Last Tuesday, during a very hectic and busy day tasting wines, we had scheduled a lunch with Cortes de Cima, a winery located in the Alentejo. And typically, when you schedule a lunch like this, you are met with an export manager who is so professional that each crease and fold is perfectly starched and ironed without a wrinkle to be seen. Trust me, I’ve looked. But today was different. What stood before us shaking our hand was one of the winemaker’s of Cortes de Cima, António Cláudio. António is a large man, standing 6 feet tall with broad shoulders, curly black hair and a sweet boyish smile. He packed us in his little blue car and rushed us off to Solar dos Presuntos, a fabulous seafood restaurant complete with air conditioning that we desperately called for after two days of 40 degree heat. Relaxed, while feeling our body core come back to a normal temperature, we leisurely listened to António’s experience of the winery, his journey to being a winemaker and his overall impression of his wines – which of course, were his pride and joy.
Cortes de Cima began in 1988 after Hans Kristian and Carrie Jorgensen traveled the world by boat in search of a home for their winery. Although fond of California, they eventually found themselves in the southern Alentejo region finding both the culture, the people and the land ideal for their project. With a little elbow grease, they renovated the house, installed both a dam and irrigation to help with the desert like conditions of the region, and planted 50 ha of Aragonez (Tempranillo) vines along with Trincadeira, Periquita and Syrah. Since then, however, they have decided to change Periquita for Touriga Nacional, as a result of Periquita’s ability to thrive more successfully in cooler coastal climates just west of their property.
Interestingly, when they first arrived in 1988, the area of Vidigueira was generally considered a white grape growing area as a result of their higher yield and ability to be sold to the local Co-op for a decent price. However, Han’s felt the warm climate was more appropriately suited to red grapes, whereby changing the vineyard from white to red varietals.
Another intriguing little piece of trivia is that Hans hired the international wine consultant, Dr Richard Smart, the Aussie “Flying Vine Doctor’, and author of the book ‘Sunlight into Wine’ to aid him on the estate. Dr Smart has not only helped design the Cortes de Cima vineyard, but has also aided the Jorgensen’s in creating the first ever, ‘Smart Dyson’ system, in Portugal that trains the canes to grow both up and down the trellis to incur more sunlight, deeper color and more aroma.
The Jorgensens initially sold their grapes to a local cooperative in 1995, and finally released their first “recognized” wine in 1996. Now, they have been internationally recognized not only for their wines, but also for their olive oils. Made from 100% Cobrançosa, a native grape from the Alentejo, it has a wonderful snap pea and grass aroma which immediately takes me back to my grade school when I’d hear the big roar of the lawnmower and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass announcing the final days before summer vacation.
The wines themselves are all very bold, intense, flavorful wines. We tried four of their wines throughout lunch – 2006 Chaminé, 2004 Syrah, 2004 Cortes de Cima, and finally, the 2003 Cortes de Cima Reserva – of which the 2004 Cortes de Cima stood out as a stellar wine among its counterparts for us. Aged for 12 months in 80% American and 20% French oak, and then blended with 51% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 45% Syrah and 4% Trincadeira. The wine is deep dark crimson with a very powerful bouquet of red fruits, anise and raw meat. 14.5% alcohol the wine is extremely full bodied showing plum, minerals, black cherries and a touch of chocolate. Absolutely delicious and worth seeking out.