D.O./Region: Alentejo, Portugal
Address: Albernôa 7800-601, Albernôa – Beja
Telephone: +351 289 510 460
Fax: +351 289 510 469
Hectares of Vines: 20 hectares, 6 more were planted this year
Wine maker:Pedro Garcia – winemaker resident
Luis Duarte – winemaker consultant
Total Production Liters:68,000 liters
Wines Produced: Monte da Peceguina red 2004
Monte da Peceguina white, Monte da Peceguina rosé, Aragonês da Peceguina red, Pequeno João red, Malhadinha white, Malhadinha red
Exporters in the UK and USA:: None in the UK, Almost done negotiating with a US importer
Last month, I had an afternoon appointment at Quinta Malhadinha in the Alentejo. My goal was to visit a Cooperative in Reguengos and then head South past Beja to this new winery in the hopes of finding some new exciting Portuguese wines. I was well aware that it was a bit of drive, so I took the rare occasion to sit back and enjoy the sunny day with my windows rolled down allowing the wind to caress my shiny bald head. About an hour after I set off to the winery, I saw the white and blue estate perched on top of a hill beckoning me inside its shiny white walls. The hard part was not so much locating the estate, but rather finding the exact way to get to its front door. Like a mouse in a maze looking for that sweet morsel of cheese, or in this case a glass or two of wine, I ended up having to pull more than one u-turn to find the off-ramp that would eventually lead me to my goal.
Arriving a little after two in the afternoon, I pulled into the main parking area which sat between three buildings. To the left, sat the estate where the owners lived whose white-washed walls were skirted along the bottom by a glowing blue band typical of the Alentejo. Looking to your right sat a modern building with large glass doors hinting at the stainless steel tanks within forming the heart and soul of the operation. Directly infront of me stood a large wooden stable. This was later confirmed when I toured the property that indeed, both horses and poultry resided near here, but we’ll delve deeper into this topic later.
As I stepped out of my car, a man came towards me with an open hand and a warm smile, politely asking me to wait a few minutes for Rita, one of the two owners. Walking around the estate, admiring the orange trees and other agricultural treats, Rita eventually stepped out of their office building, informing me that she was swamped with work but that I could talk with Pedro Garcia, the resident wine maker at Malhadinha. “Good enough for me”, I thought, and after a quick introduction, Pedro jumped into the pickup and ushered me off to first see both the vines and the property.
Malhadinha is a relatively new estate with vines dating back only six years. Started by a young couple interested in owning a hobby farm/vineyard, their main goal from its inception has been to create both high quality wines and tourism. In fact, sometime in the next year, they hope to add ten small bungalows on the far hill that overlooks the entire estate, allowing visitors to enjoy their wine with a stunning view of the valley filled with pigs, cows, ducks, geese and peacocks.
My sense is that they wanted Malhadinha to resemble more of a rural estate than a just a vineyard. Counting vines as one of their assets, they also keep Alentejana cattle and black footed pigs – which are not only native to the Iberian Peninsula Peninsula, but also coveted for their spectatular hams. Additionally, they also raise horses to show and have a flurry of gardens and waterfowl to boot – although the latter have been known to fall victim to the local fox population.
Interestingly, Pedro – my trusty guide and chauffer, is not only the assistant wine maker here at Malhadinha, but he had also spent the past few years in America at the prestigious estate of Fraciscan vineyards in California. When asked why he left the sunny state of California, he said that his main goal was to both see and experience how other vineyards were producing great wines.
Evidently, most of the schools for winemaking in Portugal are still tied to the old traditions. Hence, the only way to actually learn more modern and innovative approaches was for him to travel. Afraid that he meant “learning how to make wine in the International style”, he assured me that while there was much to learn, he still felt that wine needed to reflect its terroir and that native varietals were core to making good regional wines.
Winding back to our starting point, we moved into the cellars and wine making facilities. As I’ve said before, if I can’t say that wine makers have clean facilities and are using new technology, they probably aren’t interested in improving their wines. Fortunately, this particular winery abided to my age-old rule. Everywhere you looked beautiful architecture and shiny new tanks adorned their facilities. Although it’s a new winery, it appears as if they intend on making some serious wines as exemplified by Pedro’s latest experiments with Alicante Bouschet. As I have stated in the past, Alicante Bouschet is a grape capable of producing fantastic wine, and it this particular barrel tasting from 16+/- months was no exception. Intense, rich, layered and not at all overpowered by the new oak, it was an absolute treat to taste it from its inception. I really did not expect this level of intensity, reminding myself to look for future wines made from Alicante Bouschet treated in the very same manner.
As the afternoon slowly faded to evening, we continued to meander and talk about their vineyard, wine and the future of Portuguese winemaking. By the end, what struck me most profoundly was the fact that even though they are producing wines in a more fruit forward style, or “the international style”, I only perceived this in the first few wines I tasted from later in 2005; however, I am still excited to see wines emerging that not only play with new ideas, but also retain the basic essence and flavor of the Alentejo. In short, the sense of place was not forgotten. Although the wines were fruit forward and juicy in character, they still exhibited qualities that could only be called Alentejana.
I want to end this story by saying that you should pay attention to this region as a whole and to producers like Heradade de Malhadinha who won’t settle for anything less than the best. Their wines are still developing and finding their own identity, and to me, this is a good thing. If a winery enters the market with a mediocre wine, refusing to acknowledge that it might need a bit of refining, then they are lying to themselves. Whereas Malhadinha not only acknowledges when a particular wine needs refining, but are willing take the steps necessary to achieve perfection. On top of all of this, they are working hard to make the experience of visiting the regions and their property a reality for all who want to experience it. If you do go, you won’t be disappointed!
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