Sadly, we had to omit the famous Douro Valley area north of Lisbon since it was in the opposite direction we planned to travel. To make up for that omission, we made sure to order many representative bottles of wine at the restaurants we had lunch and dinner at. We didn’t miss many chances to sample and enjoy as much wine as we could no matter where we were.
What was fun about the wineries we chose to visit was getting there. Bill would plug the address into his Google Maps, set his phone on the dash of our rented car and off we went. We’d exit the main freeways and pass through country fields, pass through rural villages and eventually find our way to a beautiful little estate or a spectacular, modern designed tasting room. I love seeing the countryside and getting out to meet working people at these places was an added bonus. They’re so ready to not only tell you about their wines but also about their family history, the local geography and the development of their site. We met so many nice people who paused to chat with us and really went out of their way to not just talk up their wines but to educate us about wines, ask about how we chose their winery and also find out about our lives and where we’d traveled from.
We came away learning many things that are probably better shared over a glass of wine but I’ll list a few quick things that stood out for us. We may not have always like the wines we sampled, but we always learned – even if learning meant that we didn’t like that wine. That’s a very valid part of tasting wines. You learn what you like and what you don’t, all the while keeping an open mind to the new style of wine that you were tasting.
- In Portugal, we learned that there were many varieties of grapes we’d never heard of so learning the names was our first lesson. That being said, the king of grapes used for Portuguese wine and the grape that stands out as uniquely Portuguese is the Turiga Nacional. They certainly grow all the well known grapes too, but this one makes a clear statement that it’s Portuguese. Turiga Nacional came across to me as being similar to a Merlot. It had medium tannins and normally it was pretty full bodied. Not necessarily fruity but it did have slight hints of blackberry and plum. We found that we really liked these wines a lot.
- We took our hotel’s recommendation to visit the Schatz Winery in Southern Spain when the one we had planned to visit was closed for a private tour. This was a lesson to be flexible in our plans and not be disappointed when something doesn’t work as scheduled. We ended up going to the Schatz Winery. Owner run and operated by Federico Schatz and his wife Roccella since 1982, this was a real gem. They currently bottle 6 types of wine made from the grapes from their own vineyard that surrounds their home and warehouse: Lemberger, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Muskattrollinger*, Tempranillo, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our favorite was the Pinot Noir but we bought several others too. All were very good. Along with the wines though, what was special was that Federico and his wife gave us a personal tour and tasting and then let us stroll around their finca (farm) to soak up the gorgeous views of his gardens, the vineyards and his beautiful swimming pool. Thank goodness we followed up on this recommendation.
- We learned that local policemen set up speed traps and sobriety stops near wineries. Do not speed! They don’t need a patrol car, only a hand held radar gun and an officer to flag you over. One such stop was in Portugal. After visiting the winery, we took several back roads to avoid being stopped at that checkpoint. This was a smart thing for us to do!
- In Italy, we visited the Marchesi Antinori winery. The architecture in this place could easily have been the background of a James Bond movie set with its sweeping open air, steel expanses and staircases that wind up to overhead vineyards cut right into the hillside. It was here that we learned probably the best ‘take-away’ about Italian wine. Chianti Classico must come from grapes grown in the region between Florence and Siena. That’s the law. Secondly, Chianti is only made using the Sangiovese grape. Other grapes can be blended into some of the more popular recent wines called Tuscan and Super Tuscan wines ( Sangiovese blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, for example) but Chianti had to be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. Having said that, overall, Bill and I did not find the Chianti’s to our liking. We tried many. They’re a bit drier and had far less of a fruit flavor than we were looking for. We gave it our best try, trying these and other Chianti wines in Italy but for now, we would probably tend to shy away from Chianti. They were good, just not our favorites. What we did end up liking a lot was Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Its is a red wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano, Italy. The wine is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape varietal (minimum 70%), blended with Canaiolo Nero (10%–20%) and small amounts of other local varieties such as Mammolo. I recently saw it on a wine menu at a good Italian restaurant back here in the states so it is available and will be my choice for an Italian red for a while.
We learned so much more that are best described by actually tasting the wines. And its a whole lot more fun that reading about them, isn’t it?
I’ll wrap this up by listing the wineries we visited and including a few photos too. The last tip I’ll pass along is this: Keep drinking until you find your favorite!
- Quinta da Bacalhôa. Setúbal, Portugal.
- Quinta dos Vales, Algarve, Portugal
- Adega Mayor, Campo Maior, Portugal
- Bodega F. Schatz, Ronda, Málaga, Spain
- Marchesi Antinori, Bargino, Italy
- Avignonesi, Valiano, near Montipulciano, Italy