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Grape Profile – Castelão


Over the course of the three years we’ve lived in Spain, I really don’t know if I’m any closer to having a solid grasp on the indigenous grape varietals now than I was when we first arrived. The moment I feel confident in a varietal, the rug gets pulled out from underneath me and I’m lost…again. I wish I could say that this is a temporary state of being, but I fear it’s not. Everyday I am swimming in a waterfall of new information, typically finding myself with more questions than answers. And with the vast number of grape varietals that exist on the Peninsula, I find that I’m typically hounded with questions like: I know that Tinta Roriz is also Tempranillo, but did Tempranillo come first or did Tinta Roriz, and is one an alias for the other or are they two different strains of the same grape? Yeah, it’s really confusing! So when I came across the grape Castelão when tasting wines from Quinta da Bacalhôa, I figured I’d best tackle my curiosity from the get go.

I would assume that there are very few of you who know the grape Castelão, but your ears would ring with familiarity if I said Periquita. Prior to Jose Maria da Fonseca’s creation of the internationally renown wine, Periquita – made primarily with Castelão grapes – this varietal hung out with his poor brethren waiting to be discovered. But in 1870, when Jose Maria created Periquita as of the first wines sold ready bottled to avoid adulteration, its name spread like wildfire. And consequently, so did Periquita’s name in reference to the Castelão grape.

Physically, this little grape is tough, pooh poohing fertile soil in moderate climates for dry, sandy and intensely hot temperatures. When pushed to suffer, like all good masochists do, this grape magically evolves into an intense and aromatic wine with red berry and floral aromas. Consisting of small bunches of little dark skinned berries, this variety typically produces smooth and well balanced wines with good aging potentia as a result of its fondness for oak.

Generally found in the Ribatejo, Estremadura and the Alentejo regions as blending grapes, its claim to fame lies in the region of Terras do Sado. Here, in the DOCs of Palmela and Setabul, the grape thrives, sucking in the warm temperatures to produce concentrated and pungent red wines.

Name: Castelão
Type of Wine: Red
Native to: Portugal
Places Grown: Portugal and Australia
Aliases: João de Santarém, Castelão Francês, Periquita.

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