Choosing a wine is probably an easy task for you, but when it comes to choosing an Alentejo wine it can be a challenge, there’s so much on offer these days. Or maybe not? Maybe all Alentejo wines the same?
I recently passed through Mértola and was enchanted by its people, gastronomy, and wines. If you’re not familiar with Mértola, you must plan a visit soon! But in the meantime, let me introduce you to the six producers in the municipality of Mértola.
To understand the Alentejo of today, it’s important to remember that the Alentejo region was not always a land of wine, in fact, during much of the 20th century it produced mainly cereals. It was another chapter, among others, in the long history of this region, in which wine was less important as a wealth-generating sector.
Two years after the revolution of the 25th of April 1975, the PROVA - Projecto de Viticultura do Alentejo (Alentejo Viticulture Project) was created and in 1983 ATEVA the Associação Técnica dos Vitivultores do Alentejo (Technical Association of Alentejo Vitivulturists) with the aim of promoting the culture of the vine.
As a result of this work, in 1988, the Denominação de Origem Controlada, or Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) Alentejo and its sub-regions were regulated and in 1989 the Alentejo Regional Wine Commission (CVRA) (Comissão Vitivínicola Regional Alentejana) was created, which guarantees the certification and regulation of Alentejo wines, as well as its promotion in domestic and foreign markets.
Alentejo DOC sub-regions:
The series of these events prompted Portuguese and foreigners to purchase land in the region and the production of wine. Alentejo wines are mostly the result of a very entrepreneurial way of looking at the wine industry and this, in my opinion restored traditions while creating diversity and innovation.
Three districts, Portalegre, Évora, and Beja, together make up the natural boundaries for the geographical area of Alentejo Regional wine. A region of undulating plains, the Alentejo has a relatively smooth and flat landscape that stretches across almost a third of mainland Portugal.
The Wines of Mértola
It’s worth getting to know Mértola, a municipality with only six wine producers, yet all with their unique characteristics and as such, are nothing more than a perfect reflection of the greatest Alentejo region.
Herdade de Balanches
Herdade da Bombeira
Herdade das Romeiras
Herdade dos Lagos
Vale d'Évora Estate
Monte de Santo António
Also in Mértola the cultivation of vines has recently resumed. The oldest vines are now around twenty years old and the initiative came from a group of friends who created Herdade da Bombeira.
Today they produce several white and red wines including an attractive variety of mono-varietal wines – Arinto, Chardonnay, Trincadeira, and Syrah. The winemaker in charge is Bernardo Cabral.
Hunting and production go hand in hand in some of these new projects, such as Herdade Vale d’Évora, where the white and red wines Discórdia come from. The winemaker is Filipe Sevinate Pinto, but the wines are also inspired byone of the partners origins, Vitor Pereira is from Famalicão, North of Portugal. Thus, in the reds, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional dominate.
Soils of low fertility and low content of organic matter
Climate dry and hot - summers in Mértola often reach 40ºC and winters are mild with little rain.
There’s also the possibility of hunting at Herdade das Romeiras, which has the Moita do Lobo vineyard, and gives its name to the only red wine that is born here. I didn't have the opportunity to get to know the project or taste the wine.
The owner is from Lisbon and a lawyer in Macau who fell in love with Mértola and exports a large part of the wine.
It’s at Herdade de Balanches that the only winery in Mértola exists since 2020. An audacious project by Mertolense José Carlos Palma, white and red wines with winemaking by Bernardo Cabral too. They produced wine by the bottle and bag-in-box to the satisfaction of local restaurants.
A bit like all over Portugal, the Romans also passed through Mértola, which they called Myrtilis.
There they left the legacy of ânforas (amphorae) for the production and transport of wine. In fact, it was in Mértola that 103 amphorae were found, dating from the 1st and 2nd century BC. Many of them would be amphorae for wine. Today they are preserved in the Archeology Museum in Lisbon.
The presence and importance of the vineyard even during the Islamic presence here in Portugal are perserved by the coins of the time and decorative elements in ceramic pieces that are on display in the Islamic Museum located between the walls of Mértola.
With the Christian Reconquest, there’s an increase in the area of vineyards and wine production, as exemplified by the name of the patron saint of Mértola - Senhora D'Entre as Vinhas, which can be visited in the parish church of Mértola.
Part of the vineyards make part of the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana, the Valley of Guadiana Natural Park. The Alentejo is characterized by an undulating plain landscape, but it’s far from uniform.
In Mértola you’ll find dense undergrowth, areas with rock rose flowers and aromatic plants such as lavender or rosemary, dispersed cork oak forests, and extensive dry farming crops.
The Guadiana River alters the landscape, opening escarpments and cracks in the ground. Thus, the natural park becomes a refuge for eagles, storks and the lynx.
The hot, dry climate during the grapes' ripening and harvest season minimize the disease burden on the vineyard. It’s not by chance that the Alentejo has the second largest area of vines in organic farming, with 991 hectares.
And so, also from Mértola you’ll be able to drink organic wines from Herdade dos Lagos and those from Monte de Santo António – Conde Mértola.
Herdade dos Lagos was the first Mertolense wine that I tasted sometime in 2009 and it was already certified organic at the time. Two surprises in one glass!
German owner, former Captain of the Merchant Navy, three decades ago created an ecological island where there is a vineyard that gives rise to white, red, rosé, sparkling wines, and some mono-caste. The winemaker in charge is Marta Pereira.
Conde Mértola – Frederick Von S. are two red wines from an agricultural project rebuilt in 2002. Here, agriculture follows the principles of geobiology, dowsing, environmental health, and organic and biodynamic agriculture. Francisco Assis Costa is a doctor in Lisbon and the hill has been in his family for five decades.
DOC versus Regional wines
As Mértola is outside the areas covered for DOC Alentejo, it’s important to demystify the classification - Regional, which some wine consumers may find to be wines of lower quality.
In my experience, in fact, the Portuguese wine connoisseur does not distinguish between reading Alentejo or Alentejano on the label of a bottle of wine. I can't say the same about other regions…
For the Alentejo wine comission (CVRA), the main objective of DOC Alentejo is to preserve the identity of its 8 sub-regions, while Regional wines have the possibility of some creativity on the part of the producers.
Otherwise, in 2014, the set of mandatory red varieties was joined by other very traditional Alentejo grape varieties such as Moreto, Tinta Caiada, Tinta Grossa, and Grand Noir. In addition to these, there’s a list of 47 varieties, national and foreign, that can be used in the production of wines with Denomination of Origin.
As in all other regions, a producer who makes Regional wine has greater flexibility in choosing grape varieties, as well as having a higher yield of grapes per hectare, among other “softer” rules. That's why many producers, even being in the DOC areas, choose to make wine with the Regional designation.
In the Chamber of Tasters of the CVRA, there’s no great difference in terms of quality between DOC or Regional wines.
Because of this, today the Alentejo is the leading region in the Portuguese market, both in terms of market share in volume and in value, in the category of bottled wines.
Now that you know the wines of Mértola in more detail, look for them in a wine cellar or restaurant.
Also, check out the Mértola cultural offer here and enjoy wine tourism. Mértola and its wine producers are waiting for you!
Cover photo from Visit Mértola