Something Different From Portugal – Herdade do Portocarro

Portuguese red wines are often about fruit, fruit and more fruit. That is great if you have that sort of pallet – which many important critics seem to have – but people have other tastes and like other styles. One producer in Portugal is doing things a bit differently. Herdade do Portocarro is producing some very interesting wines for those who are looking for something more earthy and complex, rather than heavy fruity red wines.

There are two reasons why Herdade do Portocarro is producing something different. One is the terroir. The winery is located in a unique area on the hilly banks of the Sado river. It is an Alentejo winery, but in the boundaries of the Setubal Peninsular region. To make it even more unique, it has a micro climate different to most wine producing areas in Portugal. They get a lot of sun, but not as much heat in the evenings as other Alentejo or Setubal peninsular wineries, thanks to an almost constant cooling breeze. The soils here are mainly clay and add an earthiness to the wines which is different from the schist or limestone soils of many other wine producing regions.

The second reason they wines are different, is the owner Jose Mota Capitão. I met him recently at the winery and tasted the individual wines from the grapes he grows, that go into his blends and single varietal wines. When tasting the barrel samples of the 2010 vintage wines with him, it was hard not to get infected by his passion for earthy, dry and complex red wines. The son of a doctor in Lisboa, Jose is not a third or fourth generation wine producer like many in Portugal. Jose’s passion for farming brought him to Portocarro, here he started growing rice and tended cattle and after many years of meticulously planning he started with the vineyards. Now he has a capacity for around 60,000 bottles per year; a very small volume by today’s standards. He does not want to produce more than that. In talking with him I found he stands very firmly in producing “hand-made” wines. To produce more than he does now, would mean he would have to automate the production a lot more, this he believes will reduce the quality of his wines, which he is not prepared to sacrifice.

The results are wines made with the intent to show the terroir, Jose’s personal taste and the grapes he grows. These grapes include Alfrocheiro, Aragones (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and most interestingly Sangiovese. The Touriga Franca and Sangiovese were the pick of the bunch, so to speak, when tasting them individually.

Herdade do Portocarro currently produces 3 wines:
Herdade do Portocarro – A good way to introduce yourself to the wines from the winery. At around €11 it is very good value.
Cavalo Maluco – Meaning “Crazy Horse” from his childhood fascination with the Native American leader, not the night club in Paris… This is the top blend from the winery. At around €27 it is a great wine for the price.
Anima – This 100% Sangiovese wine is a wonderful representation of the grape and a real surprise for me to see it in Portugal. It would seem too hot in Portugal to produce Sangiovese, but at Portocarro there are excellent conditions for it to grow and make great wine. At €27 it is great value compared to Italian versions of the same quality.

By Chris Metcalfe


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