This week, we had the pleasure of returning to the Portuguese city of Evora, a gorgeous white washed town we fell in love with on our honeymoon in 2003. Surrounded in Medieval walls with ample Roman ruins housed inside, it’s hard not to get swept away by its beauty, history and provincial charm. Located an hour east of Lisbon, it makes for a wonderful day trip to explore Franciscan catacombs, taste local olive oils, sip on fabulous wines and bask in the intense sun while biting into a regional pastry!
The heart of Evora also holds another secret treasure for those keen to explore regional wines: the Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo. With large vaulted ceilings, stone walls, and large picture windows facing a gorgeous wild flower covered square, it’s the perfect location to gather information about this gigantic 22,000 hectares of vines primarily centered across eight sub-regions of the Denomination of Origin of Alentejo: Reguengos, Borba, Redondo, Vidigueira, Evora, Granja-Amareleja, Portalegre and Moura.
Every week, the Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo offers 2 different wines from 3 producers for you to taste and experience. Additionally, they have a rotating series of exhibitions for you to learn about the grapes, history and/or region as a whole. This past week, when walking into its vast and open space, there were several displays, each with a vibrant and colorful picture of a glass filled with various flowers, soils, fruit, etc. Above each picture listed a native grape of the region, and below, a small vial of liquid for you to dip in a paper strip and smell the grape’s essence. Although not a perfect match, it’s a fun way for curious wine lovers to correlate a grape with its bouquet. There are several grape varieties in the Alentejo; however, the most important white grape varieties in the region are Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto – two of my personal favorites! As far red grapes, think Trincadeira, Aragonez, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet.
If requested, the Rota de Vinhos do Alentejo will also help you to arrange a custom tour of vineyards. In 2003, well before we took our first step on Alentejo soil as Catavino, they kindly offered to help us set up visits to various wineries in the region. Extraordinarily helpful, interactive and interested, they listened to our needs and connected us with wineries both large and small to give us a rounded and full perspective of the region in its entirety.
The Alentejo is a truly majestic region with its large swatches of land dotted with perfectly round pine trees, and scraggly olive and holm-oak forests, that cast long, obscure shadows. Add fields upon fields of wild flowers come spring, large horns from gigantic steers popping over undulating hills, piercing sun and ancient Dolomite ruins, and you have the ideal setting for a film. It’s breathtaking, mesmerizing and surreal, and packed full with some of the most delicious food and wine you’ll encounter in Portugal.
For food, think creamy dry bread soups seasoned with purslane or cilantro; the infamous Carne do Porco Alentejana stew made with pork and clams and typically served over a bed of potatoes (a favorite of Ryan’s); delicious Alentejano steaks; and “secretos de porco” made from the famed black footed pig, used in Spain for the glorious jamon de bellota. These dishes are just a few to accompany the wide range of Alentejo wines available for you to try. (photo by Cortes de Cima)
In the end, we love this region, not to mention its food and wines; and when tied up in a picturesque landscape with towns like Evora, a UNESCO heritage site, you know you have a winner. If you haven’t been, go! Take some time to wander off the beaten track, down a dirt road, or over a unmapped hill and simply fall in love.
GabriellaÂ and Ryan Opaz
Ruta dos Vinhos do Alentejo
Praca Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar, 20-21 Apartado 2146
Tel.: +351 266 74 64 98
Contact: Maria Teresa Chicau Â (Coordinator)