In the Alentejo, you eat and drink very well. Eating, drinking and snacking (petiscos) are rituals, ways of socialising, of entertaining friends and guests, of celebrating. It is customary to say that, in a true Alentejan’s house, whether rich or poor, the table is always set. It is true. And this truth confers a very special flavour on the discovery of the gastronomy and the wines. They are products of recognised value for tourists, but it was not Tourism that created them for outside consumption: they are part – and a happy part – of the most authentic daily life of the Region. In the light of this, we can offer only one invitation: be Alentejan for a few days!
From traditional recipes to recent innovations in gourmet cooking, from the savouries to the traditional sweets and puddings created in convents, in the Alentejo you will find everything, created and recreated with the finest products of the land, a lot of imagination and that mysterious thing called "mão” ("touch”). The wines, the cheeses, the cured meats and sausages are excellent. The sweets and puddings are a divine sin. There has been serious investment in the certification of products. There are new projects for organic products. And, as regards the table, there is a curious understanding between generations. Dedicate time to discovering all of this. Experience an upmarket restaurant, which offers a meal prepared with refined sophistication, as well as genuine popular cooking, which is often found in a village tasca (small restaurant or tavern) where people are found at the end of the day enjoying their petiscos (snacks). Taste the wines in the adegas (wineries) in direct contact with the producers. Participate in cookery courses. And don’t be worried about your diet: some good walks will burn off the calories.
In the Alentejo, there is no haggling over the honour to be paid to Bacchus. The wines are emblematic of the Region. There are more than 250 producers, with an area under cultivation in the order of 22,000 hectares.
You will find two types of white and red wine: the Vinho Regional Alentejano, which is produced throughout the Region; and Vinho DOC – Alentejo, produced in the eight regions defined as suitable for the production of wines with the seal of Denominação de Origem Controlada (Registered Designation of Origin) – Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Reguengos, Vidigueira, Évora, Granja/Amareleja and Moura. The Vinho Reserva, considered top of the range, can result from regional or DOC wines.
The wines produced in the northern part of Coastal Alentejo – Grândola, Alcácer do Sal, Santiago do Cácem and Sines – belong to the wine-growing region of Setúbal. Don’t find it strange, then, when you see on the label the denomination "Vinho Regional – Terras do Sado”.
The DOC seal is a guarantee of quality. But in all justice it must be said that there are also Alentejan wines of the highest quality that do not have the DOC seal.
The typical quality of the wine comes from various factors: the perfect marriage between the grape varieties used and the various types of soil (granitic in Portalegre, crystalline calcareous in Borba, Mediterranean grey and red in Évora, Granja/Amareleja and Moura, schist in Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira); the thousands of hours of sunlight that benefit the whole of the Alentejo; the discipline of the growers who understand that a good wine begins to be made on the vine; and finally the skills that the oenologists have revealed in the art of making the wine, bringing together tradition and modernity.
The white wines are aromatic, fresh, harmonious and sometimes complex, the result of the blending of varieties. The reds, ruby or garnet in colour, have intense bouquets of well-matured red fruits and are smooth, slightly astringent, balanced and full-bodied. Although they gain in complexity as they age, they can also be drunk young.
The great secret for enjoying them fully is in knowing how to make the right choice: what wine to drink as an aperitif, with a good cheese or during a meal; and inversely, when the wine is chosen first, what delicacies to accompany it with.
In the Alentejo, there are many ways of getting to know the wines: in good restaurants, leaving yourself in the hands of those who know; by visiting the adegas (wineries) during wine-tastings accompanied by the wine-makers, who are available to explain all that you might wish to know; on enotourism trips which, accomplished in the art of making you feel welcome, organise interesting activities around the subject of wine; and finally in some establishments providing accommodation, which have gourmet gastronomy as their principal trademark, an image that is obviously inseparable from the nectars that accompany it.
The Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo (www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt) association, an organisation which you should use to book visits to adegas and to wine-tastings, suggests various excursions, organised around three routes. Using the Rota de S. Mamede, you can visit producers in Portalegre, Benavila (Avis), Casa Branca (Sousel), Monforte and Campo Maior; using the Rota Histórica, in Montemor-o-Novo, Évora, Azaruja, S. Sebastião da Giesteira, Arraiolos, Igrejinha, Estremoz, Arcos, Glória, Borba, Rio de Moinhos, Terrugem, Juromenha, Redondo, Aldeias de Montoito, Monsaraz, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Vendinha and Vera Cruz de Portel; using the Rota do Guadiana, in Cuba, Vidigueira, Marmelar, Moura, Granja, Ferreira do Alentejo, S. Brissos (Beja), Albernoa and Trindade. Whatever your choice, you will see how the theme of Wine can be an excellent guide to discovering the Region.
To complement this, let us make a couple of suggestions.
One is to go to Borba, if possible in November, when the Festa da Vinha e do Vinho (festival of the vine and of wine) takes place. In the Historical Centre there are various "tasquinhas” (small taverns/restaurants), some with enormous clay wine-pots, where the wine used to be made, that offer local products. During the festival, they are places on a special route visited by the Confraria dos Enófilos do Alentejo (confraternity of wine-lovers). The other is that, in December, you should visit Cabeção and Vila de Frades, when the tasting of the new wine from the producers is the occasion for a festival. In Vila de Frades, within the framework of the Vitifrades event, there is a competition for local "pot-made” wine (2nd weekend in December). In this town as much as in two others nearby, Vila Alva and Vila Ruiva, wine of this kind is still produced using methods very close to those used by the Romans.
Finally, you should not fail to visit the Enoteca and the Museu do Vinho in Redondo. Begin with the museum, which has the advantage of being located in the Tourist Office, make an excursion into the Serra d’Ossa, enjoy a succulent lunch and spend the afternoon in the town. Visit the potteries and the workshops making painted rustic furniture, walk through history within the tiny Cerca Medieval (mediaeval walls) and, at the end of the day, enjoy some petiscos (snacks) in the welcoming space of the Enoteca. If there is a show in the Cultural Centre, you could enjoy live music into the night.