The wine region, which was renamed Península de Setúbal in 2009, is also known by the more evocative regional designation “ Terras do sado ”.
The country around the Sado River is located on the Setúbal Peninsula. Not only is it a popular holiday destination with its stunning coastline, it is also the Vinho Regional area for country wines in central Portugal.
The quality wine region was founded in 1907 and has a protected name because of its rich and ancient history .
This name may only be borne by Muskateller (Moscatel), which has a very fine aroma and is one of the classics in the wine world.
The country wine appellation extends inland just a few kilometers from Lisbon. It lies between the mouths of the rivers Sado and Tejo and is ideal for winegrowers due to its geographical proximity to the capital.
The vineyard area extends to about 10,000 hectares and is divided into two zones with different soil conditions. On one side there is a hilly landscape with clayey and calcareous soil, on which the vineyards extend at an altitude of up to 500 meters.
In the second zone, which accounts for 80% of the area, the vine grows on a flat landscape on poor sandy soil. The two DOCs Setúbal and Palmela are also located on this area.
In this DOC, the vines grow on calcareous, sandy and clayey soils.
Setúbal is particularly famous for its Moscatel fortified wine . This became well-known as early as the 17th century and was even sent to Versailles at the request of the French King Louis XIV.
This unique liqueur wine can only be called Moscatel de Setúbal if it consists of at least 85% Moscatel de Setúbal grapes and contains small amounts of the Arinto, Boal Branco, Moscatel Douro and Moscatel Roxo varieties .
If the wine contains less than 85% but at least 67% of the Muscat variety, it can be called Setúbal .
This DOC is characterized by its proximity to the Atlantic and a Mediterranean climate.
Summers are hot and dry here, while winters are often rainy. The soil here is mainly sandy. But the hilly areas, which are much more suitable for viticulture, are mainly made of limestone and clay.
Despite the scarcely existing structure formation of the floors, there are sufficiently large cavities. These ensure good ventilation and water mobility.
Thanks to their great drainage potential, they therefore offer excellent terrain for the cultivation of red wine. The good soil structure ensures a consistently good harvest and has a decisive influence on the taste of the finished wine .
History and development of winegrowing in the Península de Setúbal
The Península de Setúbal was already a lively trading center in the mid-19th century.
At that time, their wine-growing area was 4,000 hectares, the largest in the whole country and a stronghold for wine culture.
In recent years the region has reached an astounding level: the opening of the new Ponte Vasco da Gama , the bridge over the Tagus River , led to a further revival of the local wine culture. The bridge has now created a connection to Lisbon. Thus, part of the capital has spread to the peninsula.
In particular, the two large, long-established wineries José Maria da Fonseca and Bacalhôa-Vinhos helped develop the wines and increase their already high quality. Some of the smaller and younger companies are also doing their part and doing their best to ensure further growth.
A large wine selection in Terras do Sado
300,000 to 400,000 liters of wine are produced annually on 10,000 hectares of vineyards. The wines of the peninsula offer the most diverse characteristics. The white wines are characterized by an often very aromatic flowery aroma. The rosé wine is fresh and fruity, while the red wine is well structured with notes of wild berries.
Another very special specialty from the DOC Setubal is the fine liqueur wine Moscatel. A lovely dessert wine with a strong alcohol content, but never overpowering in its sweetness. It has an abundance of exotic aromas and often contains flavor nuances of orange peel, cinnamon and coriander.
Whether wines from the DOC areas with a controlled designation of origin are preferred or the preference is more for wines with the Vinho Regional designation: Terras do Sado has an extensive range of flavors and with this diverse selection has something to offer for almost everyone.
The dominion of the vine Castelão
The Castelão grape has been cultivated here since 1850, making it one of the oldest varieties in Portugal .
It was planted for the first time on the vineyard called Cova de Periquita , which is why this red wine vine is often referred to as Periquita in the north of the country .
The sparseness of the region offers ideal conditions for the red grape variety that dominates here. Although it can be found everywhere in Portugal, it flourishes better in the south of the country, specifically in the DOC Palmela.
The popularity of this wine is demonstrated by the fact that the 1886 vintage won a gold medal at the Berlin Wine Fair in 1888 , which marked the start of the grape's international career.
From now on, the production of Periquita increased enormously and the wine was exported in large quantities to England, France and Spain. Under its new name of Castelão, the grape is now definitely the leading variety on the entire peninsula: it accounts for around three quarters of all cultivation in the region.
The 1960s brought a change in style: the new Periquita now contains 70% Castelão, 20% Trincadeira and 10% Aragonez and can be classified as a Vinho Regional due to its composition. The reason given for this change was the need to adapt to modern times.
However, the Periquita is still a Portuguese classic with symbolic status, whose transformation is mainly due to the changed tastes of consumers.
