We were recently in Portugal in the Alentejo region as recommended by Portugal Tourism, who would like Irish to visit other regions outside of Lisbon or the Algarve.
Our first project was to visit a farm house accommodation and winery on day one.
This was the Cartuxa winery outside of the regional capital of Evora.
This was part of a Capuchin monastery back up to the 1800s, when the monastery was abolished by the state. A philanthropist would take it over and now this is run by a non profit foundation, where surplus funds are reinvested in the business or in the community.
This is a very successful winery employing 200 staff with 600 hectares under wine cultivation.
We were invited on a tour and saw reserve quality wine maturing in fine oak barrels. The barrels are kept up to 15 years and then replaced. They are made of the finest oak locally or from overseas. Portugal is a well forested region and much of the timber comes from Alentejo.
The wine spends 15 months in a barrel and 15 months in a bottle, they produce 80,000 bottles per annum of high quality reserve. The blend could be of 4 wines and should be at least 12 months old.
They use a mix of wines from the region and use mainly Syrah and Malbec grapes, this blending process can give a variety of tastes, as this ranges from forest fruit and red fruits like black berry or blue berry, plums.
Host Sergio of Cartuxa and wine expert, says they need customers to allow wine to breathe. The top wines tend to be 5-7 years old and are strong at 14.5 per cent some even appreciate in value for customers, the reds last longer.
They can pair well with meats like pork or beef.
A Cartuxa 2016 could cost up to 30 euro in Ireland, higher alcohol taxes for stronger drink with new laws. They have a big export market for their wines especially Brazil, Germany and the USA.
Brazil could consume 600,000 bottles where a 15 euro bottle in Portugal could cost 45 euro in Brazil or 3 times the amount due to government taxes of 100 per cent and extra state taxes plus supplier margins.
Wines are a little heavy like Bordeaux.
Portugal has a high consumption of wine per capital at 60 plus litre per annum for those 18-70 or over a week a litre.
Cartuxa use some old machinery also like concrete at the back of the wine barrel storage area.
They also have a tasting room. In the old days wine was filtered via sand and stone.
In countries like Armenia in the East, wine was stored underground, the Romans did that too.
Top wines were Cartuxa Red Talha in an oId clay pot which was nice to see too. The 2018 edition was really good and is a blend of 3 wines, Alicante Boushet and Trincadeira grapes.
Douro Valley wines are often by small producers, but Alentejo are larger volume wine makers.
For the quality wines 20 per cent is machine and 80 per cent by hand and is strong too.
We got a present of Pera Manca a few years back and this is top one and can be bought on site. The 2019 EA red reserve, popular in Brazil, USA, Canada, Germany and UK at 15 c storage tastes of light but strong vanilla plus red fruits too.
Cartuxa whites too, 2020 blend of two, Antas Vaz and Arinto, very nice tastes of pineapple and mango, middle boy, 50,000 bottles per annum and is 13 per cent alcohol.
The story about the wine origins and how the monks cared for their wines is interesting.
Our host spoke very well about the good corporate philosophy that they have as they try and promote cultural and heritage tourism in the Alentejo region which is not as well known as the Algarve or Lisbon or Porto regions.
The winery is easily reached by taxi from Evora, which also has a train and bus link of 1.5 hours to Lisbon.
They have agents in UK to cover Ireland and also Holland, as you cannot buy directly they in turn sell to Irish agents.
It is not cheap wine but you are buying tradition and quality with their reserve wines and the Pera Manca can increase in value.
We came across a shop in the Time out restaurant, central Lisbon that also stocks quality wines and madeira ports, this is called Garrvetira.