As a wine producing country, Portugal is famous for its fortified wines (port), rather than its classical non-fortified offerings. But when you realise Port starts out as a rich complex base wine in the first place and often a finely honed blend of grape varieties, it seems odd to me that their still wines have been overlooked for so long (at least in terms of world exposure/opinion).
Which is where our host for the evening, Peter Bright, comes in. He’s an Australian wine maker that settled in Portugal in early 80s and has been steadily working at upping their game ever since.
Alongside flying around the world to help small wine makers produce consistently high quality wines for their supermarket partners, in 2004 he set up Terra d’Alter wines in the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal; located in the north east of the southern half of the country, hoping to showcase the numerous grape varieties unique to Portugal… resulting in a broad range of distinct but rewardingly complex and modestly priced wines.
Speaking of which… time to get down to business!
Terra d’Alter Branco 2013 (£8.99)
We started out with the producers entry level white, a blend of 45% Siria, 45% Arinto and 10% Viognier… so with the exception of Viognier, the evenings theme of grape varieties I’d never heard of was of to a good start!
A clear pale lemon coloured wine with green flecks luring within, similar to a Sauvignon Blanc though that’s where the comparison ends, and an aroma of fresh citrus (Lemon and grapefruit) and stone fruits (Peach) with a faint whiff of light yeast from a small amount of lees ageing. On the palate this wine has a good high acidity to balance the weight of concentrated grapefruit and peach that dominate its viscous texture (thanks to the Viognier). Fresh prickly spice persists throughout, lying at the heart of this wine with an exotic tropical dry lychee that has bitter twist in its tail for the long dry finish.
For an entry-level wine, this has far more going for it than almost anything else I can think of… a comprehensive package that ticks every box I’d want it to. Good aromatics, good concentration of fruit and an intriguing finish that demands another taste.
Terra d’Alter Alvarinho 2013 (10.99)
Alvarinho, known in Spain as Albariño, is an expressive grape variety with a huge amount of personality to it and one whose presence on our supermarket shelves and wine lists has been increasing over the last few years.
A pale straw coloured wine with a green edge and an aroma of intense tropical fruit (pineapple, guava and banana), elderflower and an herbal edge. The palate has sky high but controlled acidity, creating a swift almost fizzy attack of concentrated grapefruit, lime and pineapple that assault the senses with a yeasty mid-palate viscosity thanks to some extended lees ageing. There’s a wide vein of minerality winding through this wine that lends much needed structure and helps to keep things focused through the long waxy lemon peel finish.
If you’re a fan of powerful distinct white wines like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and are looking for something that isn’t, then I highly recommend you give a good Alvarinho (Albarino) a try… and this is a very good example.
Terra d’Alter Reserva Branco 2013 (£11.99)
This latest vintage is so hot of the press I had to write to the vineyard after the tasting just to find out what was in it… which will teach me to pay more attention on the night! Though in my defence I was helping to pour the wines and was focused more at the time on aiming wine into a glass rather than someone lap, than memorising this particular grape blend. I still haven’t heard from Terra d’Alter but the wine has arrived and the back of the bottle tells me the blend is Siria, Verdelho, Arinto & Viognier… I’ll update with more information as soon as I get access to the technical specs.
It’s a light straw coloured wine with a complex aroma of creamy citrus (Lemon, grapefruit), tropical (Pineapple) and stone fruits (peach, apricot). This is a full-bodied white that stretches across whole breadth of the palate with a high acidity cutting through layers of concentrated dried stone fruits, yeasty lees goodness and creamy almond and butter from the oak ageing. Fear not though ye of oak aversion… the effects are predominantly ones of creamy texture and body; certainly no woody characteristics come through to mar the wine and the finish is full of dried apricot and cream… which is cause for celebration by itself.
According to the producer this is a wine that will continue to develop in the bottle significantly over time. Considering how good this is now, colour me eager to see where it goes from here and all this for £12 a bottle… dang!
Terra d’Alter Tinto 2013 (£8.99)
Our first red of the evening is the sister/brother wine to the first wine of night, this time a blend of 45% Aragonês, 45% Trincadeira and 10% Syrah… which is a traditional red blend for the region, the Syrah being added to bring a little extra richness and weight.
A bright deep ruby coloured wine with an aroma of toasty mineral edged red berry fruit (red & black cherry, redcurrant), plum and a hint of spice. On the palate there’s a clean acidity, fine integrated tannins and intense crunchy red fruit (cherry, raspberry, cranberry), impressive in its concentration and distribution across the palate. The finish is decent and filled with vanilla and sour cherry to round things out.
Like the first wine, this entry-level red blend is an embarrassment of riches, food friendly and a bargain by any and every definition.
Terra d’Alter Alfrocheiro 2012 (£10.99)
Next up we come to another grape variety I’ve never encountered before, Alfrocheiro who’s many synonyms include ‘Tinta Bastardinha’… translated as the ‘Red Bastard’, so named for its powerful colour and intense fruit character. The tannins are also typically huge, which is why you don’t often see varietal wines made with Alfrocheiro; most producers content to lean on the variety for the properties it brings to a blend.
Intense deep ruby coloured wine with an aroma of ripe black fruits (Morello cherry), dried raisin Christmas cake fruits and a Toasty charcoal minerality. On the palate this is a huge wine with powerful concentrated black fruits (black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry) and a clean bright acidity that cuts through like a knife. It has a huge finish with warming complex layers of vanilla, tobacco leaf and hint of cedar.
This is the wine that reminds me most of Port and by any standards incredible value for £11… NOM!
Terra d’Alter Aragonez 2011 (£10.99)
The last wine of the night was (in spite of the single varietal label) a blend of 97% Aragonez and 3% Viognier… so in a way it’s a Portuguese variant on the classic Northern Rhone Cote Rôtie blend of Syrah/Viognier.
So why add a white grape to a red wine in the first place?
Well, when it works well (not always a given by any means), the Viognier acts mainly to lift the aromatics of the wine and add a perfumed edge to it, which I can testify this wine has in spades! As I was walking around the room pouring the wine, its aroma literally rose up to me in waves out of the bottle and the glasses I was pouring it into.
It has a vibrant deep ruby colour and an intense aroma of ripe red fruits (cherry, strawberry, raspberry), chocolate and cream… think strawberry’s and cream with chocolate shavings on top. The acidity is high but balanced and tannins are integrated but still have some powdery grip to them, serving to frame the intense concentration of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant) on the palate and work alongside the chalky mineral streak winding through to the long Strawberries and vanilla cream finish.
Usually I’m a fan of huge powerful wines and the Alfrocheiro was an excellent example of one, but the balance and clarity of this Aragonez/Viognier blend was so good it came away as my favourite of the night.
In conclusion… I was impressed with the wines of Terra d’Alter to say the least. To produce a range of wines this good is one thing but to do so at this price point is special.
Highly recommended one and all.
Thank you for reading and please let me know your thoughts… I need all the feedback I can get over here.