As autumn sets in it occurred to me that Patricia and I have taken many exciting and educational trips around the world. I wanted to share with you one of the very best tours that we have ever experienced (and we have experienced quite a few). A year ago almost to the day, we had the opportunity to take a trip to Portugal with a friend of ours named Richard Hewitt.
Let me tell you about Richard. Richard is one of Charlottesville’s unsung heroes and a very definite character in our local wine world. Richard spends half his life in Portugal where he and his wife, Barbara, have a farm close to the Portugal/Spain border in the province of Alentejo (pronounced “Alenteejoo” in Portuguese). He is virtually a native of the Alentejo, which I can honestly say is one of the most unspoiled and underappreciated areas of Portugal. You can read more about the region in his book “A Cottage in Portugal.” The other half of the year he spends in Charlottesville in his VinoTours business in central Virginia. Coincidentally, both places that Richard calls home lie on the 38th Parallel, which to give it some context, not only runs through Virginia and The Alentejo, but also the Northern wine regions of Sicily.
The Alentejo is to Portugal as the Loire Valley is to France: both are described as being the “breadbasket” of their countries where the majority of the wines are for everyday drinking.
What has recently put the Alentejo on the map is the emergence of modern viticultural practices with modern winemaking techniques that because of the scale of the landscape have enabled larger estates to flourish with high quality wine at lower prices.
The region is huge, accounting for one third of the surface area of Portugal. Did you know that Port from Portugal accounts for only 25% of the wine made in Portugal? -Put another way 75% of the wine coming from Portugal is your regular non-fortified light wine and two thirds of that is red wine.
When it comes to wine production in Portugal you should think of three main regions: The Douro, The Minho, and The Alentejo.
The Douro of course is the most famous and legendary producer of fortified red wine simply known as Port.
The Minho region of northern Portugal produces most of Portugal’s white wines the most popular of which are Vinho Verde and Alvarinho. Believe it or or not there are records of Minho wines being exported to the UK dating back to the twelfth century.
Then there is The Alentejo region, which is probably the least well known of Portugal’s wine regions and yet the second largest producer of Portuguese wine.