Lighter Side of Alentejo: White Wines Offer Quality, Value

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-28-2018

Ask a group of wine geeks to free associate based on the phrase “Alentejo wines” and I’m guessing you’ll get comments about big, bold, jammy red wines. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But, after spending five days tasting my way through this region of Southern Portugal, I was impressed with how many exciting white wines I found.


Susana Esteban’s white wines (field blends from higher elevation sites,old vines) were some of the most exciting wines of my trip.

Aside from the thrilling and ancient amphora wines of Alentejo (which I wrote about in detail in this post), the high quality of the white wine (branco in Portuguese) was one of my biggest takeaways from the trip. White wine grapes are seriously outnumbered, with about 27,000 acres planted to red grapes and less than 9,000 planted to whites, according to data from the Vine and Wine Commission of Alentejo. But that’s still a lot of white wine, spread out across a large region, and the quality can be quite high.

Antão Vaz came up again and again in the wines that I found exciting, usually as the dominant grape in a blend. This indigenous local variety is heralded especially in the subregions of Evora and Vidigueira. It survives well in heat and is quite drought-resistant, which comes in handy in a region that has suffered through several years of drought. (Although this year has been quite wet, and I certainly got rained on quite a bit during my visit in early June.) The grape is quite aromatic and provides lots of oomph to white blends, and can stand up to a good amount of new oak. However, the grape can lack focused acidity, especially if picked later.

Hence: Arinto. This grape which can produce crisp, vibrant wines with deep minerality and tropical fruits. This wine popped up again and again in the white blends I fell for. Gouveio fits into blends quite a bit as well, which used to be called Verdelho, and that was confusing (as grape names are always) because it’s genetically separate from the Verdelho of Madeira fame.

Roupeiro and Fernão Pires round out the grapes you’re most likely to encounter in Alentejo white blends. Portugal has tons of indigenous grape varieties, and I definitely encountered some hard-to-pronounce grapes I’d never heard of before. But I also found some white Rhone grapes that seem to do quite well in this hot region, and I even found an exciting Sauv Blanc from a cooler vineyard near the ocean.

Stylistically, the whites were all over the map. From lip-smacking, lighter-bodied versions to drink with Portuguese seafood, to rich, unctuous, barrel-fermented, lees-stirred creamsicles — there’s a bit of everything out there.

I gathered up a few interesting white wines I found on the trip to share. Most of these wines were tasted at the wineries or with the winemakers themselves, and all were tasted sighted. Most of these wines are available in the United States, and the prices based on either estimates from importers or wine-searcher results.

2017 Herdade Do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco
Nose boasts toasted nuts, lemon, mineral dust, notes of warm sand, really interesting. Crisp and brisk but the texture is rich, with lemon curd, orange peel, backed up by minerals, chalk dust, almond skin and roasted peanuts. Delicious stuff. All Antão Vaz. (90 points IJB)

2017 Herdade do Mouchão Dom Rafael Branco
This was one of the most surprising wines of the trip for me, as I was expecting a basic entry-level white and found an exciting, complex, thrilling wine. So floral and bright on the nose with lemons, apricots, crust sea salt, cucumber slices, baby’s breath. Medium-bodied palate, rich texture but so crisp and lively, with a deep, underlying mineral presence. Lemon, lime, apricot, topped in lemon verbena, honeysuckle, baby’s breath. Chalky finish. Wow. Antão Vaz, Arinto, Perrum and Fernão Pires. (91 points IJB)

procura2017 Susana Esteban Aventura Branco
Aromas are super peachy and bright but steely, too. Crisp, bright, brisk, mineral-driven on the palate with chalky notes, baby’s breath and green olive notes mixed with the juicy green apple and lemon fruit. Mineral dust note stand out, this shows lovely texture but such freshness. A co-fermented field blend from 30-year-old vineyards in Portalegre, which is at higher elevation, 700 meters. (89 points IJB)

2017 FitaPreta Branco
Steely, bright, floral aromas with limes, lemon and apricot. So bright on the palate, broadly texture but zesty and focused. Lemon, lime, apricot, the fruit mixes with mineral dust, white tea, honeysuckle. Bright and complex. Arinto, Roupeiro and Antão Vaz fermented in stainless steel. Complex, vibrant, eye-opening, delicious. (91 points IJB)

2017 Susana Esteban Procura Branco
Gorgeous aromatics of lemon curd, apricot, peaches, with yellow flowers and raw almonds. The textural depth is amazing, brisk acidity, lovely combo with peaches and lemon curd. Complex elements of sea salt, mineral, dusty chalk. Layered, vibrant, complex, deep, yet so refreshing. No lees-stirring, no maloactic fermentation, this is aged in old oak. Fascinating, excellent white field blend from 80-year-old vines. (93 points IJB)

2016 Adega Cooperativa de Borba Montes Claros Reserva Branco
More tropical aromas here, with rich pineapple and lots of yellow flowers. Brisk but nice textural depth, with honeyed floral tones that mix well with apricot and lemon curd. Salty note on the finish, some richness from 30% of the wine seeing oak, but it’s nuanced and fresh and solid for the price. (88 points IJB)

2016 Cortes de Cima Sauvignon Blanc
I get a nose of lemons, grapefruit, white pepper and lemongrass. Zesty and floral on the palate, with peaches, lemons, chalk, lemon verbena. Very bright and vibrant. From the family’s coastal vineyards, this boasts a bright and salty approach that I find very attractive. (88 points IJB)

2016 Cortes de Cima Branco
Nougaty nose with pineapple and white peach. Plush texture on the palate but fresh, too, with apricot, white peach, honey, nougat, notes of talc and minerals. Alvarinho, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and oak barrels. (89 points IJB)

2016 Herdade do Esporão Reserva Branco
Big and buttery on the nose with plump pears and honey. Full-bodied but fresh with chunky pineapple and pears but fresh and floral, too. 30% barrel-fermented with lees stirring, a blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro. (89 points IJB)

2015 Terras d’Alter Reserva Branco
Honeysuckle, tart green and rich yellow apples, and buttercream on the nose. Crisp and lively, creamy texture but fresh, with dusty mineral and floral tones accenting the yellow apple and pineapple. Aged in old American oak with six months of battonage. (88 points IJB)

2015 Doña Maria Amantis Reserva
Rich yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, pineapple, rich yellow pear, hints of hay and nougat. Richer texture (14%), this is made with second-year oak and battonage, and that’s evident in nougat, creamy honey and butter notes, but there’s also some freshness and floral complexity. Bruised apple fruit is highly yummy. Fermented in French oak with six months of lees stirring, 14% alcohol. Made from Viognier. (88 points IJB)

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