Although I visit Portugal a good 4-5 times a year, very rarely I get to be a tourist – except when we go to the Algarve for a week each Summer. This year, as my mother’s birthday actually fell on a weekend, we thought we would get together and head to one of our favourite places in the country: Alentejo, which is one of Portugal’s leading wine making regions and I still believe, one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
The key word here is, of course, wine. And the lovely Herdade do Esporao produces some of the best wines in the country – I am no stranger to their delightful grape juices nor the venue. I believe I have visited a good 4-5 times before.
So with the help of Wine Tourism in Portugal, a company that organises bespoke wine-related experiences around the country, we visited the winery and did more than just taste some wine. And this may be the reason why I love going back.
We arrived at 10am sharp (a tad early for wine, but our ‘Biodiversity Tour’ had a few activities that kept us busy before it was wine o’clock). We were met by our guide (we had requested an English-speaking tour as Mr. O was with us and his Portuguese was a bit rusty) and taken to see the estate – and obviously where the wine was made.
This building was new to me (I don’t recall having visited it before) and it was interesting to see how things have evolved – and how the winemakers at Esporao continue to be innovative and keep on trying new things. There were some interesting wine containers (different from the oak barrels and stainless steel vats) and I must confess, I really enjoyed the commentary.
I love the underground cellar – which holds most of the wine and I always think that it would be a fabulous place for an event. I just imagine it with lots of candles and that gorgeous smell – I think one day I will just host a party there with friends from all around the world (maybe when the much awaited Esporao hotel is built!).
After a little walk around, it was time for the tasting. And for that, we headed to the wine shop, where one can find a *lot* of inspiration. I love the minimalist design of Esporao – the main building is only a few years old and a far cry from the traditional experience it used to offer. It is sleek, modern and I love how comfortable it feels – and how they really give you a sense of place by using only local artists and craftsmen’s works.
There are various types of wine tasting sessions you can pre-book, and we chose the premium one, as it is a chance to taste wines that really aren’t available by the glass anywhere else, and some quite difficult to find. One thing worth noting: Esporao produces excellent olive oil (a staple at our house back in the UK) and obviously this is the place to get some.
After the tasting, we were driven around the estate in a van – which was really interesting. I had visited the main cluster before but have never really explored around (obviously one cannot do that unescorted) and we had the chance to visit the Tower (which is the base of Esporao’s logo), which hosts a little museum and the family’s private chapel. We also drove around the vineyards and were surprised with how many types of grapes they are actually planting – over 100 varieties, and most of them as tests. The terroir changes, the weather changes, who knows what the future will bring?
And before we knew it, it was past 1pm and we were, let’s put it politely, ‘starving’. So we headed to the restaurant where a delightful meal awaited.
For the first time ever, we ate inside – we visited in February and let’s say that it was quite cold outside. The restaurant is gorgeous – but I still have to say: if you go and it is warm outside, you are in for one of the most special ‘lunches with a view’ ever.
We had a pre-set menu, which began with something I was really looking forward to: local bread (which I think is the best in the world. I know I am being biased – and I can be, because it is my blog, so do not be offended). It also gave us a chance to try the various olive oils that Esporao produces, which really were excellent.
Obviously the challenge here was to balance the amount of bread eaten while perusing the menu, which was going to be of 3 courses with wine pairings and dessert.
Our meal was exceptional – and this is where I tell you why we go back so often. Because we love it. And as ingredients are seasonal, it is never the same – so it is an experience I look forward to regularly.
We started with mackerel, followed by ‘black pork’, which is a very special type of pig which is very local to Alentejo, and ended with citrus fruits (and the best merengue ever). We tasted each wine (not much left, I will not lie) and the sommelier was so great, he brought over something quite special for us to try – which was some of Esporao’s test wines – which you can buy only there.
I just want to draw your attention to Test 4 and Test 5 – which is made of Alicante Bouchet, a grape which is very popular in this part of the world, produce in 2 different vineyards – at different altitude and location. Couldn’t be more different.
One thing also worth mentioning – the quality of service. I am Portugal’s biggest fan, but also one its most vocal’s critics – things do not always go well in this part of the world. At Esporao? Exceptional, world-class. The level of English spoken was outstanding – and this is not new. It has always been like this at Esporao, and hence why we always return.
We ended up leaving at around 4.30pm – but not before we really stocked up at the wine store. Because I really need a fair bit of Esporao in my life back home.
And so will you, if you visit.
Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of Wine Tourism in Portugal who organised this experience at Herdade do Esporao. Lunch costs 40 Euros per person (for real) and 65 Euros wine with wine pairings. The guided estate tour, including all mentioned activities (and the wine tasting) costs 26 Euros per person. Opinions are, as always my own, but I am pretty sure you can see how great this place is. Go there now!