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Portugal's Alentejo
Part 7: Mouchão

Mouchão is a wonderful estate, but perhaps a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it has the most traditional winery you can imagine; on the other, the vineyards have a fairly  elaborate modern-styled double trellising system (see picture above). To understand this apparent paradox, we have to look at the recent-ish history of the Herdade

Mouchão has been owned by the Reynolds family since the mid-19th century, when Thomas Reynolds set out south from Porto to the Alentejo in search of a cork estate. He found Mouchão, all 900 hectares of it. Even today the estate is mostly cork grove, with a bit of vineyard - although its the wine that it is known for.

In 1974 revolution, the Alentejo region became the setting for a rural uprising, and as part of this the Mouchão estate was taken over by the locals, who formed the 25th April Co-operative (see the barrel, pictured right). Two things happened: the vineyards were trashed and a lot of the wine stored here was drunk. The property was restored to the family, who came back in 1985/86 and started a rebuilding program. Thus the vineyards have been completely replanted, but the winery has been left more-or-less alone, because the quality of the wine here was already well established.

Inside the winery: the doors open to receive the grapes, which go into the stone lagar, where fermentation occurs with foot treading: a gentle method of extraction. From here the wine is pressed and racked off into large barrels (each holding a couple of thousand litres), or the barriques shown here on the left. 

When the revolution occurred there were 34 hectares of vines, and the goal is to bring the vineyard area back to this level. A significant feature of the Herdade is the high proportion of Alicante Bouschet grown here: the main wine has 80% of this grape. It's what is known as a teinturier, which means that the pulp as well as the skins is pigmented. This makes super-dark wines, but frequently Alicante is only used as a minor blending component because it is considered a bit rustic. Not so here. 

One interesting aside: Mouchão makes use of a novel fig tree bird protection system: figs ripen at the same time as the grapes presenting the birds with an easier and perhaps tastier meal, so the grapes are spared.

For the main wine, after the first winter 25% of the wine goes into new barrels, the rest into foudres. Then, at the end of the third year, a final selection is made. Second wine Dom Rafael, which has a lower proportion of Alicante, starts life the same way, but 50% goes into second use 225 litre barrels.

The wines are hugely impressive and ageworthy - this estate is clearly one of the stars of the Alentejo. As well as the wines tasted here, there's also a super-cuvee called Tonel 3 & 4, which I didn't try on this visit, but have since managed to track down. It's very special indeed. 

Dom Rafael Branco 2004
A blend of Arinto and Antão Vaz. This expressive, full white has a distinctive smoky, spicy edge to the ripe melon and lemony fruit. The palate is rich, broad and quite spicy with lovely rich-textured fruit. Delicious and full. Very good/excellent 90/100

Dom Rafael Tinto 2003
This is mainly Trincadeira with Alicante Bouschet and Aragonêz. Rich, dark, full spicy nose with complex lush fruit. The palate is savoury and dark with good depth of fruit and some nice spicy structure. There's a lovely savoury depth here: it's not overtly fruity. Delicious. Very good/excellent 90/100

Mouchão 2001
The 100th vintage at the estate. This is a blend of 70% Alicante with 30% Trincadeira. Very savoury, dark, intense spicy nose with a strong savoury meaty streak. The palate is dark, savoury and spicy with firm tannic structure and a distinctive meaty, spicy edge. A wine with real appeal. Very good/excellent 93/100

Mouchão 1990
Wonderful open, spicy nose: evolved, earthy, savoury and perfumed, but still showing some big sweet fruit. The palate is evolved, spicy and ripe with rich dark fruit and a tobbacoey, herby edge. Satisfying and rich. Still quite tannic, but drinking very well now. 

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