig farm.
Escorted by the estate manager, a visit to this special vineyard will include a laid back stroll among the grapevines and gardens and a tasting of its unique wine in the properties old chapel which is now revamped as a shop and tasting room.
Herdade do Sobroso - Overnight stay and meal
Originally from Oporto, Sofia and Filipe headed south and moved to a grange comprised of nearly 4000 acres. Roughly 125 of these were turned into a vineyard and the couple started making its own wine. Together Filipe, as the winemaker, and Sofia, as the tourism manager, have succeeded in making this big estate a very welcoming retreat.
Around the cellar there is a small country tourism business made up of 12 charmingly decorated suites, a main hall for meals which Mrs. Josefa sets up with the best local cuisine has to offer,, and a swimming pool overlooking the grapevines to create an inviting escape during the hot summer days!
Outdoor enthusiasts can choose between kayaking in the river, looking for deers and wild boars on a safari in Serra do Mendro, hot air balloon rides, birdwatching and, obviously, a visit to the cellar and wine tasting escorted by the host himself.
Hotel São Lourenço do Barrocal - Overnight stay and wine tasting
Tranquility, respecting nature and promoting local produce are the trademark of this new hotel and wine producer.
The century old property has a well-known history in Alentejo and withstood 7 generations of ownership prior to coming into the hands of the current owners. Looking to honor the past and maintain the family’s heritage, all ancient dwellings – the stalls, the cottar’s abode, the dog kennel among others – were repaired and turned into a luxury country hotel tastefully equipped with all the comforts required to help you forget the bustling vibe of the city.
Since winemaking is also part of the business beyond the restaurant, Spa and swimming pool, you’re welcome to visit the winery and join in a tasting of the 3 house wines, lead by the in-house winemaker and paired with a wonderful selection of local cheeses and a variety of luscious pork nibbles.