This article is sponsored by the Setúbal Peninsula Regional Vine and Wine Commission – CVRPS
In the Summer of 2022, I rediscovered one of Portugal’s best kept secrets: the Setúbal Peninsula region, located under an hour South of Lisbon. One of the best things? Its wine.
I have teamed up with the Setúbal Peninsula Regional Vine and Wine Commission – CVRPS and we have done a trip (and see the highlights on Instagram) and I have published a write up of my recent trip, which you can use as inspiration for your next trip there.
Here is our beginners guide to the Setúbal Peninsula Wine Region in Portugal.
Where is the Setúbal Peninsula Wine Region?
In Portugal, land of good wines! The Setúbal Peninsula, is one of its 14 demarcated wine regions and is located in the south of Portugal, just 30 minutes away from Lisbon. This is a coastal region (made up by 13 councils) that starts in Almada, right after crossing the 25th of April bridge in Lisbon, and ends in Sines, around 130Km south.
Because of this variety of landscapes, soils and climates, this is a region where you can find all kinds of wines, ranging from sparkling to dessert. But the star of this wine region, the one she’s renowned for, is the Moscatel de Setúbal, one of the 4 fortified wines of Portugal.
If you’ve never tasted it, I can tell you it’s elegant, fresh and versatile. Although this fortified wine is the region’s flagship product, this is a region which mostly produces red wine, where the ‘castelão’ varietal is king and makes up almost all the reds (on its own or blended).
With a total area of 8,000ha of vineyards, 2 different D.O. (Denominations of Origin) and one G.I. (Geographical Indication), The Setúbal Peninsula is the perfect place to start your journey exploring Portuguese wines that are so diverse.
What distinguishes it from other Portuguese wine regions?
Mostly its geography and all that goes with it (soil, climate, light exposure, etc…) – this is probably Portugal’s most diverse wine region.
Why? Firstly, the influence of the Atlantic Ocean is quite incredible, as it underlines the whole west coast of the region.
Then the 2 areas of the region: the sandy soil area of the so-called “Plioceno de Pegões” (pliocene of Pegões), where temperatures have a wide range between day and night, which is a good thing for the grapes. And then, the Arrábida mountain range, where its height peak reaches 500 meters of altitude. It is not the highest mountain of the world, but enough to protect the vineyards from undesired winds.
This is a region where mother nature was lavish and inspired: two penínsulas designed by the two largest Portuguese estuaries, both very rich in biodiversity. Between these 2 rivers, the Tejo and Sado, and the Atlantic, a Mediterranean influence adds one more atribute to this region’s description.
What makes the wines so different?
As explained above, the inner characteristics of the region, its location, make it so special. Let’s be more precise!
The average values of annual precipitation vary between 550 and 750 mm, showing, throughout the year, a distribution similar to the south of the country, with June, July and August having the greatest water deficit, also due to the reduced capacity of soil water retention.
The average temperatures are relatively high in the Summer months (25 to 28ºC) and the annual average of relative humidity is between 75% to 80%, which reflects the region’s proximity to the sea, presenting lower values in the summer months.
The prevailing winds blow from the North, Northwest and West quadrants ‘cleaning’ the vines from possible diseases. The region also has high insolation values – 2,200 hours / year – with Summer values exceeding 300 hours of sunshine per month (as a comparison, England gets between 1,200 and 1,400 hours / year).
What grape varietals are most common in the region?
If you had to memorise two names of grapes, then you should remember the following two: Castelão, around 50% of the vineyards planted in the region and Moscatel de Setúbal (Moscatel Roxo de Setúbal), 10% of the total area of vines.
Why are these grapes so important? Because they are the basis of the 2 D.O. of the region: to be a D.O. Palmela, wines need to be made with at least 66% of Castelão and be from the Palmela area (north of the region). To be a D.O. Setúbal, it has to be made from Moscatel de Setúbal grape (Muscat of Alexandria) or Moscatel Roxo (‘Purple moscatel’).
As a funny story, the grape Castelão was called Periquita when still wines started to be produced in the region, and the famous José Maria da Fonseca company, the first company to bottle quality still wines in the region in 1850, called their famous brand Periquita. To avoid any confusion, the grape changed its name to the official Castelão.
What is the Moscatel de Setúbal?
Known as ‘the bottled sun, the Moscatéis of Setúbal are wonderful in the always difficult harmony between sugar, alcohol and freshness. Made from the Moscatel de Setúbal (Muscat of Alexandria) or Moscatel Roxo (Purple Muscat) varietals, they are crowd pleasers, but also offer complex wines!
The Moscatel de Setúbal has a golden colour (it gets darker as it ages) and aromas that range from citrus flower and peel, honey, linden, rose, lychees, pear, dates and raisins. It is considered one of “the portuguese national heritage you can drink”, being appreciated by kings and by the people since immemorial times.
The Moscatel Roxo de Setúbal has a rich aromatic profile as well with lots of spices, sour cherry and fig jams. It is very rare, as less than 50 ha of this grape are planted in the region nowadays.
What distinguishes Moscatel de Setubal from other fortified wines?
You will know Port wine, Madeira and maybe Carcavelos. But one of the key differentiators of the Moscatel de Setúbal is its acidity, given the proximity of the Atlantic. It is much fresher than other fortified wines, which ends up in a wine that is less sweet than others, so far more enjoyable!
There’s also a substantial difference between Port wine and Moscatel de Setúbal and it comes to the age that appears on labels: 10, 20 or 40 years is not an average of all the wines blended, as it happens for Port. With Moscatell, the featuring year will actually be the youngest Harvest in the blend, meaning you can have much older harvests, which means the wine is a lot more complex and richer.
How should Moscatel de Setúbal be served?
Given the diversity of occasions, wine ages and styles of Moscatel de Setúbal, this is always a question hard to answer…
A Moscatel de Setúbal can be served as an aperitif, with the ideal temperature between 10º and 12ºC. Those used for this purpose are usually the youngest, most exuberant in aroma. However, depending on the serving conditions, time of the year, room temperature, outdoor or indoor service, this temperature may drop slightly to between 8º and 10ºC.
With older Moscatéis de Setúbal (more than 5 years old, they can be called ‘Superior’), the temperature should rise to 12 to 14ºC. These are mostly served as dessert wines and, once again taking into account the serving conditions, the temperature may rise to between 14 and 16ºC. However, there are those who consider that rarer and even older wines should be served between 16 and 18ºC.
Experience for yourself and tell us how you prefer our Moscatel de Setúbal!
The other very important fact is that once you’ve opened your Moscatel de Setúbal bottle, you can keep it for a while, so you’ll have time to enjoy it!
To find wines from Peninsula de Setúbal in the UK, please visit the links below:
- Adega Camolas – Fine Wines Direct UK
- Bacalhôa – Adega Wine Cellar, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Spicers Hampers of Distinction, TJ Wines
- Casa Ermelinda Freitas – Laithwaites, Delicias, The Wine Society
- Casa Horácio Simões – Festa London
- Herdade do Cebolal – Portuguese Story, Vindinista, Casa do Frango, Lisboeta
- José Maria da Fonseca – Moreno Wines
- Quinta do Piloto – Bottle Apostle, London, Reserve Wines, Manchester, Vin Neuf Wine Merchants, Stratford-upon-Avon, Amps Wine Merchants, Oundle, Drinkfinder, Falmouth
- Venâncio da Costa Lima – Gauntleys, Dronfield Wine World, Uncorked