HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline.com on Twitter

Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition

Tasting Tejo
By Marguerite Thomas
Nov 19, 2013
Printable Version
Email this Article

You’ve already perused Piedmont’s delicious wine country, browsed Burgundian chais, sampled Sonoma’s selections and meditated over Malbec on a hot afternoon in Mendoza.  Are you ready for a new kind of travel adventure now--something along the wine road less travelled, perhaps?  Assuming you are a reasonably independent traveller as well as a wine adventurer who enjoys the thrill of discovery, Tejo is a region waiting for you. 

Formerly known as Ribatejo, Portugal’s Tejo district has been producing wine for centuries, but only recently have local producers begun setting their sights on a broader market.  Reds, whites and rosés from Tejo are just beginning to trickle into a few select sections of the United States, and their low price belies the generally high quality of these wines.  If you’ve never heard of Tejo, don’t worry, neither had I until a few months ago, when the Tejo Regional Wine Commission invited me to come to Portugal for a visit.  Because I was busy with other projects at the time, I had little motivation to take a few days off checking out a place I knew virtually nothing about, so my initial reaction was to decline the generous offer.  What changed my mind was a quick trip to New York one morning for a tasting of Tejo wines.  I was impressed enough by the zesty, vivacious whites and the refreshingly fruity red wines (as well as by their quality/price ratio) that I did an about-face and accepted the invitation.   And so, late one October afternoon I flew from Newark to Lisbon.
 
Tejo is a relatively small area a scant hour’s drive from Lisbon, so easily accessible by car for a day trip.  Truly dedicated wine adventurers may wish to book a room in one of Tejo’s guesthouses or B&Bs to spend a couple of days of exploration here (I was there for three days).  This is attractive, pastoral land where the eponymous Tejo River flows like a broad shining ribbon all the way down through Lisbon before joining the Atlantic Ocean.  Upstream, where the vines grow, the river defines three distinct zones of wine production. 

Quality is clearly on the rise here, with six sub-regions now permitted to use the designation DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada).  DOC regulations allow a fairly wide range of grape varieties.  Both local genera and international grapes are grown in Tejo, and the trend for the past few years has been to blend the two (Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is one popular contemporary blend). 

For white wines the most prevalent grape is the local Fernão Pires, followed by Arinto, Alicante Branco, Tália, Trincadeira das Pratas, Verdelho and Vital.  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most popular international white grape varieties in Tejo. 

As for reds, Touriga Nacional, which is perhaps Portugal’s best-known red grape, is wildly popular, as are Trincadeira, Tinta Roriz (sometimes called Aragonez), and Castelão.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet also thrive here.  Wines from this region tend to be taut and nuanced rather than rich and opulent, though there certainly are plenty of exceptions to this general rule.  Many of the native grapes are inherently high in acid, which gives the wines a refreshing and racy character that makes them extremely savory with food. 

Among the largest and most prestigious Tejo wineries is Casal Branco.  Still owned by the Braamcamp Sobral Lobo de Vasconcellos family, which established the estate in 1775, Casal Branco is a significant property encompassing some 2718 acres of land, including almost 346 acres of vineyard.  The average age of the vines is 30 years.   In addition to focusing on wine and other agricultural pursuits, Casal Branco is an important stud farm dedicated to purebred Lusitano horses, one of the world’s most ancient equine breeds.  Named for Lusitania, the ancient Roman name for Portugal, Lucitano horses specialize not only in dressage, but also in bullfighting, which in Portugal is a bloodless sport in which neither the bull or horse is supposed to be harmed.
 
Casa Cadaval has been in the family of Alvares Pereira de Melo since 1648.  In addition to an expanse of vineyards covering more than 100 acres, this vast estate also raises cork trees as well as olive oil, rice, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables in addition to wine.  One of the world’s oldest breeders of Lusitano horses, Casa Cadaval’s stables include indoor and outdoor riding arenas with a viewing gallery where visitors can watch the beautiful horses perform. 

Alorna is another prestigious, historic estate (established 1723).  With 642 acres of vines, Alorna is Tejo’s largest producer, turning out a dizzying number of different wines, many of which are well worth seeking out.  (See my reviews below of some of my favorite Tejo wines.) 

