I wonder what percentage of wine lovers who live here in the Algarve drink locally-produced Algarve wine on a regular basis? I’m not just talking about us foreigners, but local algarvios too.
The vast majority of Algarve wine is, of course, consumed by tourists, visitors who rightly choose to try a glass of the local vinho and are very pleasantly surprised. Many thousands of them are so impressed that they pay a visit to one or more of the local wineries.
This is all good, but the Algarve as a tourism destination is seasonal and until the region’s wine starts to be taken seriously, both in Portugal and internationally, the business of running a winery here presents numerous challenges.
I’ve spoken before here in this column about the use of artificial flavourings and additives in wine production and how these can make poor quality (specifically under-mature red) wines palatable. This could be seen by some as a solution, to flood the market with cheap adulterated wine of a similar standard to the cheap plonk sold on the bottom shelves of supermarkets around the world. But, for numerous reasons, the Algarve cannot and should not attempt to compete within this mass market.
One reason is the cost of land here, which is a great deal more expensive than in the Alentejo or elsewhere in rural Portugal, but let’s focus on the positives.
The neighbouring Alentejo is known and respected as a wine region, but the Algarve is undoubtedly better suited to the production of quality wine. We have the same sunshine but a far less severe climate. The Algarve is protected by hills to the north and fanned by the cool ocean breezes off the Atlantic. Likewise, our slate and clay soil is ideal for high quality viniculture, forcing the roots to dig deep.
The Algarve ticks all the boxes as a region capable of producing excellent quality wine and, with careful work in the field, minimal chemical intervention and the passion and commitment of good winemakers, this is already to some extent being achieved.
If the Algarve is to flourish as a wine producing region producers must focus on quality rather than quantity, using natural production techniques that rely, above all, on the quality of the grapes that can be produced in this idyllic terroir.
Many readers, I am sure, have been put off Algarve wine in the past but it is important to remember that, as recently as five to 10 years ago, most of the vines planted by the new wave of producers who invested in the region were still very young.
So, dear reader, if you have not tried an Algarve wine in a while, take a look at the selection in your local supermarket or, even better, pay a visit to a winery. If you fancy a nice red, be sure to choose one that is at least three or four years old.
A few that I am particularly fond of include the excellent Duo, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Petit Verdot from Quinta dos Vales in Estombar (winner of a gold medal at this year’s Concurso de Vinhos do Algarve), the Quinta do Francês red blend made near Silves from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Aragonês, the Onda Nova Syrah from Cliff Richard’s winery near Guia, the elegant varietal made from the local Negra Mole grape from João Clara in Alcantarilha and the organically-produced Petit Verdot from Monte do Além near Lagos.
When it comes to white wines, Viognier has been one of the most successful foreign grape varieties to have taken root in the Algarve, with great results from the first three producers mentioned above. Whilst for light and fresh whites, Quinta dos Vales stands out across their range and their premium label Grace Vineyard is probably the best Algarve white wine out there. And as for rosés, we are spoiled for choice with even entry level pinks from these and many other producers giving rosés from elsewhere in Portugal a serious run for their money.
Any of the above are sufficient proof of the quality of wine now being produced in the Algarve and, as long as the region’s producers keep their focus on quality as opposed to quantity, the future is bright.
By PATRICK STUART
See also the most excellent 'Algarve Wine Guide 2015' published by the tourist board