People + Wine

02023-04-23 | Photos, Portugal, Wine | 9 comments

There are about a dozen wine growing areas in Portugal. I learned that wine culture in this country developed in relative isolation and thus there are over 250 indigenous varieties of grapes, most of which we are not familiar with.

I have tried wine from a few of the regions. There is the Douro valley, east of Porto, which is probably the most famous, the Dão region, southeast of Porto, and Tejo, near Lisbon – Tejo is the Portuguese name of the river that is called Tagus in English. There is also the Alentejo.

I think some of the tinto (red wine) from Alentejo is really special. Some restaurants or shops might try to steer you towards wine from Douro or Dão, simply because those wines are delicious and easy to like. But if you insist they might bring you a wine from the Alentejo. I have heard the phrase, not for beginners, a couple of times.

There are lots of small grocery stores all over Lisbon. Every neighborhood has a few. They can exist alongside big supermarket chains, like Auchan and Continental, because they offer a special hand picked selection of items. Comida Independente, for example, is where I found Nosso Chá, the organic tea grown in Portugal, that was mentioned in this post. Because most of the inventory in the little mercearias is handpicked, the staff is also quite knowledgable about it. I went to a small such store in my neighborhood and asked for a bottle of red wine for around 20€. I believe a bottle of wine from Douro was recommended. It was good. I went back and asked for a bottle of red from the Alentejo. It’s not for beginners, they said. I smiled and said I understood. I had had a lovely glass of tinto from the Alentejo in a restaurant and knew what they meant. Ah, they said and pulled a bottle from the smaller Alentejo section. It was a bottle from this winery. It is my favorite wine and at a price I can afford, they said. That sounded good to me. I bought the wine, and some chocolate, and a week later I went back and bought a second bottle. I liked it a lot.

IMG 8910

The wine reminded me of some bottles I have had from the Priorat region near Barcelona. (also see this post from 2008) The vines are dry-farmed there and because of the water level underground, the roots have to work extra hard. Instead of having to go down just a few feet they have to drill down 20 feet. That struggle makes the wine more intense. I am guessing that the vines in Alentejo are involved in a similar struggle.

That struggle is the reason for this post… people are just like wine! We try to avoid struggle, which is only natural, but it is the struggle that makes us sweet. I learned this time and time again. The people who move me the most are people who weathered a storm, and sometimes multiple storms. There is something in the struggle, the rising against a tide, the moving forward instead of resigning, that alters them and makes them glow with… something. Take a look at Roshi Joan Halifax’s photos from Tibet – you can find some of them here. Roshi takes amazing photos of people. This is a favorite image. Just looking at the person makes you smile, doesn’t it?

This does not mean that I wish strife and struggle on anyone but perhaps we can remember, when we do have to struggle, that the struggle might turn us into a fine wine.


  1. Jane Kettlewell

    I am blessed to represent Alentejo wines here in the U.S. and so enjoyed reading your reflection today. From the observation that the Portuguese wine industry developed in relatively isolation, which certainly applies to the Alentejo region, to the quip about “Alentejo wines not being for beginners,” to the conclusion that Alentejo wines, like Priorat, must have evolved with struggle — all so perceptive. The struggles faced by Alentejo vs Priorat are rather different, but challenge has been a constant for both. While climate change is a challenge the world over, in Alentejo, a region that routinely racks up the hottest summertime temperatures in southern Europe, climate change takes on another dimension. Thank you for your thoughtful and enjoyable article.

  2. Ole Eichhorn

    Agree entirely, was introduced to Alentejo by a restaurant sommelier in the Algarve last summer. Portugal’s wine is excellent and the variety is amazing. Worthy of more study :)

    • ottmar

      It’s hard work but someone has got to do it… :-)

    • JaneParham

      My wine delight is Port, of course it is the essence of Portugal, even named for the place it originated – Porto, Portugal.

      My great experience with Port was at a lovely restaurant in Porto. The generous Maitre d’ brought several bottles of the delicious stuff and sat down with us. He explained each bottle and poured us samples. A 10 year old tawny, on and on. But I had never before tasted anything as heavenly as the 20 year old Port – velvety smooth, gentle, so yummy, and a warming effect that truly felt like a healing presence!

      That’s also where I discovered the wonder of delicious barnacles. We ate such a pile of them. Ah, Portugal!

      • ottmar

        Did you know there is white porto? I did not know this and had it for the first time tonight.

        • JaneParham

          Mmmmm. Can you give me an idea what it was like?

    • Luna

      Hmm…very interesting about wine & their soil, root depth, and overall chemistry. I am definitely not a seasoned appreciator of the taste of wines (a total beginner by Portuguese or anyone’s standards;), yet studied & practiced aromatherapy for decades. Smell/scent is my vice. The chemistry, roots, soil, watering, even elevation of these different wine grape regions is fascinating–its so amazing to appreciate the different ways of trees & plants and how they adapt special colors, tastes, textures, chemistries–alkaline or acidic, shapes, sizes, smells, and different healing properties for humans and other creatures when grown in different areas. I’ve explored only a bit of Portugal North of Lisbon, coastal and inland valleys, and encountered what you speak about…and the overall vegetation, plant life is incredible…so I would guess that the wine grapes are too. My interest while i was there was with the Olive Oil and the Portuguese olive tree groves! One adventure included an impromptu (had to practice asking in Portugish), late afternoon (after siesta) full tour of a family run olive oil distillery…oh it was great! The smell of the delicious oil they make, i wanted to take a bath in it! Children running around playing and having fun, olive oil leakage everywhere, old folks eating and talking on the patio, and the huge vats of this Divine oil everywhere! I had no idea that they even saved the pits and made a mulch out of it to put back around the surface of the trees…yep, I could definitely see myself having an olive grove/running an “olive oil distillery”, alongside an avocado orchard! But the cool thing they shared was that the olives come from collective family groves in the region…which means that many olives from different trees from different soils are used to make their family’s olive oil! What a beautiful collaboration! No two batches are the exact same…I guess like wines…
      Which leads me to the point of “it is the struggle that makes us sweet.” So beautiful are Roshi’s pictures. They do capture the essence of what you speak about…and the visualization of roots having to go deeper for water, like a person having to transcend their “previous self and go deeper inside” for connection with “source” and “growth thru something”, back to HeartJoy again. Seems like the distilling process of a plant for its true divine scent essence…plucked, dismembered, thrown in a vat and kind of “cooked”, then has to “sit still” and “age.” The sitting still in the liquid mixture seems to accentuate the activation process of pulling out the magic of the scent…even if it’s only a simple lavender oil…the “process of struggle” is very special for each batch, from the elevation+soil chemistry its grown in, to this distilling process, to the final outcome. Whew! For me, the take away is not about “my perception of how they handled its/their struggle or not”, it’s more about the clarity of feeling I get in smelling and being around that essential oil/person. HeartJoy does not lie…albeit it doesn’t always “see” either.

  3. Y.

    Did they have a chasen/whisk?

    • ottmar

      They did not. Will bring one next time.


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