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Day 5 – Cara DeLavallade’s Wine Tour of Portugal

julio-bastosDay 5

Our second day in the Alentejo began with a tasting at Dona Maria Julio Bastos, an 18th century house run by a family with over 180 years of winemaking history. The first thing that we noticed arriving at the estate, besides the stunning architecture and lavish gardens, was that the tops of all the palm trees were missing! Turns out a vast majority of palm trees in the country are becoming infested with the Red Palm Weevil, an invasive beetle that attacks the trees and causes the tops to die and fall off. It’s a somewhat striking image to behold against an otherwise gorgeous landscape- all of these tall trees that look to have been beheaded!

We toured the old cathedral and the winery (more lagares) and sat down with the winemaker for a tasting. Interestingly, Julio is excited about working with Viognier. He loves white wines from the Northern Rhone and feels that the grape grows very well in the Alentejo. He makes two versions- one on stainless steel and one that is barrel fermented. The barrel fermented Viognier tastes almost like something you might find in California- a nice choice for fans of Napa producer, Darioush.

From there we traveled back to the Lisbon region, to Quinta de Chocapahla, a 16th century estate run by Paulo Tavares da Silva and his two incredible daughters. Just north of Lisbon, in a small sub-region called Alenquer, the family has revived 110 acres of nearly-abandoned vineyards. Throughout our travels in Portugal we saw many instances of this type of vineyard revival…

(A little bit of history!) The Portuguese wine industry flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of England’s ban on French wine sales in the 1680’s. Port as well as table wines were being purchased and consumed by the English, who even then recognized the red wines of Portugal as a more affordable alternative to Bordeaux. Preferential tariffs were created for Portuguese wines and by the mid 18th century Portuguese wine accounted for nearly two-thirds of all imported wine to England! If things had continued along those lines, today we might have found Portugal in standing alongside the likes of Burgundy and Bordeaux, with prices to match. Alas, the 19th century pretty much brought nothing but misfortune to the industry. The French and Spanish invaded Portugal, Britain reopened trade with France, the American Civil War decimated trade with the colonies, powdery and downy mildew struck the vineyards first, then Phylloxera descended upon the country in the 1860’s, destroying all of the vineyards except for those in Colares. The result was acres and acres of vineyards left abandoned as the Portuguese people turned to other industries to survive. Today it is inspiring to see the number of young, talented winemakers who are working to restore these discarded vineyards, building up the wine industry that is once again flourishing.

Sandra Tavares da Silva is doing great things at Chocapahla and beyond. Upon arriving at the estate, we are received into the family home with a measure of hospitality and generosity that is truly special. We taste in a cozy dining area next to wedding and baby photos. Sandra’s sister and mother are there as well, making the tasting feel more like a family gathering than a tourism stop. Inspired by Chablis, her whites are clean, crisp, and high-acid. She shies away from new oak on her reds, and they show just as clean and crisp. Lunch is homemade bacalhao with sweet, dense orange cake for dessert. No one wants to leave, but we are late for our next appointment and have many miles to drive to arrive at Quinta do Sanguinhal by nightfall.

Four wineries are waiting to greet us as we arrive at Sanguinal, do a quick tour of the barrel room and old distillery. As we rotate through the different producers’ tables, we are again struck at the diversity of styles and character that are represented. Another amazing homemade feast is then shared with us, courtesy of the mother of the house, who shyly appears after dinner to make sure everyone gets coffee and tea while brushing away compliments and praise. Waddling back to the bus (are you sensing a theme?), we load up for a long drive to the region of Dao.Our second day in the Alentejo began with a tasting at an 18th century house run by a family with over 180 years of winemaking history. The first thing that we noticed arriving at the estate, besides the stunning architecture and lavish gardens, was that the tops of all the palm trees were missing. Turns out a vast majority of palm trees in the country are becoming infested with the Red Palm Weevil, an invasive beetle that attacks the trees and causes the tops to die and fall off. It’s a somewhat striking image to behold against an otherwise gorgeous landscape- all of these tall trees that look to have been beheaded!

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