The range of styles that the local winemakers produce is extremely impressive. In addition to varietal everyday wines, which see themselves as "delicately fruity drops", there are also a number of quality wines on offer.
For example, varietal wines, whose ripe grapes are trampled with feet and mature for a year in French barriques. This creates a powerful wine full of finesse with wonderfully deep notes of herbs, red berries and vanilla.
Often, however, Castelão is also used for the production of cuvées and used in combination with other grape varieties. Successful examples of this are regional wines with a total of one tenth Cabernet Sauvignon, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet .
The experiment with the red wines
As dominant as the Castelão variety may be, there are winegrowers who can and want to live without it. In order to meet the demands of a globalized and international wine taste, local winemakers pay attention to a greater variety and therefore also like to grow various other grape varieties.
Last but not least, it is certainly the range of wines on offer that makes the area so popular – also as a holiday destination. Due to the number of different grape varieties, the wines of the Península de Setúbal have very different characteristics.
International varieties are also grown on a total of around 1000 hectares. Popular grapes such as the French Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can be found here, as well as the Spanish grape variety Carignan, alongside the local varieties Aragonez, Bastardo and Touriga Nacional and Moscatel Roxo.
The great diversity of grape varieties shows that the region's love of experimentation is still alive.
This is particularly evident in the typical local spice of the Meia Pipa from Bacalhôa . The same applies to the fruity and spicy Serras de Azeitão , which is characterized by dark berry and cherry notes. Nevertheless, these combinations are still in the minority, at least for the time being, even if they have already experienced international acceptance.
In summary, it can be said that the Península de Setúbal region offers a wide variety of red wines and does not need to shy away from international comparison at a high level.
The rare rosé wines
Despite the hot summers, the dreamy beaches and the many tourists who would surely pounce, only a few rosés are offered in the region.
Worth mentioning are wines with a lot of Aragonez , which have a subtle berry note and are characterized by an uncomplicated taste.
The great variety of white wines
In contrast to the rosé, the white wine selection is a lot more extensive, even if white grapes tend to play a minor role in the region.
Of particular note is the Fernão Pires grape variety , which is the most commonly represented variety with 9% alcohol.
Arinto and Moscatel are often made in combination. The Fonseca, for example, combines around 80% of these two varieties and thus achieves a flowery, intense taste with lush fruit aromas.
In a different ratio, the Cooperativa Agrícola blends Santo Isidro de Pegões , this time with 70% Fernão Pires, 20% Moscatel and 10% Arinto. The result is tropical-spicy with high acidity.
But the Moscatel can also please without a cuvée partner. Unmixed, these are finely fruity, fresh and balanced wines.
Cuvées with national and international varieties can also be identified with the white wines, for example with a third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Arinto.
Terras do Sado fortified wines
The Setúbal region is also known for its top quality fortified wines. The white Moscatel de Setúbal is world famous . A red variant called Moscatel Roxo is produced in much smaller quantities.
Moscatel from Setúbal is the third important dessert wine in Portugal, alongside the great Madeira and Vinho Generoso . It consists of 85 to 100% Muscatel to which varieties such as Arinto, Boais, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro or Tamarez are added.
Since the Moscatel is one of the oldest quality wines, it is considered a great classic in the region. It has an intense, complex fruit aroma with notes of honey and roasted nuts.
Precisely because of its popularity, there are always imitators. Therefore, in order to protect the Moscatel, a name protection for the Setúbal region was issued as early as 1907.
Only those who have a vineyard in the sub-areas around the municipality of Palmela, Setúbal, Montijo and Sesimbra may offer their wine under the name Moscatel de Setúbal or Moscatel Roxo.
The making of the Moscatel de Setúbal
The production of the Moscatel de Setúbal is no different from the other dessert wines and is as follows:
After the harvest, the grapes are fermented and the fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol. The natural sweetness of the berries then rests for several months. Only then is it pressed and filtered. After maturing for around 3 to 4 years, the full-bodied wine can be bottled and is ready to drink.
However, a special pleasure only develops with age. After around 8 to 10 years, notes of dried fruit, coffee and caramel develop. Some producers therefore store their Moscatel in smaller quantities for up to 20 years .
The aforementioned Moscatel Roxo , which is produced in smaller quantities than its famous white counterpart, tends to have similar characteristics to the Moscatel de Setúbal.
It offers a complex aromatic palette with notes of bitter orange, figs, raisins and hazelnuts.
The Moscatel Roxo shows what taste heights can be achieved with a longer maturation period (approx. 9 years). It has an incredible wealth of flavors.
Due to changed drinking habits, the area under cultivation of Moscatel Roxo has been reduced to 330 hectares, but anyone who has tasted this classic wine will remain loyal to it.
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