The Alicante Bouschet Wines of the Alentejo

Alicante Bouschet originated in Franc, but today its principal home is in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Developed in 1886 as a cross of Petit Bouschet and Grenache, it’s a teinturier (red colored flesh) grape that produces inky red wines.  First planted at Herdade do Mouchão, Alicante Bouschet is today Alentejo’s flagship red.

A thick skinned, dark colored grape, Alicante Bouschet contributes structure, color, and freshness to blends.  It has perhaps its most profound expression at the Herdade do Mouchäo with its rare old vines.  While typically blended, the Mouchäo wines are mostly Alicante. Producers like Herdade de Rocim, Julio Bastos, and Herdade do Grous make some superb single varietal bottlings.

We visited most of these wineries and tasted their wines on our last trip to Portugal (see our report The New Wines of Portugal). It’s a real treat to taste them once again. Our plans call for revisiting Portugal as soon as possible.

The Alentejo

The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region, extending from the Tagus River in the north to the Algarve in the south. As a region, it is both scenic and historic. The walled city of Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the center of the region, was an important Roman city, and ruins of its temple still stand. In his book Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder named the city Ebora Cerealis after the wheat fields surrounding the city. During the time of the Moorish occupation (715-1165), Évora was called Yaburah.  The poet Abdul Majid ibn ‘Abdun Al-Yaburi lived in Évora at the time.

The Alentejo had an estimated 20 thousand hectares of vines at the end of the 19thcentury, but in the 20thcentury government policies encouraged the replacement of wine by grain, largely destroying the Alentejo vineyard. The replanting of the Alentejo vineyard began in the mid-1980s , and today it is home to some of the largest vineyards and wineries in the country. As of 2019, it had 21,898 hectares (54,336 acres) of vines, 73 percent of which was red varieties.  The United States is Alentejo’s third most important export market after Brazil and Angola.

The Wines

Herdade do Mouchão 2013 Mouchão Alentejo ($60) 93  The Herdade do Mouchão is one of Portugal’s magnificent wine estates, as we discovered on our last trip there. The Mouchão reveals a black olive, licorice and dried blackberry nose.  This single vineyard wine from the Carapetos Vineyard reveals a lovely silky attack with rich dark chocolate, tobacco, and coconut-inflected toasty oak on the palate. A rich and flavorful wine that can handle flavorful, spicy—think Mexican barbacoa.The grapes are foot trodden in traditional cement lagares and aged in wooden vats of Portuguese oak, mahogany and a Brazilian hardwood called macacaúba.  US Importer: Douro Vino Selections

Herdade do Rocim 2016 Alicante Bouschet Vinho Regional Alentejano ($20) 91  It’s a real treat to again taste the wines of winemaker Catarina Veiera, whom we visited at the winery on our last trip to Portugal. This wine is a superb example of Alicante Bouschet showing spicy dark fruit on the nose. It’s densely flavored with pure, concentrated blackberry fruit with notes of chocolate and cedar and tangy acidity.  The tannins are firm but round. Outstanding value! 14.5% alc US Importer: Shiverick

Herdade dos Grous 2016 Moon Harvested Vinho Regional Altentejano ($25) 91   Fermented in traditional lagares and French barrels, this wine offers an enticing nose of baking spice and dried fruit. The palate feel is amazing in a wine of this price—silky and smooth with firm round tannins, good acidity and a lingering finish. The flavors are of ripe, dark fruit. US Importer: USA West

Julio Bastos 2012 Dona Maria Grande Reserva ($45) 92  Offering an enticing, inky bouquet of black olive and cracked, black pepper with a hint of flinty smoke, the Alicante Bouschet blend is big, unctuous, savory and dark fruited with a silky, elegant mouth feel and firm tannins.   A dense blend of 50% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Syrah, and 10% Touriga Nacional. Alc 14.5%  US Importer: MS Walker

Casa Agricola Alexandre Relvas 2015 Herdade de São Miguel Alicante Bouschet Vinho Regional Alentejano ($23) 90   Showing cooking spice and dried fruit on the nose, this wine reveals the riper side of Alicante Bouschet.  Ripe plum and prune flavors appear on the palate along with round, fairly dry tannins. Matured 12 months in 400L French barrels. 15% alc. US Importer: Quintessential Wines



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