As the summer transitions into the fall, people are throwing on sweaters and huddling around the grill in hopes of making the most of outdoor dining before the snow flies. When looking for the perfect accompaniment for these late season cookouts, why not choose a wine from a region known for its warm fall days and cools nights?
The Alentejo in western Portugal is one of the country’s premier wine regions. In recent decades, the region’s winemakers have ushered in many of the modern advancements in Portugal’s wine industry, earning critical acclaim for its full-bodied, fruity reds and light, oaky whites.
On the border of Spain, this arid region is a rural escape from the bustling cities of the Atlantic Coast. The rolling plains are covered with large agricultural estates, dotted with whitewashed homes and cork trees. The Alentejo climate of hot summers and cool winters helps create flavourful grapes that transfer into characteristically ripe and complex wines.
The wine and cuisine of the Alentejo has been influenced by Greek, Roman and Arab invaders over the centuries. These cultures brought their traditional flavors to the Alentejo and today many local dishes are based on Mediterranean ingredients. To complement these flavors, traditional Portuguese grape varieties dominate the region. Modern winemakers have also been incorporating varieties well-known in the States, such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, into their local blends of bold, full-bodied grapes.
The Alentejo is not traditionally known for its white wines, but advances in temperature-controlled fermentation have helped produced top-quality whites, with a rich, oaky flavor. Winemakers are also aided by the region’s climate of hot summers and cool winters, which is ideal for producing fine quality wines.
The high demand for Alentejo wines has help sustain large estate vineyards throughout the region. This level of production, unlike some of the smaller vineyards in other Portuguese regions, keeps down the price of this high-quality wine. There are many affordable bottles from the Alentejo available that deliver big flavor.
The Callabriga Alentejo 2006, priced around $8 a bottle, has an intense aroma, dominated by black plum, vanilla and cinnamon. This full-bodied wine has a lively taste and a robust finish, perfect for accompanying grilled beef, lamb and steak fish like tuna. The Marques de Montemor Vinho Regional Alentejano 2006, priced around $9 a bottle, is big on fruity flavor without being overwhelming. This dark red is a perfect choice for enjoying with burgers on the grill.
Look for reds from the sub-regions of Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja/Amareleja, Moura and Évora. Top-quality whites are being produced in the Vidigueira sub-region of the Alentejo.