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Why Fitapreta is the Alentejo Winery to Check Out

Exploratory. Irreverent. Provocative. These aren’t the words you would expect to see at the top of a winemaker’s (or really any professional’s) bio.

And yet there they are when you go to look up António Maçanita, one of the most respected wine makers working in Portugal today. And his website doesn’t stop there. "Non-conformist, disruptive, inconvenient, daring, restless, overwhelming,” it continues.  Then it clarifies that the descriptors apply not only to him, as a winemaker and a consultant, but also to the wines he gets his hands on wines that routinely win prestigious prizes and earn high scores from Robert Parker and the like. 

All those adjectives aside, he’s charming and personable in real life, especially when he welcomes guests to Fitapreta, his winery in the Alentejo not too far from Évora, near Nossa Senhora da Graça. If he leads a tasting (something that’s available by special request) the attitude is one of "there are no stupid questions.” He clearly wants to make his wine accessible at the same time that it’s unusual. 

"This doesn’t taste like an Alentejo wine,” I ventured, as I sipped his Branco de Talha, a 2019 vintage white blend of the Portuguese grapes Antão Vaz and Roupeiro that had been aged for a number of months in a large clay jar called an amphora. (Maçanita has been embracing this winemaking style since 2010, long before amphora wines became cool.)

"How do you know what an Alentejo wine is supposed to taste like?” he countered.

It wasn’t mean spirited. Rather, he was noting that the full-bodied, fruit-forward profiles that we now associate with "Alentejo wines” were actually a recent evolution, and that throughout history (a history that has been documented as going as far back as Roman times, with some records even suggesting that Alentejo wines were the first Portuguese wines to be exported to Rome), the region produced a greater, more nuanced variety of wines. 

And that, right there, is at the heart of all of Maçanita’s projects: More than anything else, he is interested with the historical recovery and inherent characteristics of the grape varieties and region, "not following fashions, but rather creating them, sometimes unwillingly.”

Or as he explains it, "My father is a chemistry professor and my mother is a historian. I work where history and science interlink. I see how wine was made many years ago and then do that in a more intelligent way.” That means recovering near-forgotten indigenous grapes and reviving traditional techniques such as aging in amphoras. The result is wines that don’t taste like "Alentejo wines” but in fact have a closer connection to their place than much of what gets marketed as Alentejo wine now. 

But you don’t have to be a wine nerd to appreciate António Maçanita’s wines or his Fitapreta winery. (Although if you are, you’re in luck. The most comprehensive of the winetourism and day visit packages is called "Yes! I’m a Wine Geek!” and can be customized to a visitor’s particular interest, whether it’s the unique characteristics of the Alentejo, a deep dive into fermentation styles, or a blind or vertical tasting of seven wines there are tied to whatever theme is chosen.)

Still, wine geek or not, you can still have a wonderful day! The Fitapreta winery is centered around a medieval palace (now used as the aging room), complete with a tower and a few other areas that date from the 14th century. Although it’s getting a bit tiresome to hear marketers call the Alentejo, "the new Tuscany,” this tower ruin really does look like something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Italian countryside.

António’s wife, Alexandra, who has an event-planning background in Paris, oversees the wine tourism side. Along with the tastings, there are also options for lunches of traditional Alentejo dishes based on seasonal products and vegetables harvested at very same day from their own vegetable garden—Alentejo tomato soup, scrambled eggs with pork sausage, and black pork cheeks with potatoes; salad and roasted hazelnuts at a long table set out in the shaded courtyard between the contemporary, cork-covered winery building and the historic palace, all paired with some of the winery’s most interesting wines. 

Among the many unusual and attractive things about these wines is the distinctive taste and the ways in which they express a near-forgotten Alentejo. Then there are the playful names of some of them, such as A Touriga Vai Nua ("the touriga goes naked,” a low-intervention wine made of 100% touriga nacional grapes) and A Laranja Mecânica ("a clockwork orange,” more or less, a decidedly, deliciously kooky orange wine made of arinto, roupeiro and verdelho). These offerings not only preserve Alentejo culture and local grape varieties, they also elevate the Alentejo terroir. Above all, they’re produced with "the absolute sense of responsibility of a loved one.”

Fitapreta began nearly two decades ago, when Maçanita challenged international wine consultant David Booth to make a wine with him. (He did so in his usual provocative way, telling Booth that "the problem of the industry is the consultants.”) That first wine, Preta 2004, made at Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, won the Alentejo Trophy at the International Wine Challenge. 

That same year, they launched the wine that really put them on the map, Sexy Tinto, an Alentejo wine that, they say, "conquered the national and international market, first for its bold image and then for its unquestionable quality.” 

This wine, and others that came before and after, was made at third-party wineries. It wasn’t until 2015 that Maçanita (who had by then parted ways with Booth) found his own permanent home, at the Paço Morgado de Oliveira, as that 14th-century medieval palace was known, as well as its 20 hectares of vineyards that are more than 50 years old -- an important detail that led Maçanita on his journey into the past. 

The space was inaugurated with the 2017 vintage, including wines that were in part produced from those old vines. And in the end, there couldn’t be a better venue for a rebel winemaker to continue on his quest to reclaim history and shake up the status quo. 

*Ann Abel is award-winning travel writer and editor including several stints  as a senior editor at ForbesLife. She has written about nearly 700 luxury destinations and hotels in 98 countries (and counting). Her work can be found in Forbes, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, Robb Report, Afar, National Geographic Traveler, Islands, Hemispheres, Brides, Modern Bride, Luxury SpaFinder, Well + Good, and other publications.

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