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A Taste Of Alicante Bouschet

There are 250 indigenous grape varieties officially registered in Portugal, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The Alvarinho, Baga and Touriga Nacional grapes are probably the most widely known by name. A lesser-known grape by the name of Alicante Bouschet is my focus today.

Portugal is divided into fourteen regional wine areas, each with its own unique geography and climate. 

Map credit: ViniPortugal

The Alentejo wine region covers a third of Portugal in the southern half of the country and enjoys a Mediterranean climate. The wines produced here come in a range of styles, influenced by the diversity of the climate and soil.

The soil of Alentejo varies throughout its eight sub-regions. In fact, it has the most diverse soil of any region in Portugal.  Interspersed amongst the mountains, hills and valleys, one can find soil with clay, limestone, quartz, granite, schist, sandstone and marble. Most of the soils are non-calcareous, meaning they are neutral or more acidic.

Alentejo has 51,000 acres of planted vines that enjoy 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. More than 80% of the grapes grown here are red, but whites are gaining momentum, especially Antão Vaz, the star grape of the region. And speaking of stars, Alicante Bouschet is the signature red grape of the Alentejo region.

Alicante Bouschet is a teinturier grape variety. Simply put, the flesh and juice are red in color. There are very few red grapes that have red flesh. Most wine grapes have white flesh and juice, even the dark-skinned grapes.

Alicante Bouschet grape halved. Photo credit: Catavino

Alicante Bouschet is the result of a French crossbreeding of Petit Bouschet and Grenache. It was introduced to Alentejo over 100 years ago and first planted at Herdade do Mouchão. Alicante Bouschet’s nickname is “Tinta de Escrever” (writing ink) for its production of inky colored red wine. In addition to its distinctive inky color, Alicante Bouschet wines are fruit forward and laden with dark fruit, spice and noted for their massive structure and firmness.

I received five samples of Alicante Bouschet from Alentejo for review. They were all impressive!

Herdade Do Rocim Alicante Bouschet 2016 is 100% Alicante Bouschet manually harvested from the winegrowing sub-region of Vidigueira located in Southern Alentejo. It has the most temperate microclimate of the region and the soil is predominately granite and schist. Fermentation takes place in stone lagares and the wine is aged in French oak barrels for 12 months and bottle aged for 6 months.

Aromas of dark cherry, berries and hints of violets segue onto the palate with black and red fruit, spice and fennel with lingering notes of plum and dark cherry. Nice acidity balanced with firm tannins add to the quality of this wine.
Alcohol:  14.5%
SRP:  $20

Casa Relvas Herdade De São Miguel Alicante Bouschet 2015 is 100% Alicante Bouschet mechanically harvested at night from the winegrowing sub-region of Redondo. Vines grow in soils of clay and schist. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats with maturation in French oak. 

The nose offers fresh ripe fruit, blackberry, baking spice and earth. Cherry, plum, pomegranate, hints of herbs and lots of spice spill onto the palate with a satisfying finish of balanced acidity and tannins.
Alcohol:  15%
SRP:  $23

Herdade Dos Grous Moon Harvested 2016 is 100% Alicante Bouschet hand-harvested at night from the Albernoa based vineyards in lower Alentejo.  According to the winery, “the grapes are hand-picked in the cycle of greater influence of the moon in sap transport.” Vines grow in sedimentary schist and greywacke soils. Fermentation and maceration begin in traditional lagares (containers made of granite) and ends in new French oak barrels, aging there for 12 months.

Concentrated aromas of dark berries, cassis, baking spice and vanilla envelop the nose. Layers of dark cherry, plum, blackberry and pepper tease the palate with a nice balance between the tannins and acidity. A silky mouthfeel and long finish add to the richness of this wine.
Alcohol:  14%
SRP:  $25

Dona Maria Grande Reserva 2012 is a blend of 50% Alicante Bouschet 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Syrah and 10% Touriga Nacional. The grapes are selected from old vines in the northern Alentejo area of Estremoz where the soil is clay and limestone.
The grapes are vinified in ancient marble lagares using the traditional foot-treading method and the wine is aged in new French oak barrels for one year.

Heady aromas of dark fruit, floral, anise and cocoa lead the way to an intense palate of dark ripe fruit, spice, hints of violet, vanilla and smooth tannins.  The finish is long with a lingering taste of dark cherry.
Alcohol:  14.5%
SRP:  $45

Herdade do Mouchão Red 2013 is 100% Alicante Bouschet sourced from the Carapetos Vineyard, the estate’s oldest vineyard planted in 1988 in northern Alentejo’s Portalegre area. The soil is a Mediterranean mix of clay and sand with a Mediterranean climate of cold winters and hot summers.  “The wine is only produced in years when grapes attain exceptional ripening quality.”  Once harvested, whole bunches of grapes are foot-trodden twice daily in stone tanks and then fermented, racked and aged in large wooden casks for three years. Once bottled, the wine ages for an additional 2 to 3 years.

I’m starting my description of this wine with a big “Wow”! Seductive aromas of concentrated dark berries, dark cherry, floral, sweet spice and earthy notes had me salivating for my first sip of this wine. A rich texture of flavors danced around my palate offering lush fruit such as black cherry, black plum, sweet spice, pepper and notes of balsamic. Hints of licorice and chocolate lingered on a long finish. This is a beautifully balanced wine with firm tannins and acidity. An elegant wine, for sure!
Alcohol:  14%
SRP:  $60

Alentejo producers and growers embrace and practice sustainability with a mission to protect their fragile eco-system. In 2014, the Alentejo Regional Wine Growing Commission created a voluntary initiative for grape growers and wine producers called Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Programme in order to improve social, environmental and economic welfare.
Needless to say, Alicante Bouschet will now be a part of my wine collection. Alentejo wines continue to impress me and they are definitely worth exploring.

Until next time...



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