Wine Experience of the Week – Harvest Time In Portugal

The harvest in Portugal, particularly in the hot and dry Alentejo region, is pretty much over and done with now. I was lucky enough to be able to visit a Quinta da Esperança during the harvest. They were offering dinners to allow people, like me, to get a look at what goes on at the winery during the harvest – with the added bonus of a meal and wine tasting included! As added incentive, my father was in Portugal visiting me all the way from Australia. So a booking was in order and we set out plans for a couple of days in the Alentejo!

I have seen people out in the vineyards collecting grapes before. Apart from my admiration for these people’s endurance during the hot September (March in Australia usually) days, it isn’t that interesting to look at really. What excited me about this particular opportunity was the use of a harvesting machine that would be picking during the night. This I had not seen before and would make for a great spectacle from the tasting come dinning room.

After lunch in Evora and a quick tasting at the nearby João Portugal Ramos, it was time to check into a hotel and then head up to Qunita da Esperança. On arriving the sun was just starting to set, so the light over the vineyard was magical. Our host hurried up to us as we were poking around the vines to announce the harvesting machine had broken down earlier in the day. We would however, go ahead with dinner and tasting regardless. Due to the machine being broken it freed up the time of the resident enologist, Joana Silva Lopes. She was very kind to give us her time to discuss the wines. When she heard that my father and I were from Australia, she was very excited because she had just returned from a few months observing and working with the wine makers at Best’s winery in Western Victoria. A winery my father visits quite often. So we bored the other guests with tales of Australian wines for a while…

The use of new world wine making techniques combined with the centuries of traditional wine making along with the native grapes are the big features of Portuguese wines. It gives them an individual stamp on their wines that very few other countries can offer. This combined with their great value makes them appealing to me as a consumer, and very interesting to talk about as a writer.

So with glass in hand and sun disappearing on behind the hills it was time to taste. The white to start with was the Terras de Estremoz. A fresh, citrusy wine; great with light seafood or fish meals. Then the reds. With some nice marketing the next two reds were named Prodigo and Enjeitado. Meaning good son and bad son. It is a very interesting way to get to know the different types of red wines from Portugal. The Prodigo is a lighter, more delicate wine; whereas the Enjeitado is a bigger angrier wine, that could do with a lay down for a couple of years. They do represent two very distinct tastes of Portuguese reds and well worth trying them out for yourself if you can find them.

Then it was inside for some food. Tradition Alentejano soup was to start, served with the Quinta da Esperança red. The wine by itself didn’t really stand up to the Enjeitado, but with the food it went down quite well. Next up was pork and potatoes, what else are you going to have in this part of the world? It was very good and a few servings later, along with another glass of red, it was almost time to loosen one’s belt a notch or two… Thankfully, the highlight of evening was opened. The 2003 Encostras de Estremoz Reserva. I have had this wine a few times before, but I was interested in what my dad made of it. He found it, along with most of the wines we tried in Portugal, difficult to compare. Well it only makes sense given the majority of wines we had were blends of grape varieties he had never heard of before. Despite the lack of a yard-stick to measure the wine against, he agreed it was good. That was all I got out of him, as he went in search of a re-fill…

Despite the lack of entertainment from a large motor vehicle going up and down the vines, it was a very enjoyable evening. The wine, as it was always going to be, was the highlight of the evening, followed very closely by the explanations given by Joana and the food. I hope they do it again next year, if you are in the neighborhood then look out for it. Even without a harvester it is a fabulous evening!

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