A winemaker who uses unfamiliar grapes to make unfamiliar wines in an unfamiliar region, Sandra Alves is producing tastes considered not only new but intriguing and sensual as well. Still, the young white-wine winemaker at the huge and complex Herdade do Esporão winery in Portugal’s Alentejo region says, “I try to keep things as simple as possible.”
Alves grew up virtually in her family’s vineyard near Portugal’s famed Douro Valley and knew from an early age she wanted to be a winemaker. After receiving her degrees — including an M.B.A. in viticulture, oenology and marketing — she worked in various wineries before becoming the winemaker responsible for the white wines of Esporão.
Alentejo, the setting of the Esporão winery, is a large, hot, dry, remote region about 110 miles east of Lisbon. While the Esporão estate dates back more than 700 years, its history as a winery began in 1973 when the property was purchased and started its evolution into winemaking. It bottled its first wines in 1985. Today, with more than 1,200 acres devoted to vineyards, Esporão is the largest and best-known winery in Alentejo.
Grapes indigenous to Portugal are the base of Alves’ wines. To make Esporão’s Monte Velho 2011 ($10), she blended Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Perrum to produce a well-balanced wine that is fresh and intensely fruity with remarkable acidity for a hot-climate wine.
Esporão Private Selection 2011 ($25), a blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Semillon grapes — the last a French grape and the only non-native Portuguese one in the mix — balances its aroma of ripe fruits with a firm acidity, again wonderfully maintained despite the hot climate.
Most impressive is Esporão Reserva White 2011 ($20), a combination of Arinto, Antão Vaz and Roupeiro that makes a full-bodied wine offering rich fruit flavors, especially citris fruits. There are hints of its time in oak, and it has a delicious lingering finish.
And finally, a wine made 100 percent of one grape with a reasonably familiar name. Esporão’s Verdelho 2011 ($13), produced totally from Verdelho, is round-textured, refreshing and abundant in melon and tropical fruit flavors.
All ideal wines to enjoy on a balmy July day.
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