Wine Tours in Ireland? Not exactly! And Ireland may not be the first country that springs to mind when you think of a gourmet vacation. However we have noticed a massive shift towards food awareness and artisan production (cheese, smokehouses, rare whiskeys, etc) in Ireland in the last few years (Des is Irish and we visit Ireland regularly). One of Slow Food’s most active chapters is Ireland, farmers markets have been rejuvenated in many towns, gourmet festivals are sprouting up like mushrooms and cooking classes are all the rage. Pair all of this with huge investments for renovations of historic manor homes and hotels taking place throughout Ireland and it didn’t take us long to decide that Ireland could be a very interesting location for our food and wine loving clients.
So here we are, in Cork, Ireland for the summer, doing research trips for the best part of 6 weeks to visit whiskey distilleries, famous and up and coming restaurants, castles, and new stylish boutique hotels, tidy towns and fishing villages to find the creme de la creme suppliers for our new tours. Keep an eye out for our site inspection notes which will be posted throughout the summer! Oh, and we did actually here rumors of wine being made somewhere near Kinsale, more on that later….
Portugal´s romantic wine region of Alentejo is a huge area stretching north to south, characterized by its soft rolling hills, wild beaches, cork forests and olive groves. Punctuating the landscape are an array of Arabic castles and medieval towns in surprisingly amazing condition. Alentejo is a beautiful region seemingly trapped in time and due to the history of the last hundred years (when most people abandoned the countryside for the cities), it is not marred by the nasty architecture or the 1960´s and 70´s that you find in other regions. It really does look like it must have centuries ago, and it supremely atmospheric. The most northern main town is Portalegre and in the south, Beja. The cultural epicenter of Alentejo is Évora, a Unesco heritage protected town with a whitewashed historic center, numerous stunning churches and treasures, and an Ancient Roman Temple, dedicated to the goddess Diana. Driving around the region you will pass gentle hills and miles and miles of cork forests, as well as dry arid landscapes that look look like a scene in the movie “Out of Africa”.
Alentejo is also the region making Portugal´s most exciting dry wines, real knockouts. Expect “monster reds” and rich, heavy whites. Portuguese grapes used in Alentejo include (WHITE) Arinto and Antao Vaz, and (RED) Alicante Bouschet, Aragones and Alfrocheiro. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, international varietals, are also widely used. Leading estates include the superb Cortes de Cima, the one-and-only Esporão (who apart from excellent wines make amazing olive oil and cheese), Quinta do Carmo (owned by Bordeaux´s Rothschilds), Joao Portugal Ramos, Herdade das Servas, beautiful Monte da Ravasqueira, the lovely estate of Monte Seis Reis, and the fabulous Tapada dos Colheiros. Alentejo has always had quite a massive amount of international investment and foreign flying winemakers and recent projects and additions include Sonho Lusitano´s Richard Mayson (ex- wine writer for Decanter magazine); Australian Alison Gomes at Azamor; and Quinta do Zambujeiro (owned by Emil Stricker, a Swissman based in Singapore, how´s that for international??)
WHAT TO DO- Visit wine estates and do some touring and tasting (some are open to the general public if you book the visit beforehand) or contact us if you would like a private luxury chauffeured tour; stay a few nights in Évora and visit the outrageous and creepy Capela dos Ossos (Bones Chapel), taste some vinho in the enoteca right next door to the Pousada, and soak up the historic atmosphere; Don´t miss beautiful Marvão (one of our favorite places in Portugal!) with its castle and breathtaking views over the valley (there is a colony of eagles here); the whitewashed hamlet of Estremoz, with its many wineries; the ancient Jewish town of Castelo do Vide; the medieval castle in Évoramonte; the olive oil museum and castle in Moura; learn how to cook traditional Alentejo cuisine at the Refugio da Vila.
To visualize the region, here is a video (in Portuguese) that features top winery Esporão (an interview with the winemaker), and some great photography of this wine estate, the wine country and Alentejo
WHERE TO STAY- Without a doubt, the best place to stay is the gorgeous, luxurious 5* Convento do Espinheiro in Évora with a terrific restaurant, spa and sprawling country grounds; for unbelievable romance, lucury and escaping from it all (really, as this hotel is in the middle of nowhere!), the Pousada Flor de Rosa in Crato is exquisite;
WHERE TO EAT- “Must Eats” include the Restaurante Adega do Isaías in Estremoz, rustic, wonderful and “the” place for pork; the wonderful refined restaurant at the Esporão wine estate, Divinus restaurant at the Convento do Espinheiro hotel in Évora; for non nonsense trad cooking, Restaurante Sever in Marvao. Typical local dishes include Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork with clams and cilantro) and “Migas” (breadcrumbs fried with chourizo. Check out info on Alentejo gastronomy here.