Alentejo, Herdade do Esporão, Portugal, Samples, Wine

A Taste of Alentejo with Herdade do Esporão

Many travelers who plan a trip to Portugal think of Lisbon, the country’s capital and largest city. People who are familiar with Portuguese wine may think of Porto, home of the famous fortified wines, or Duoro, and it’s intense reds. All locales are magical in their own right, and everyone we know who has visited has raved about their experiences. They are definitely on our short list of destinations for our next European excursion. 

Yet as much as our friends loved visiting these well-known places, the one region in Portugal that all of them mentioned as “must-go” on their next trip is Alentejo. Intrepid wine explorers know Alentejo as a world-class wine region, producing stunning, high quality wines. However, wines of Alentejo are not as readily available, at least in our area, as other, better known Portuguese regions. (Vinho Verde, anybody?) In fact, a check of our local Total Wine & More store revealed just five wines from that region in their inventory, and only four in stock.

When we received an invitation for samples of four wines from Alentejo producer Herdade do Esporão, and to attend a virtual tasting with Esporão Group CEO João Roquette and winemaker Sandra Alves, we gladly accepted. With this blog, we hope to help promote the region and the wines, to foster interest and enthusiasm, and hopefully greater availability!

The samples and tasting were focused on Herdade do Esporão in Alentejo. Of interest, though, is that the Esporão Group has expanded beyond Alentejo, and has operations in other Portuguese regions. These include Quinta dos Murças in the Douro, Quinta do Ameal in Vinho Verde, and even the Sovina Craft Beer brewery in Porto. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The Alentejo region is the largest in Portugal, and is located in the southern third of the country. Herdade do Esporão is centrally located in Alentejo, in the Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC subregion. Receiving an average of just 23 inches of rain per year, and boasting at least seven distinct soil profiles, the area is ideal for viticulture. The estate is planted to 37 grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. Some of the Touriga Nacional, Verdelho, and Semillon vines are more than 40 years old. 

During the virtual event, we first heard from João Roquette, who provided some history, and described the diversity and sustainability practices employed at Herdade do Esporão. Originally established in 1267, the boundaries of the estate remain essentially unchanged to this day. The estate’s 4,522 acres include 1,091 acres planted to vines, with olive trees, orchards, and vegetable gardens on other parts of the land. 

João Roquette’s relative, José Roquette, and his partner Joaquim Bandeira, purchased the estate in the 1973, shortly before the 1974 military coup overthrew the ruling dictatorship. The Roquette family moved to Brazil in the short term, but José returned in 1983 to begin wine production. The first vintage was a 1985 Esporão Reserva Red. Today, Herdade do Esporão wines are exported to some 50 countries. In the U.S., there are about 25 different wines available, including reds, whites, rosés and Port, ranging in price from $10 to $300.

Herdade do Esporão’s sustainability practices are four-fold: Environmental, Social, Cultural, and Personal. Their mindset is one of thinking about the next generation. On the Environmental front, Herdade do Esporão achieved Organic certification in 2019, following an 11 year process. Beyond the estate, they are helping 16 of their supply growers attain their own Organic certification. On the Social plane, Herdade do Esporão promotes employee equality, fair pay and benefits, and social activism. The estate provides everyone with transportation to and from work, hot, sit-down meals, health insurance, access to legal and mental health assistance, and the possibility of bonuses and advancement. Culturally, they sponsor experience centers, including a restaurant in Alentejo, and host a cultural ambassador program. Finally, Personal sustainability involves encouraging a slow forward lifestyle, encouraging a slower pace of life, taking the time to pay attention to details and perspective that is often overlooked in our fast-paced world. 

Winemaker Sandra Alves took the reins to talk about the sample wines, and walk us through the tasting. Sandra joined the Herdade do Esporão team in 2001, and took on the lead winemaking role just two years ago, in February 2020. Sandra’s early winemaking education was at the side of her grandfather, who made wine from backyard grapes. She pursued an education in Oenology and has received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Early in her career, Sandra was focused on producing white wines…in a country and region dominated by reds. Herdade do Esporão had faith and invested in the project, and as we can attest from the tasting, it has been a tasty success! 

Full disclosure, the Zoom call fell in the middle of a workday, and as such we opted to open and sample the wines over the weekend, a few days before the call. The experience was no less informative, and we were very impressed by the quality. Then, we enjoyed the bottles throughout the week, with the food pairings we suggest in our reviews, below. 

