Esporao: The Gentle Ecological & Viticultural Giant
Vineyards and the estuary at Herdade Esporao
Our last appointment of the day was deep in the far south east section of the Alentejo region at the enormous Herdade Esporao. We were only miles from the border with Spain, so many of the villages and Herdade in this region have a historical and architectural feel of battle fortifications like castles and stone forts for protection from the invading forces from Spain. The Romans settled here before those days and hints of the empire’s presence still stand, especially in the town of Evora where a Roman temple still stands about 40% intact in the center of the village. In the 20th century when Portugal was ruled by whom they still just call “The Dictator” and not by his name, Alentejo was deemed cattle country by dictator Salazar and where the country’s beef was sourced. Grapes were not much of a factor, if at all, in the middle 20th century. The land has a similar look and feel to California, with rolling golden hills, oak trees and grape vines. The major crop is still not grapes, in Alentejo it is cork. In fact most of the world’s cork come from the ancient oak trees that dot the landscape or grow in randomly patched of groves. The major difference to many other wine regions though is the extreme heat and dryness. In the summer, the heat is downright scorching with temperatures frequently rising above 100 °F.
|California? Nah, just Alentejo, Portugal|
From the highway, it was about a 25 minute drive to the Herdade at Esporao, and most of that was on their property. I have never seen a wine estate this large in all of my travels to wine regions. At 1,860 hectares (4,600 acres!) the estate is roughly equal to the size of 2.5 Central Parks (New York City). With 450 hectares under vine, there are 189 varietals planted. The remainder of the property is mostly a protected biological ecosystem miraculously balancing and sustaining wildlife and agriculture simultaneously.
|All 9 wines in the lineup!|
|Lunch on the veranda, what a view!|
|Olive oil tasting|
|Miguel Leal, tour guide and driver extraordinaire!|
|The main entree, Cod of course.|
We made our way with Bruno and Miguel to an SUV that Esporao took visitors in see the vineyards which at the time were being picked or were just about ready to be picked. We saw the last few baskets of Aragonez being picked in one vineyard and made or way to their experimental vineyard that had one row each dedicated to many of the grape varieties that dominate the world market currently. We saw Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese to name a few. On our way back to the Herdade we stopped at the Herdade’s symbol, the castle like structure that stood watch over the land for hundreds of years. Nearby was the oldest living thing I have ever seen, an olive tree more than 2,000 years old. Its origin has been scientifically dated to a date in BC terms, meaning it was planted before the time of Jesus (AD), talk about a religious experience!
|The Jesus tree, dates to the last few decades BC|
|Red wine going through an initial soak, that is the must floating on top made of seeds and skins.|
|The bottling line at Esporao|
|Part of the barrel room below ground at Esporao.|
|The library of older back vintage Esporao wines|
|The caves below ground at Esporao, yes I tore that steel door off its hinges to get to the good stuff!|
|A sea of wine, yes, that is me next to the blending tanks for scale.|
|Farmers and producers of Alentejo wine, PLEASE grow more of this grape for your red wines, this very well could be THE grape that puts you on the map like Malbec did for Argentina.|
I would like to finish here to ask the Portuguese in the Alentejo to seriously think about making Alicante Bouschet their main grape and to continue to plant and experiment with this grape that seems to be in complete harmony in this region. When I look for an Alentejo wine in stores or in restaurants I look for one made exclusively or with a good majority of the Alicante Bouschet grape in the blend. So should you wine reader!
Duas Castas White 2012
Wet rocks, lime leaf, tropical and citrus fruits, medium bodied, medium + acids, 40% is aged in oak barrels for a few months; the grapes are a blend of Viosinho and Semillon
Assobio Douro Red, Quinta Dos Murcas
Douro sappy red fruit, gets the mouth watering, tobacco, cranberry and spice, simple and easy going; Douro blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca
Quatro Castas Red
Licorice, violets, pepper and spice, some green pepper notes, medium bodied with med + tannins; this is a blend of the following grapes: Touriga Franca, Tinta Miúda, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alicante Bouschet
Quinta Dos Murcas Douro Reserva
Made in traditional foot tread lagares; aromas of blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, some teeny bits of smoke and leather, the palate has blood orange, juicy cherry and blackberries. A long and silky finish. Lovely and fine wine.
Juicy and floral, purple notes, chocolate even, med + tannins, medium to full bodied with good acidity, different Syrah like character, but meaty and juicy, lots of elegant purple notes.
Alicante Bouschet 2010
Solid wine of balance and depth, blueberry, boysenberry, a touch of mocha, cigar rapper and sweet tobacco. The blueberry and spice stretches through to a long and persistent finish. Easily the most unique and strong wine of the bunch.
Private Selection 2009 Red
Opulent, young, tight and complex. An elegant nose of red and blue fruits, roasted herbs, a smidge of eucalyptus, black and blue fruits. Medium to full bodied, the finish sails on in bursts of fruit, silky and supple tannins. Well balanced for its size. 18 month in new French oak barrel and 18 months in bottle.