Terroir and Politics Collide

Portugal maybe a small county but the Alentejo is a huge region. This week I have driven the length and breadth of the region taking about two hours to drive east-west and four hours north-south. It occured to me whilst driving south to the Algarve that the Baixo Alentejo south of Beja (where it wasn't raining) has very little in common with the north around Portalegre and yet we are all lumped together in the same huge Vinho Regional Alentejano category. There are of course some smaller DOCs like Portalegre, Borba and Reguengos but these are political constructs rather than a representation of the terroir. Portalegre for example covers the granite and schist of the Serra de São Mamede which rises to over 1,000 metres as well as the more arid plains as far west as Crato. For the Alentejo to make more sense on a label it needs dividing into four sub-regions: Alto Alentejo from the Tejo to the Serra d’Ossa (including Portalegre), Alentejo Central from the Serra d’Ossa to the Serra do Mendro, Baixo Alentejo from the Serra do Mendro to the Algarve and Alentejo Litoral for the coastal region. Producers in the latter region have already formed their own association, Vinhos da Costa Alentejana. The irony here is that many of these producers are not offcially considered to be in the Alentejo at all but Peninsula de Setúbal. This is because they happen to be in the administrative district of Setúbal which dips south of the Sado estuary. The whole political construct debases the concept of demarcated regions which originated in Portugal in 1755.