One of the topics of conversation during the call was the affordable price point of these wines. Like wines from many regions that are emerging on the global scale, the values in Alentejo are well worth searching out. 

Whites

Colheita Branco 2020 (SRP $18)

Golden color. Aromas citrus and tropical fruit. On the palate, lemon, pineapple, and Granny Smith apple. Bone dry with refreshing, zesty acidity. Pair this with grilled or pan-seared seafood. Delightful! 

Reserva Branco 2020 (SRP $20)

Golden straw color. On the nose, pear, yellow apple, and butter notes, indicative of the oak aging. Flavors of pineapple, lemon lime, pear, and apple, with hints of toast and butter. Full bodied, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel, and bright acidity. Very satisfying finish. Nice alternative to Chardonnay for pairing with roast chicken. 

Reds

Colheita Tinto 2018 (SRP $18)

Deep garnet color with a brick rim. Aromas of ripe black cherry and blackberry, with hints of clove. On the palate, bright Bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry, with baking spice and white pepper. Medium-plus body. Chalky, gritty tannins with medium acidity and a long finish of red fruit and spice. Excellent with grilled pork dishes. 

Reserva Reserva Tinto 2018 (SRP $25)

Garnet color with a ruby rim. On the nose, toasty raspberry and cherry notes. Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis, with hints of nutmeg, clove, and other baking spice, and oak and cedar notes. Full body with firm tannins with balanced acidity and a long, tasty finish. Great with grilled beef or game. 

As we mentioned above, about 25 different Herdade do Esporão wines are available in the U.S., but here in our little corner of suburbia, they are not easy to find. If you happen to spot some in your local wine shop, or on a restaurant wine list, do yourself a favor and buy all you can! Oh, and did you catch earlier in the post, Herdade do Esporão has a restaurant in Alentejo. We started following the Esporão Group Instagram account, and the food shots are amazing! If you’ve been, or get to go on an upcoming trip, do leave a comment to let us know how it is! We’ll be making our reservation as soon as we book our Portuguese vacation! 

Felicidades! 

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
100, Ambassador, Seghesio, Seghesio Family Vineyards, Vivino, Wine

100 Zinfandels, and Counting!

When I first heard about Vivino, way back on Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I thought it was a pretty good idea. The concept is simple: users upload pictures of wine labels, give the wine a rating from 1 – 5 stars, and write up a brief review. The label recognition technology is pretty good, so if a wine is already in the database, the user doesn’t have to manually enter it. With a global crowd-sourcing base, the database is extensive and I rarely have to manually enter a new wine. With this database of wine ratings, users can look up a wine and check scores and ratings and reviews before they buy it. If a wine has a low rating, and the reviews don’t sound promising, you might want to pass on it.

Within Vivino, users themselves are ranked. Using a complex algorithm I’ve yet to fully comprehend, but generally based on number of wines rated, quality of reviews, and participation in the social platform (liking other users’ reviews), users are assigned a ranking within their country; Number 3,421 in the U.S, for example. Also, users can earn distinctions based on how many of a given wine style they have rated. These ranks start with Explorer after your first rating, to Enthusiast after rating six wines, to Expert after 26, to the pinnacle, after rating 100 wines of a regional style: Ambassador. 

After using the app for awhile, I noticed my ranking was getting higher and higher. Suddenly my normally docile competitive spirit kicked in. I wanted to see how high I could get in numerical and regional ranking. I started trying more and different wines from around the world. I was obnoxiously diligent in taking pictures of every label of every wine I tasted, be it at the wine shop, a restaurant, a friend’s house, or anywhere else. Eventually, I made it as high as 124 in the U.S.! As of today, I’ve slipped down to 143, largely because I’ve been a little busy getting married. According to data from October 2018, there are 32.8 million Vivino users worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of users, followed by Brazil. It’s hard to find information on number of users per country, but by my estimation, there are more than 5 million in the U.S. So 143 is still respectable, and I’m working my way back up!

Due to the wide variety of wines I was rating, however, my regional-wine ranking was slower to evolve. California Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel were always my top two, but I was enjoying other varietals and regions as well. Then one day, earlier this month, I rated a California Zinfandel, and saw that it was my 99th review. I was about to become an Ambassador!  

 As I was getting ready to write this post, I went back to the beginning to recall which wine was my first rating. To my amusement, it was a Zinfandel! Back then I was a member of NakedWines.com, and a big fan of winemaker Leigh Meyering. Her “ElegantLeigh” Zinfandel 2013 was my very first Vivino entry. 

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My reviews have gotten more descriptive since then!

