When our friend Scott Eddy says, I’ve got a friend you must drink wine with in Portugal. We listened. That is how we found our way about ninety minutes outside Lisbon, on a vineyard tour in Alentejo, exploring Torre do Frade with its owner, Diogo. Before that we really didn’t even know what Alentejo wine was.
It did not take much distance from Lisbon for the countryside to open up. Although this was our second trip to Lisbon, we have never actually left Lisbon to explore the rest of Portugal. Other than Porto, and the Algarve, I do not know much about the countryside. I know even less about Portuguese wine, let alone Alentejo wine.
In fact, that morning, as we followed Diogo to his family’s country house, we did not even know where we were going. We just blindly followed a relative stranger to the Portuguese wine country with promises of a wine tasting at the end.
Alentejo Wine Region
Even before turning off the main highway, we started to notice the countryside change. The green grass, the occasional glimpse of vineyards, the lone trees in the middle of a field, which for some reason struck me. The spring weather, and dark clouds, added a mystique to the journey.
We turned off the highway, wound our way through a couple of towns, and passed the village of Montforte, before things became very, well rural.
Family History and Alentejo Wine
The Torre do Frade land has been part of the Albino family since 1839. At one point, the land was divided by inheritance among five children of the family. Four of those family branches have pooled their land and resources to create, what seemed to me, a little bit of an Alentejano wine and agriculture empire. Their land stretches as far as the eye can see, with fields of purple wild flowers, cattle, grains, and now wine.
But, the history of the land goes back even farther than that. The property where Torre do Frade lies has been inhabited since 1348, and for about 500 years was occupied by some monasteries of different orders. Ultimately, around 1839, members of Diogo’s family started to work the land, until the 1970’s when the land was lost to Communist reforms. After about five years, the property was returned to the family, when they began agriculture production once again. Diogo is part of the fourth generation of the family, and manages the Torre do Frade wine business.
Touring Torre do Frade
Of course, this is the short version of the Albino family history. We received a longer version of the story from Diogo as we toured the family home and additional buildings. He drove us throughout the property in his four wheel drive vehicle, bumping us around the countryside. Diogo showed such pride in the land, and what they have done, including the cultivation of several Alentejo wine varietals.
It was spring, so the vines were sparse, and the grapes were just babies, but I imagined what the vineyards would look like in the fall, with the white washed buildings in the background, and the hills beyond.
Tasting Torre do Frade’s Alentejo Wine
We compared Diogo’s Torre do Frade Viogner with their more modern label, Virgo. Then, Diogo proudly displayed a vertical tasting for us, where we try the same wine in different years over lunch.
Out came three bottles of the Torre do Frade red reserve wines, from 2005, 2006, and 2007. Each bottle contained a meritage of local Alentejo wine grapes including Trincadera, Alicante Bouchet, and Aragones.
Being unfamiliar with Alentejo wine, these words meant nothing to me. What was interesting to me, though, were the labels. The back of each bottle not only gave the grape varieties, which is common, but also the type of cork, whether the grapes were mechanically or hand harvested, how long it was aged in the barrel, and in the bottle. This was a trend I started to notice when we were learning about the wines in Costa Brava as well. To me, this was a demonstration of an artisan product, a family owned winery, focused on quality and attention to detail.
Each bottle displayed gold and silver labels showing off the awards the Torre do Frade wines have earned. Wine tasting is a personal experience. As we dined on beef cheek and other traditional Aletejano specialties, along with our other friend, Jason of Zipkick, each of us had our own favorite of the three wines in the vertical tasting.
If you are doing the count, yes, that was four people, five bottles of wine, and because Diogo had a bit of a cold, he did not drink all that much.
It was a truly unique experience, sitting in the family’s dining room, surrounded by family artifacts and photos, with a fire crackling next to us. We talked with Diogo about the history of his family and the direction he is taking the wines.
The Virgo brand has a unique marketing campaign unlike any one I have seen before. The label is black and white and allows drinkers to doodle and write what they are feeling as they drink the bottle. Each bottle is numbered, and if you send the label back to the company, you become part of the wine’s history. The current labels are loaded with pictures and messages from prior year’s drinkers.
Diogo’s goal is to encourage consumers to create an experience with the wine that focuses on how they feel when drinking Virgo wines, who they are with, and what memories are created. I like this way of looking at drinking wine.
Our unique Alentejo wine memory was created at that dining room table. Diogo spoke with great pride about Portuguese cuisine, as we ate our traditional lunch. We talked about all of the food we ate in Lisbon, the bifanas, the visits we made to the Mercado di Riberia.
We shared Eric’s disappointment in one dish, though. Eric declared that, although the Portuguese know how to cook meat, they should leave hamburgers to the Americans.
Diogo immediately stood up and declared in response “I will make you a good hamburger.” Despite the spread of food in front of us, Diogo marched to the kitchen and returned with four hamburgers and an apron, to grill them up in the fire place. It was pretty hysterical, as we all joked about having hamburgers for dessert, along with our award wining Torre do Frade Alentejo wine.
Although there is a tasting room that is opened to the public for wine tasting, by appointment only, we certainly received the inside tour of Torre do Frade that day. Diogo not only educated us about Alentejo wine, but also provided a unique perspective into the history of the region. It was a day I won’t soon forget.
Looking For Great Food and Wine Tours in Portugal?
And, for more Portuguese culinary travel inspiration, check out our Portugal food travel guide.[table id=6 /]
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For more tips on traveling for Alentejo wine and exploring Portugal through food, check out our Portugal Food Travel Guide.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.