Joao Portugal Ramos Vinho Regional Alentejano Vila Santa Syrah 2013
João Portugal Ramos is Portugal’s most famous winemaker. Before he began making his own wines, he was a pioneering wine consultant widely considered Portugal’s Pierro Antinori or Emile Peynaud (The New York Times). His many accolades include winning 2010 Personality of the Year and 2006 Producer of the Year (Essencia do Vinho); 2010 Viticulture Team of the Year, 2000 Winemaker of the Year, and 1998 Company of the Year (Revista de Vinhos); 1999 & 2004 Winemaker of the Year and 2004 Producer of the Year (Vin & Mat, Sweden); 2004 Newcomer of the Year (Wein Gourmet, Germany); and the 2008 Prize for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture). In the decades that Ramos has consulted, he almost single-handedly opened Portuguese winemaking to the benefits of modern technologies with an emphasis on low yields, occasional oak aging, and the preservation of a grape’s natural fruit flavors. In 1990, he decided it was time to start creating his own wine and he began planting vineyards in Alentejo around his new winery, Vila Santa. J. Portugal Ramos’s 1250 acres of vineyard are located near the ancient marble-filled town of Estremoz in Alentejo. The schist and limestone-clay soil, combined with the region’s Continental climate, create ideal conditions for growing grapes. Ramos’s wines quickly met critical acclaim, and he expanded his vineyards to select locations in Tejo, Beiras and the Douro. His most recent project is a crisp, fruity Vinho Verde called Lima, in tribute to the iconic river that runs through the region. Lima is a welcome addition to Ramos’s collection, each member of which can be identified by a signature insistence on quality, balance and expression of terroir. Ramos draws from his decades of experience to carefully create a range of wines. Depending on the provenance and variety of the grape, Ramos employs temperature-controlled vinification in steel tanks or traditional foot-treading in marble lagares, followed by aging in barrique to add richness of character. For all his wines, he employs advanced quality-control systems that have set the standard in Portugal. Born to a family with a long history of wine production, internationally acclaimed oenologist João Portugal Ramos was awarded a degree in agronomy from El Instituto Superior de Agronomia (Higher Institute of Agronomy) in 1977. After receiving a work placement at the National Winegrowing Station at Dois Portos from 1977 to 1978, he embarked on a career as an oenologist. As a consultant, he has played a significant role in the development of some of Portugal’s most notable wines. These successes have won him many awards and accolades throughout his career and brought him national and international acclaim as one of the main figures responsible for the development of Portuguese wines during the last 20 years.
Responsible for a majority of Portugal’s fine wine production—and over half of the world’s cork production—Alentejo represents a major force in Portugal’s wine industry. This southern Portugese region is characterized by stretches of rolling plains and vineyards dotted with majestic cork oaks. Access to land enables the farmers of Alentejo to produce wines in great economies of scale, without compromising quality, compared to those regions to the north. The region of Alentejo indeed covers a third of the country.
Its classified (DOP) wines must come from one of eight subregions, where elevations are a bit higher, air cooler and less fertile soils are perfect for vines. The optimal regions are Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira, Evora and Moura. Alentejo is not without the conveniences of modern winemaking as well. Irrigation supplements low rainfall and temperature control in the winery assures high quality wines.
The potential of the area has attracted many producers and its wine production continues to grow. Alentejo’s charming, fruit-forward wines have naturally led to local and global popularity.
White wines tend to be blends of Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Arinto. However, in growing proportions, the white grapes Verdelho, Alvarinho and Viognier have been enjoying success. But red varieties actually exceed whites in Alentejo. Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Castelão grapes blend well together and are responsible for most of the Alentejo reds.
Marked by an unmistakable deep purple hue and savory aromatics, Syrah accounts for a good deal of some of the most intense, powerful and age-worthy reds in the world. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah still achieves some of its maximum potential here, especially from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah also plays an important component in the canonical Southern Rhône blends based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, adding color, depth, complexity and structure to the mix. Today these blends have become well-appreciated from key appellations of the New World, namely Australia, California and increasingly, with praise, from Washington.
In the Glass
Syrah typically shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper and even bacon, smoke or black olive. In Australia, where it goes under the name Shiraz, it produces deep, dark, intense and often, jammy reds. While Northern Rhône examples are typically less fruity and more earthy, California appears increasingly capable of either style.
Flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb, grilled meats, spareribs and hard, aged cheeses are perfect with Syrah. Blue cheeses are perfect with a dense and fruit-driven Australian Shiraz.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” winemakers throughout the world have adopted this synonym for Syrah when they have produced a plush and fruit forward wine made in the Australian style. As an aside, Australians are also fond of tempering their fruit-forward Shiraz by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds depth and structure.