For my 100th California ZInfandel, I selected the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2016. I’ve only had Seghesio a few times, but have always enjoyed it, and it’s widely known and recognized for its quality. 

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Seghesio Family Vineyards has been in operation for more than 120 years, across five generations. In 1895, Edoardo Seghesio planted a Zinfandel vineyard in Alexander Valley. In 1902, Edoardo and his wife, Angela, built a winery and began making wine. Seghesio Winery was born. The winery flourished and gained a reputation for quality, and even managed to survive during Prohibition. Once Prohibition ended, Edoardo re-opened the doors for commercial winemaking. Fourth generation brothers, Ted and Pete Seghesio now run the operation, and are committed to quality over quantity. Ted’s nephew, Ned Neumiller, is now working in the family business; the fifth generation to do so. 

With over 300 estate vineyards planted to Zinfandel and Italian varieties, Seghesio continues to produce high-quality wines and expand their reputation in the wine world. I know I was impressed when I opened my 100th Zinfandel! 

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Deep purple color, with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and baking spice. On the palate, ripe blackberry, cassis, blueberry, cherry, baking spice, black pepper, and vanilla. There’s a lot going on here. Definitely one of the more complex Zinfandels I’ve had in awhile. Big, bold, and full bodied with bright acidity and medium tannins. The finish is spicy with black fruit notes, and goes on for days. Perfect with baby back ribs!

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The aforementioned Baby Back ribs, with a twice-baked potato and corn on the cob! I do love summer eats.

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If you haven’t tried Seghesio Zinfandel yet, you really ought to. Pop a bottle, download the Vivino app, and rate and review it! Your California Zinfandel Ambassador recommends it. 🙂

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
Alexandra Farber, Cabernet Sauvignon, nakedwines.com, Napa, Wine, Wine Review

Review: Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, 2015

By now you probably know that I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com. One of the things I like about the NakedWines.com business model is that the company encourages employees, who have an interest in winemaking, to pursue their dream. A number of wines available through NakedWines.com are made by winemakers who also hold staff positions within the company. One such winemaker is Alexandra (Alex) Farber, who produces her wines under the Miriam Alexandra label. Alex’s first wine was a 2014 California Chenin Blanc. Prior to tasting that wine, my only knowledge of Chenin Blanc was my memory of the jugs of cheap wine my folks would drink when I was little. My first taste of Alex’s Chenin opened my eyes to the wonder of  today’s Chenin Blanc, and sparked an appreciation for this amazingly delicious wine! I’ve enjoyed three successive vintages of Alex’s Chenin Blanc, each one better than the last. This year, Alex released her first red wine, a 2015 Napa County Cabernet Sauvignon. When I saw it, I knew I had to try it.

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I have had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Alex on several occasions. Recently I had the opportunity to ask her about her story, and her journey into winemaking. My first question was about the label name, Miriam Alexandra. The “Alexandra” is pretty obvious, but where does the “Miriam” name come from? Her response is interesting, and sheds some insight into her entry into the wine business.

Alex

Miriam Farber was my great-grandmother. She was an Art institute of Chicago graduate, and an incredible artist. She did lots of watercolor, and that is where the inspiration of my label comes from. Alexandra, was my mom’s first choice of first names for me, but didn’t like the way Alexandra Miriam sounded, and liked the idea that on a resume my name could be written as M. Alex Farber (gender neutral!), so I could go under the radar and be a successful female in business. Times have changed a little bit since then, so showcasing my full name was very important to me. Hence, Miriam Alexandra on my label.

How long have you been in the wine business, and how did you get your start?

I went to Davis for college and entered straight from high school into the V & E program. I worked my way through every quarter getting further away from all the pre-med pre-rec. classes and closer and closer to the wine classes. They were so interesting, challenging, and fun. So, I just kept going. Eventually graduating and getting an internship in Napa.

Do you have a family history in wine?

There is no family history in wine, other than lots of drinkers! I come from a family full of insurance brokers, bankers, lawyers, and accountants.

When did you bottle your first wine, and what varietal or style was it?

My first wine was bottled with NakedWines.com, my Chenin Blanc! I learned to make Chenin Blanc during my three year stint with Pine Ridge Vineyards as their Enologist. I spent those years in the Clarksburg Chenin Blanc vineyards and it is the wine I really wanted to make on my own with my own twist.

Have you worked at any wineries other than NakedWines.com?

