“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
– Hans Christian Andersen
So I hit the Portuguese road. From Porto I went south and followed the coast, stopping at medieval towns and lonely villages that were far too beautiful to see from the driver’s seat. You’d need a lifetime to explore all the narrow cobbled-stoned streets of fishing towns that line the coast or walk the endless golden beaches. The Atlantic is mesmerizing. The bright blue of the sky melts into the deep blue of the ocean and I began to envision a life as a surfer, riding the waves like Keanu Reeves in Point Break. But wait, wine! The emails, the calls, the friends and favors – people were responding and seemed to be interested in receiving a Canadian wine blogger. In no time visits to Cortes de Cima Family Vineyards, Herdade de Mouchão and Herdade do Cebolal in Alentejo were confirmed and, come to think of it, I never really liked getting into wet suits anyway. So I went inland, following the sometimes bumpy, sometimes gnarly national highway instead of the smooth high-speed toll roads. I’m glad I did, though, because I drove through what seemed to be a painting of sorts: green rolling hills dotted with thousands of bushy brown cork trees, beautiful Alentejana horses and muscular cattle grazing the pastures under the immense blue Alentejo sky. I couldn’t help but want to get lost in so much beauty. The GPS indicated Vidigueira straight ahead, then a slight right past Selmes followed by a few more kilometres until Cortes de Cima Family Vineyards.
The drive into the property was lovely: tall pine trees lined the entrance, rows and rows of vines surrounded the property, funny little geese waddled around and jumped into the reservoir. I was greeted by José Eduardo, family friend, guide, IT, account manager (a man who wears many hats indeed) who directed me to the visitors centre and tasting room. Spacious, open, and beautifully decorated with oak barrels, large clay amphorae and a grand piano I sat down at the bar for our wine tasting. The bottles with their distinctive Cortes de Cima labels were lined up in a row: Chaminé 2014 white and Chaminé 2013 red, Cortes de Cima 2012, Cortes de Cima Syrah 2013, and Cortes de Cima Trincadeira 2013 (please see tasting notes below). Cortes de Cima Extra Virgin Olive Oil, olives and stone-oven traditional Alentejo bread accompanied the tasting. While I sipped and tasted the wines José told me about Hans and Carrie Jorgensen, their story and their journey, the Cortes de Cima wines and their winegrowing philosophy.
The Cortes de Cima story is one that captivates, especially for a traveller like me. This story begins where most stories in this part of the world begin: in a boat on the Atlantic. A coincidence combined with curiosity pushes two travellers, a Dane and an American, from the coast deep into the heart of the Alentejo to Vidigueira. Perhaps it was the beauty or maybe just a feeling, a special connection with that piece of land that made Hans and Carrie decide to settle and start a new life. In 1988 they started their project: building a dam for irrigation, growing various crops, planting vines (only 5 hectares at the time) and starting a family. But their story isn’t without the obstacles and hiccups of starting anew. As strangers in new lands, we bring our home in our hearts, as well as all those foreign (and fresh) ideas from our past lives. Carrie saw California in Alentejo and Hans saw reds instead of whites. Traditionally known as a region of white wine production, they planted reds instead. Defying the “Vinho Regional” rules too, which did not permit international grape varieties (they would have been forced to label their wines as “Grapes of Europe” table wines), they went ahead and planted Syrah anyway. Their rebelliousness paid off; the famous 1998 Incognito 100% Syrah received numerous awards and recognition internationally. And it was only a matter of time before the wine authorities permitted Syrah and other international grape varieties under the Vinho Regional label. Cortes de Cima put Syrah on the Portuguese map and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hans and Carrie continue with this innovative, forward-thinking, and experimental approach to wines and their brand. Today their property covers 400 hectares of which 150 hectares are under vine. There are also 50 hectares of olive groves and 70 hectares of forests. The grape varieties are both Portuguese and international varieties: Aragonez (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon (reds) and Antão Vaz, Alvarinho, Verdelho, Gouveio, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay (whites). (And it was whispered to me that they will be releasing a Pinot Noir this year!). Their vineyards are both inland in Vidigueira and in the coastal area of Odemira about 3kms from the Atlantic, also still in Alentejo. The grapes benefit from the warm bright Alentejo sun, with temperatures reaching 40C in the summer (in Vidigueira), while the ocean breezes allow for optimal ripening in the evening. Soils are predominately clay with limestone. Hans and his team study the area, the soils, and the climatic conditions of their property so that they can produce quality grapes that are have achieved phenolic ripeness. As José pointed out, “When we release our wines, they are ready for consumption.” That is, they produce wines that are fresh and fruit-forward wines that don’t require years of bottle ageing. The easy-to-drink Chaminé, also known as “the guy that pays the bills” which accounts for 80% of total Cortes de Cima wine production, is ready to sip and savor. However, some of their top wines can improve with further years of ageing and have the potential to age beautifully, according to José.
