Alentejo is one of Portugal’s most popular wine appellations. It is the 9th largest wine region in the world and the 4th largest in Europe. Alentejo covers about one-third of Portugal’s landmass. The area consists of eight PDO wine regions; Borba, Evora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira. The appellation is flat with surrounding hills and mountains. Alentejo’s flagship red grape is Alicante Bouschet, and this article delves into this variety.
Alicante Bouschet Grape
The Alicante Bouschet grape is a French cross developed by Henri Bouschet in 1866 between Petit Bouschet and Grenache. The grape is a teinturier because of the grape’s has red flesh. This grape was initially designed as a blending grape to improve color and depth. While the grape grows easily, it produces high yields. Following Europe’s devastation of phylloxera, the Alicante Bouschet grape helped to reinvigorate the wine industry. The grape made a name for itself in the United States during Prohibition because it was easy to ship to the East Coast for home winemaking.
The Alicante Bouschet grape typically produces big, bold often jammy fruit-forward wine. The flavors include blackberries, dark cherry, blueberry, mocha, and chocolate. In cooler climate regions one finds more acidity while in warmer climates the wine becomes milder and develops a smoky quality.
The grape grows best in hotter and dryer wine regions such as Alentejo. In Alentejo, the climate for grape growing is classic Mediterranean that bears over 3000 hours of sunlight. The grape came over from France and first planted in Alentejo in the late 1800s at Herdade do Mouchão. Today it is the 12th largest planted grape of the area.
Alentejo Wines: First Tasting
I have sampled Alicante Bouschet from Alentejo on several occasions. My first memorable encounter was in 2018 at a Master Class hosted by Evan Goldstein with Wines of Portugal. My favorite red wine at the time was the 2011 Mouchão Tinto, which contained 70% Alicante Bouschet. The wine displayed fruity aromas of berries and on the palate. I found dark fruit, prune with pepper on the finish.
Alentejo Wines: Second Tasting
Recently during an Alentejo tasting, I sampled five different wineries interpretation of Alicante Bouschet.
Herdade De São Miguel Alicante Bouschet 2015: I found a more rounded drinkable version of Alicante Bouschet. This winery harvests at night to instill what they consider freshness into the wine. The winery also uses a more modern approach to winemaking, especially with its skin contact and maturation in French Oak. The wine displays ripe red fruit yet balanced earthy qualities.
Rocim Alicante Bouschet 2016: This wine is an example of a bit cooler climate Alicante Bouschet because the winery’s location in the southern portion of Alentejo receives cool breezes from the Algarve Coast. Grapes cultivated on terraces of volcanic soils of granite and schist, thus giving the wine more acidity and minerality. The wine exudes intense, fragrant aromas that deliver a balanced wine with black fruit and hints of spice.
Herdade Dos Grous Moon Harvested 2017: This wine needs time to age, making it my least favorite of the five wines I sampled. I would love to revisit this wine in another year to see its development. Like the words on the label, this wine is moon harvested. The idea is that the moon influences water and sap. Harvest begins when the moon exerts the most pull on the sap.
Dona Maria Grande Reserva 2012: This wine blends Alicante Bouschet with Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional. The winery at one time belonged to an 18th century King. The grapes are crushed by foot in a low marble shallow fermentation vats called Lagares. The Alicante vines are some of the oldest in Portugal. I found a mellower, more integrated wine.
Mouchão Red 2013: This winery produces Alicante only in those years the quality seems exceptional. This winery also uses the foot-trodden method and ages the wine in large wooden vats that combine Portuguese, mahogany, and macacaúba oak. The wine has a rustic quality that emphasizes the dark fruit and spicy finish.
Alentejo Wines: Third Tasting
On a third occasion, I sampled three Alentejo wines that featured a blend with Alicante Bouschet.
Malhadinha Nova Monte da Peceguina Tino 2015: This wine includes smaller portions of Alicante Bouschet in the blend. I found a dry red wine that showcased stewed fruit dried herbs and also baking spices.
Esporao Reserva Tinto 2014: This wine blends Alicante Bouschet with Argonez, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon. Earthy aromas give way to a bright smooth, well-integrated wine that exhibits rich, ripe fruit.
Cartuxa Colheta Tinto 2013: This red blend combines Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, and Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate, the wine is rich and smooth with flavors of dark stewed fruit and raisins. Hints of mocha, thyme, sage, and lavender also accent the wine.
Finally, for those who like a big, bold red wine, consider trying wine created with the Alicante grape especially those that come from Alentejo since the price points, on the whole, are very reasonable for this type of wine.
Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.