Discover the wines of Alentejo
It was my first flight with TAP, the national carrier airline of Portugal, and here I was travelling on a wine trip to the region of Alentejo so it felt right to have a glass of red on the plane. I was impressed, and hoped that this was a good omen (you can also read about my pre-flight breakfast at Heathrow here).
We soon arrived ahead of schedule. From the bustle of Lisbon, it's a relatively easy drive to the region of Alentejo, an area known for delicious food and wine. Travelling straight from Lisbon airport it takes just over 1 hour to get there. Although it was a wine trip we made a quick pit stop for a local beer and Pastel de nata pastry before re-joining the super smooth motorway bound for Herdade de Sao Miguel. Whilst driving there, we pass through a village where the main industry is cork. Piles of cork are stacked up in storage yards. We are a bunch of nosey folks (blooming bloggers always asking questions!) so had a quick stop to look at some traditional Alentejo agricultural industry up close.
I've never seen cork in its pre-bottle state before. From what we were told, it takes ten years between each cork harvest!
Herdade de Sao Miguel
Not long after we reach the winery at Herdade de Sao Miguel to taste some of their wares and have a tour of their winery. Our host, Nino Franco, talks us through a selection of their wines. Prices range from €3.50 a bottle upwards.
Established by owner Alexandre Relvas in 2000, he has focused on traditional local Portuguese grape varieties – Aragon's (AKA Tempranillo), Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. Today Herdade de Sao Miguel produces approximately 4 million bottles a year.
We learnt about vinho de talha which is roughly translated as clay pot wines, something from Roman times which is still used today.(See the photo below)
Wines tasted included Ciconia and the Herdade de São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada, which were light and easy to drink to the stronger and more acidic Art. Terra Amphora Branco vinho de talha. Reds included Ciconia, Colheita Seleccionada and Colheita Seleccionada. All got the thumbs up!
Casa do Terreiro do Poco
All too soon it is time to travel to Borba and our accommodation for the night at Casa do Terreiro do Poco.
Each room is more like a house. My home for the night had two floors with a living room including microwave, couch, sink and TV/DVD players. Upstairs is a large room with shower, sink, toilet and bidet. Just off the room there is a balcony looking down onto an old well and courtyard. There was also a swimming pool to help refresh our weary bodies.
A quick wash and brush up and it's off to the next town along, Estremoz to dine at Mercearia Gadanha.
The restaurant is popular and seems to go on forever. Deep into the rear, past the deli, chocolate shop and full tables, we reach our table.
The menu here is full of traditional Alentejo dishes pork cheeks, tempura green beans and much more. The fried green beans, Peixinhos da Horta, were delicious. Did you know the Portuguese introduced this method of cooking to Japanese where it became tempura?
After many glasses of wine (it would be rude not to try the local wines!) it is time to go back to the hotel and relax before day one of our explorations.
I was up early the next morning for a wander about - a quick visit to the local market, saying hello to the local cats on the way. I was getting into Alentejo. A simple life with good food,relaxing surroundings and friendly people.
From Borba, we made our way to Monsaraz, an absolutely stunning castle and village on top of a hill.
The village of Monsaraz sits atop the stunning landscape and is filled with white-washed buildings in cobbled streets which meander around the hillside.
Our stop this time was inside an old school building with the wine-maker Ervideira. If you look in the photo below you can see the remnants of the classroom.
There, we had some more wine tasting (I could get used to this!) and I purchased honey and some of the winery’s superb dessert wine.
By this point we all needed a break, thankfully our guide had sorted this out with lunch at Amieira Marina. Yet more stunning scenery!Over lunch of delights such as codfish pastry with prawns and tomato, the most tender octopus ever with potatoes, garlic and coriander, we relaxed and enjoyed the peace and the views.
Herdade do Vau
I could have stayed here forever...just look...
Another early rise for me meant I got to meet a family out for a munch in the morning sun.
Quinta do Quetzal
Next stop in this epic journey around Alentejo was Quinta do Quetzal in Vidigueira.
This is a vineyard with a difference. Not only does it use modern systems in the processing of the wine, but it also has a modern approach to entertaining visitors with an art gallery, restaurant and shop.
A tour around the art gallery was followed by a tour of the winery. Grapes are delivered to the roof where they are fed through holes to the fermentation tanks. Gravity is used again to transfer the wine from here to barrels.
Reto Jörg, talked us through the tasting with background on the estate and the journey to bottle.
Of course, a couple of bottles had to be purchased to bring home, as well as some olive oil from their estate, as it was also delicious.
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
Our new home for the night. Another vineyard with a hotel and restaurant attached. I really could get used to holidaying like this! Herdade de Malhadinha Nova is set within a vast estate which means that it is incredibly peaceful and luxurious.
The beautiful old country house looks across swathes of land. The rooms are tastefully decorated with Bvlgari toiletries supplied for that extra touch of luxury.
Not only is there a beautiful terrace and pool outside but there is a hotel spa to enjoy. Inside the lounge area is homely but with a swish of design. Fragrant candles burn, wine flows and new friends are made!
An evening tasting the vineyard's wine, experiencing more Portuguese cuisine made this another memorable evening.
The Alentejo region is ripe for experiencing and makes an excellent break for a foodie, sun seeker, history buff or just looking to get away from it all.
Thank you to Visit Portugal for allowing me the opportunity to visit and experience the food, drink and stunning scenery of this region of Portugal.
TAP Portugal flies direct from London City Airport, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon up to 12 times a day, prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932
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