Cortes de Cima is very much present in the online world. In 2000 they created their website in both English and Portuguese and were the first winery in Portugal to start online ordering. In 2008 they shifted their attention to social media and are now present in everything from Twitter, Instagram, YouTube (they have some lovely and informative videos that are worth checking out), Facebook, Flickr – you name it.
The rest of my visit was in the winery, the cellar, and of course the vineyards. By far one of the larger wineries I’ve visited yet, the Cortes de Cima winery is impressive in its size and production – did I mention they produce 2 million bottles per year? We walked through the winery: destemmers, crushers, and massive stainless steel tanks towered above us. We made our way to the barrel cellar, where the medium to top wines are aged in both American and French barrels. They are also currently testing amphorae for ageing and storing (although I’m not quite sure if any wines have been released). And then finally to the vineyards. The 150 hectares of vines are farmed under the Integrated Protection program, which permits a soft chemical spraying only when needed. They are currently testing some parcels of organic vines, however, there are no plans to release any ‘certified organic’ wines as of yet. Hans and Carrie do focus on sustainability; the use of cover crops and natural compost ensure biodiversity in the vineyards, while they are completely self-sufficient in their water needs, only getting water from their reservoirs. The winery is 95% powered by solar energy, with solar panels dispersed throughout the property capturing all that bright Alentejo sun. As much as I wished to explore the 150 hectares of vines under that beautiful sky, I’m sure José had better things to do. We said our goodbyes and I took a little walk through the vines, snapped some pictures and took in the Alentejo air. Time seems to stop out there. But the road calls on…
For those of you curious about visiting this part of the world, Cortes de Cima offers guided wine tastings from 5euros to 25euros from Monday to Friday. Prior booking is required.
I leave you now with some tasting notes.
Saude and happy travelling!
2014 CHAMINE WHITE *
37% Verdelho, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Antão Vaz, 15% Viognier
This is a blend of both Portuguese and international varieties with grapes from vineyards in both inland Alentejo and along the coast. The result is a fresh, crisp and clean white wine. It is light-bodied with lots of stone-fruit, minerality and refreshing acidity. A greatly priced entry level wine, this wine screams summer patio. 13% abv
2013 CHAMINE RED *
35% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 30% Syrah, 15% Touriga Nacional, 15% Alicante Bouschet, 5% Trincadeira
Known as the ‘guy that pays the rent’, this unoaked blended red goes down way too easy. It has a beautiful ruby-reddish color. On the nose, it displays wonderful aromas of dark plums, ripe red fruit and cherries. On the palate there is excitingly spicy red fruit, great structure with firm tannins along the sides of the mouth and medium bodied. There is a slight tingle from the alcohol, but mellows out. Clean, fresh and ready to drink now. 13.5% abv
2012 CORTES DE CIMA *
40% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 35% Syrah, 15% Touriga Nacional, 10% Petit Verdot
This blended red spends about 8 to 12 months in both French (80%) and American barrels (20%). It has an intense beet-reddish color and is invitingly aromatic. On the nose, there is a mix of red and black berries, earthiness with some subtle hints of vanilla. On the palate, it has wonderful layers of spicy red fruit, subtle oak flavors, great complexity and silky tannins. It’s very well-balanced with great acidity from start to finish, and nice long finish. Another really great value for money kind of wine. 14% abv
*Available in Ontario through Kirkwood Diamond Canada
2013 CORTES DE CIMA SYRAH
The signature wine of Cortes de Cima with a total production of 50,000 bottles a year. It spends 8 months ageing in mainly French oak (10% American oak). Deep and intense ruby color and exciting aromas of black berries, red ripe fruit, plums, pepper and spice. At first sip, it’s an explosion of fruit then to a lingering spice. The tannins are smooth and complemented with bright acidity. This wine is lively and fun but also offers great depth and complexity. Great for sipping but better with food. 14% abv Outstanding
2013 CORTES DE CIMA TRINCADEIRA
Trinca-wha? Like the name, it’s a wine that you have think about and try again and again. Also known as Tinta Amarela in Northern Portugal, it’s a fussy grape that requires lots of TLC and usually one that is used in a blend. But in true Cortes de Cima avant-garde fashion, here it’s a single variety wine that has a medium ruby color, not too intense. There are fruits and berries immediately, but also lots of earthy tones and some herbaceous aromas like green pepper. It is very elegant, medium body and well-integrated tannins. Refreshing acidity and lingering taste of fruits as the finish. 14% abv