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Day 3 – Cara DeLavallade’s Wine Tour of Portugal

It’s Day 3 on Cara DeLavallade’s Wine Tour of Portugal.

Today the group joined up and raveled from Lisbon to Colares, a region north of Lisbon known for a very distinctive varietal, Ramisco, that only grows in Colares. The vineyards are some of the few in the world that are planted on un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines.  Because the soil in Colares is hard-packed sand, referred to as Chao Rija, the infamous vine louse that wiped out nearly all European vines in the 1860’s cannot survive in this area and has never been present.  So, today we wandered along 200 year old Ramisco vines only five minutes drive from the Atlantic Ocean.  The vines are like nothing we’d ever seen before – they wildly spread along the soil in a large tangled mass.  No trellising or training, simply the winemaker will erect a crude stake made of cane here and there among the mass, lifting the fruit off the ground.  All of the vineyard management is totally organic and based on the materials that are nearby.  The winemaker takes human hair from the local barber and scatters it along the outskirts of the vineyard to keep rabbits out.  He also places old newspaper and magazine pages along the vineyard because the birds don’t enjoy landing on it.  That is literally all they do for pest management.  After a short stop to take photos of the breathtaking coastline, we headed to the winery to taste the one-of-a-kind wines.

Casca Wines is a cooperative winery that sources fruit from all over Portugal and makes an impressive variety of styles.  The winery in Colares is probably the smallest winery I’ve ever visited.  They had only eight barrels fermenting when we visited, and those were two different vintages of red and white.  The Ramisco was the most interesting – lightly colored and slightly orange, looking a bit like Nebbiolo.  Black tea, tart red fruit, herb, and a saltiness on the palate that has to come from the vineyards close proximity to the ocean.  Fascinating wines young, they make one very curious to taste the older vintages.  1967 and 1969 are now available in the market and according to the winemaker, tasting very good.

From there we enjoyed an extravagant feast of a lunch at a nearby seaside restaurant while we tasted through the rest of the Casca line-up.

Portuguese vineyard

Portuguese vineyard

By the time we left, everyone was ready for a nap and we were all trying to wrap our heads around the idea of tasting more wine and eating another meal in two and a half hours.  We waddled back on the bus and headed to Alentejo.

Arriving after dark, we shuffled through the empty streets of a small, quiet town to reach a proper castle built in the 14th century.  The castle is home to a family that has been making wine in the area for generations.  Terras d’Alter is a leader in rejuvenating the region of Alentejo Alta, and their Australian winemaker has experience working with vineyards all over the world.  We tasted through several wines, wandered through massive rooms with crackling wood fires, and tasted a few local dishes – fried green beans, scrambled eggs with tomato, and pigs feet with herbs and garlic.  We then sat down for dinner prepared by the lady of the house – local pork wellington with locally made pork sausage, cauliflower soup, and fried potatoes.  Then cheese.  Then dessert. And seven or eight wines, I can’t remember.  The experience of dining in the massive hall, hearing about the rich history of the family and the house, and sharing wines with those who share a true appreciation for all of it was beyond memorable.  And just when we thought things were winding down, a member of our group, a former opera singer (and Master Sommelier), burst out in an aria from The Magic Flute in an act that punctuated the evening perfect.  Time to waddle again down the street to our hotel, built in another centuries old castle.

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