Yes, I started as a harvest intern the summer/fall after I graduated from Davis at Trefethen Family Vineyards, I then went down to Chile and worked for Veramonte Wines, came back and was harvest enologist for Trefethen (for a year!), then did a very short time over the summer with Round Pond Estate, and finally took a full time job as Enologist for Pine Ridge Vineyards. Ultimately, I wanted to do something more than just be in the lab, I wanted to be in the vineyards, work with winemakers to learn more, and contribute more to the wine industry, that is when I found NakedWines.com, and I have been working here since then. Both as a winemaker and now as our Head of Planning.

What is your favorite grape varietal? Why?

This is such a tough question for me to answer. If you are asking me what I like to make the most, it’s probably Cabernet Sauvignon. It is so expressive of place, it tells its own story through the winemaking process, and I love the age-ability. If you’re asking me what I like to drink the most? It’s Grenache, Syrah, Rhone Varietals, Pinot Noir, Champagne – a variety of its own :).

When Alex isn’t busy making wine and fulfilling her staff duties at NakedWines.com, she is committed to giving back to the community. Two projects she is passionate about are Service Dogs, and empowering young girls to become strong, independent women. To further the first passion, Alex is raising Maui, an energetic and adorable Black Lab puppy. She told me how she got involved in this project:

Maui
Isn’t he cute?

I have been involved with puppy-raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind out of San Rafael for quite a few years now. I took a break after having shoulder surgery, and recently wanted to get back into it. An opportunity came up with a fellow guide dog raiser, who is now training diabetic alert dogs, to take Maui for a few months as a puppy. He is now about 8 months old, and is well on his way to becoming a canine diabetic alert dog for a type 1 diabetic child.

In Alex’s other project, she serves on the board of directors of the Napa and Solano County chapter of Girls on the Run. Alex said that she wanted to get involved in the non-profit world so she could give back to the community in a way that would provide life-changing impact on young peoples’ lives. She found Girls on the Run, an after school program for girls in grades 3 through 8, that teaches life skills and promotes individual identity. Through exercise, discussion, and teaching, the 10-week program empowers the girls, develops an appreciation for health and fitness, and provides important skill they will carry throughout their lives. Alex started as a volunteer Life Coach, meeting with girls twice per week. Once she started her job with NakedWines.com, she had fewer hours available to volunteer, so she became a board member. She’s been on the board for about three years now, and says the organization will impact more than 1,000 girls in 2017.

Finally, I asked Alex if she wanted to add anything else about her exciting journey into winemaking. Here’s what she had to say:

Because of NakedWines.com, I had the opportunity to become a winemaker much sooner than I had ever dreamed of, and it has been so incredible. I had four vintages of wine as a winemaker under 30! Without the support of Angels, and their trust in me as a winemaker, I wouldn’t have ever been able to make the wine I get to make today. It’s been such an honor and I can’t wait to continue making wine.

So now that you know a bit more about Alex, the winemaker, let’s explore Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County 2015, the wine.

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The wine is a deep purple color with a brick colored rim. The nose is a delight of blackberry, cassis, and oak aromas. On the palate, I was greeted with flavors of fresh blackberry, cherry, cassis, oak, and vanilla, with some red currant and chocolate notes. As expected for such a big, yet young wine, the tannins are firm and edgy, providing a mouth-drying punch but offering a deep, pondering complexity. The tannins will soften with age, but if you can’t wait, I recommend at least an hour decant before tasting. With medium acidity and mouthfeel, the finish lingers long with black fruit, spice, and vanilla. With aging potential of 5-10 years, or longer, this is a spectacular value for a Napa Cab.

I brought this to a house party a few weekends ago, and we opened and tasted it sans food. Everybody enjoyed the wine, and commented on the solid fruit structure and compexity. Once we drained this bottle, the hosts opened a different Napa Cabernet, a 2012 from a small boutique winery in Napa. They boasted that their bottle set them back $80 (4x the Angel price for Alex’s offering.) While the 2012 was nice and had good fruit flavor, it lacked the oomph, complexity, and structure of the Miriam Alexandra. I can imagine that in a blind tasting, Miriam Alexandra would beat out the older boutique wine.

Though I didn’t get to taste this bottle with food, this is a wine that would pair exceptionally well with a marbled rib-eye or prime rib. The fat would help tame the tannins and the wine would enhance the deliciousness of the meat. Fortunately, I have a few more bottles, so I can experience the magic of the meal I just recommended.

If you would like to try one of Alex’s wines, click on this link, or the logo below, to receive a voucher worth $100 of a first-time order of $160 or more.

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Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds