8 Great Wines of Portugal's Alentejo

Discovering Portguese reds


2007 Monte da Cal Alentejo 13.5%, $10
A very direct note of sweet, toasty oak almost wrapped in sweet black fruit; but this is just a spice rack on the nose with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and dried ginger galore. There is a nice bed of black raspberry fruit lurking under the surface. With air, the spice does dissipate revealing more fruit with an attractive leathery edge.  In the mouth, this is a bit stiff with vibrant acids and some imposing wood tannins framing the minerally, tense, almost hard fruit. This is oakier than I generally enjoy but the fruit shows remarkable energy, all things considered. There’s a lot of spicy toasty oak on the back end as well, but the fruit remains there just under the surface. Medium-bodied with a traditional feel and modern flavors, a good wine to try if you like Bordeaux. At this price, a ridiculous value. 89pts

2007 Singularis Alentejo 14.5%, $18

70% Aragonez, 20% Trincadeira, 10% Alicante Bouschet

Intense and chocolaty with gamy undertones and beef jus, rosemary and black pepper top notes. A bit gravelly with a core of small red wild berry fruits. Rather lean up front with a nicely layered feel that allows the transparent red berry fruit, accented with gentle vanilla oak, to spread out nicely. This has some important acidity and a fine bed of bristly tannins under the fruit. There’s a nice, gentle mineral note on the mid-palate that lends this a faceted feel. The finish is aromatic and rich with a sprinkling of wood spice woven into the fruit mineral and earth notes. Top notes of citrus peel and subtle floral notes add further complexity to vivid wild cherry fruit on the moderately long finish.  The aromatics and tannins lend this a bit of a rustic edge, but this is still a fine wine. A bit hot on the finish. 89pts

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2007 Visconde de Borba Reserva Alentejo 14%

40% Aragones, 35% Castelnao, 25% Alicante Bouchet

Deep blackberry fruit, leafy tones and bright vanilla oak combine on the nose with a fine spicy undertone to offer up a rather robust and ripe aroma. Medium-bodied yet rather rich, with layers of vivid wild raspberry fruit, wood spice, then almost a tomato-like acidity, which is followed by vanilla and cocoa accents. Everything is underpinned by nice, firm (but well-managed) tannins and this insidious acidity that comes and goes, but adds brightness and length to the finish. This is subtle and complex with attractive purity to the fruit and just the right wood treatment. Definitely acid-driven, but refreshing in that sense. 88pts

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2009 Cortes de Cima Chamine 13.5%, $12

Aragonez 54%, Syrah 36%, Touriga Nacional 6%, Trincadeira 3%, Cabernet Sauvignon 1%

Intensely aromatic with floral-topped smoky, earthy, dark chewy fruits. This has nice touches of iron and a little meaty funk accenting the wild cherry fruit that’s baked up with a hint of blueberry. Really nice on entry with generous fruit but a lean, direct attack that reveals hard acids and small bristly tannins. This is very honest feeling with bitter cherry fruit gently accented by mineral notes and black cherry pit tones on the back end. Very tense and focused on the moderately long finish, which is lean, refreshing and laced with minerality and a cocoa top note. Profoundly different from basic Cortes de Cima and far superior. Eminently drinkable. 88pts

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2007 Alente Trincadeira/Aragonez Alentejo 13%, $10

Lean on the nose with notes of bacon fat and iron-rich dirt over astringent red berry/red cherry fruit with a light, leafy tobacco accent, a hint of mint and a thin veneer of raw wood. A nice entry, light-bodied – almost elegant – with vivid acids supporting red berry fruit and some slightly astringent tannins showing up on the mid-palate all wrapped with transparent red berry fruit. The finish adds some gentle green elements as a subtle top note. But the fruit, simple though it is, does last quite long with a minor succulent brilliance. A super table wine that lacks some of the fat many people might be looking for, but if you like austere wines this is a winner. 87pts

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2010 Ciconia Touriga Nacional/Syrah/Aragonez 14.5% $10

Meaty on the nose with hints of mulberry, spice, dry earth, violets and grassy tarragon notes. This is almost opulent in the mouth with black fruit up front accented with smoked, dried meats, clear yet candied blackberry and wild berry fruits with some very taut, almost, severe mineral notes. A fairly big wine in the mouth, this has supple tannins and very well-integrated acidity giving it a rich softness. There’s some spice and drying wood tannin on the finish, but the fruit and earth here gain traction as the wine airs out. A relatively simple, easy drinking style of wine with some nice details. 87pts.

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2008 Fado 13.5%, $10

This smells rustic in a way with a certain coffee/tobacco combination that adds complexity to the core of lightly jammy, wild cherry fruit with some leather, earth, smoke and pencil lead thrown in for good measure. This is very soft on entry with some density on the tongue. A rich wine, seemingly soft but with enough acid, it’s just dense if not that big. A strange wine in that it really doesn’t expand much in the mouth, lacking the aromatics of the nose but delivering a lovely core of soft rich fruit. There’s not much follow-through on the finish, though the acidity returns with a light fruitiness on the finale. There’s some really interesting things trying to emerge, earth and mineral driven flavors; but this is wound up and may never fully express itself. 85pts.

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2007 Cortes de Cima 14%

56% Syrah, 20% Aragonez, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 5% Touriga Nacional

Rather chocolatey with a minty, smoky herbal edge and a vanilla sweetness over some dark candied sugar fruits, Necco Wafer-like. In the mouth, this is rather upright with nice fruit that lacks some complexity, surprisingly so for such a complex blend. There’s a nice feel to the wine. Soft, with some flesh but not particularly fat, and emerging wood spice tones on the back end that add some complexity; but this is a bit simple. 85pts

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