A few wineries in Tejo have drop-in tasting rooms and wine shops, but for the most part it’s best to contact the individual winery to arrange for a tour and tasting.  In my experience the Portuguese are a remarkably hospitable people who are proud of their heritage and their lovely country.  They seem justifiably excited about the direction their contemporary viticulture and winemaking has been heading, and are eager to show off the results.   Most estates may be reached through their websites, but here are a couple of contacts to get you started.  To arrange a visit at CASA BRANCO contact Duarte Cavalho e Silva at Duarte.cs@casalbranco.com or by phone 351 914 921 874.  At QUINTA DA ALORNA write to Dora Martins at dora.martins@alorna.pt or call 351 969 457 062.  At Casa Cadaval contact geral@casacadaval.port or call Cátia Casadinho at 351 918 718 176.
 
Producer:  Alorna    
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Fernão Pirès and Moscatel   
Proprietary Term:  Portal da Aguia Branco
Vintage:  2012
Price:  $15
Importer:  Regal Wines
Score:  90       
Review Copy:   Fresh and fruity, with a whiff of characteristic Moscatel floral fragrance, this charming white wine has an edge of sweetness tempered by brisk acidity.

Producer:  Agro Batoréu       
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Arinto
Proprietary Term:  Terra Silvestre Branco
Vintage:  2012
Price:  $15
Importer:  VinaAmericas
Score:  90       
Review Copy:  Arinto is an indigenous grape that yields notably crisp and refreshing white wines such as Terra Silvestre.  This is a nicely nuanced wine, with lemony notes, a light-to-medium texture and a bracing finish.

Producer:  Casa Cadaval   
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Trincadeira
Proprietary Term:  Trincadeira Vinhas Velhas
Vintage:  2010
Price:            $18
Importer:  HGC Imports
Score:  90
Review Copy:  Trincadeira on its own is sometimes simple and one-dimensional, but with grapes sourced from old vines Casa Cadaval’s version has rich, beguiling aromas and a deep, dark color.  It also displays layers of fresh, fruity flavor and hints of spice, and is texturally smooth and silky.


Producer:  Casa Bronco
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Fernão Pirès
Proprietary Term:  Falcoaria Branco
Vintage:  2012
Price:  $15
Importer:  HGC Imports
Score:  90
Review Copy:  Well made Fernão Pirès can be an astonishingly tasty and refreshing quaff for those of us who appreciate a jolt of crisp acidity in our white wine.  In this case the grape’s natural austere charm has been soothingly softened by a discreet amount of oak.

Producer:  Fiuza   
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Arinto, Chardonnay and Vital
Proprietary Term:   3 Castas
Vintage:   2012
Price:  $12
Importer:   Gabriella
Score:  90
Review Copy:  “3 Castas” (castas means “grapes”) is a good example of wine made from a blend of indigenous and international grape varieties.  Here the expected acidity in Tejo’s local grapes is ratcheted down a couple of notches by the intrinsic sweet fruitiness of Chardonnay.  The Chardonnay also contributes some heft to the blend. 

Producer:   Casal Branco        
Appellation:   Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Castelão, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira
Proprietary Term:  Terras de Lobos
Vintage:  2012
Price:  $8
Importer:  Trivin
Score:  90
Review Copy:   A splendid example of a red wine made from native grapes with a dose of Cabernet blended in, this inexpensive, flirty little wine shows bright, youthful color, perfumy aromas, dabs of berries and spice, plus a smooth, silky consistency.

Producer:  Lagoalva   
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Castelão and Touriga Nacional
Proprietary Term:  Espirito Tinto
Vintage:  2012       
Price:  $13   
Importer:  Winebow   
Score:  90
Review Copy:  A beautiful lush, plush full-bodied red with lip-smacking sweet, soft tannins, Espirito offers exceptional value.  Its clean, intense raspberry flavors are tremendously appealing.

Producer:  Alqueve / Pinhal da Torre   
Appellation:  Tejo
Country/Region:  Portugal
Grape Variety:  Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Trincadeira, Perquita
Proprietary Term:  Tradicion
Vintage:  2009
Price:  $12
Importer:  Robert Kacher
Score:  90   
Review Copy:  By using grapes that are usually associated with the Douro Port-making region, Pinhal da Torre has generated a superbly rich and elegant dry red wine, which shows both power and elegance and is complex and long on the palate.  The extra care given to the vineyard and in the winemaking process is evident in this very fine wine.  This producer makes a host of other red and white wines, and all of the ones I’ve tasted are outstanding.