My first visit to a winery during my holidays in Portugal was to Bacalhôa, located on the peninsula of Setubal, just under Lisbon. Setubal is especially known in Portugal for producing Moscatel, sweet fortified wine. The grape is known in France under the name of Muscat. But there are also still wines being made in the region, either as regional wines, or under the DOP Palmela.
Bacalhoa has much more in their portfolio, however, than regional wines and Moscatel. They have wines from seven different regions of Portugal. The winery was created in 1978 by the family Scoville, but it was José “Joe” Berardo, a businessman/stock trader/art collector, who bought Bacalhôa in 1998 and brought it to its current position of being one of the biggest wine producing companies in Portugal. The roots of Bacalhôa lie in Azeitão, at the Palácio da Bacalhôa, which is where I started the guided tour, together with a dozen or so other tourists. There was a second group doing a tour at the same time, just to give you an indication of the size of this venture and the amount of people it attracts. In Europe wine tourism is still not so developed as in the US for example, so I was even more surprised to see such a machinery at Bacalhôa.
So, the Palace : it dates back to the 15th century and changed hands many times. The first wine was issued in 1978 and you can still buy their first cabernet sauvignon, that was produced in 1979. 5000€ for a 10L bottle will do the trick. If it’s still drinkable is another question. I will save you all the details of who owned the palace (Portuguese kings amongst others), and just share a couple of pictures instead because the palace is really beautiful. It’s impressive how it was renovated by the way. We saw a few pictures of the state it was in at some point, and the difference couldn’t be bigger. It was basically a ruin. With José Berardo being an avid art collector, it’s now not only beautifully renovated, but also full of paintings, statues and other artefacts.
When the visit of the palace was over, I had good hope that we would finally hear something about Bacalhôa’s wines and get a sip as well. Instead of that, we now went to José Berardo’s private art collection, which is 3km further, next to the wineshop. I was on the extended tour…
Even though the collection is a perhaps a bit eclectic, there are beautiful pieces there. I particularly enjoyed the art nouveau and deco furniture in the collection. I even got to see original pieces of Victor Horta, the Belgian art nouveau artist. When we then did the room with African art, I really started wondering a bit if I was in a winery or a museum.
But then! Finally barrels…Here’s where the Moscatels age. The region of Setubal actually has two different Moscatels, the ordinary one and then there is the Moscatel Roxo, of which there are only 40ha in the region. Bacalhoa has 5 of them. It is a natural mutation of the Moscatel and is supposed to be sweeter and more concentrated.
We then also got to see the vat room for the still wines, which was very atmospheric, with very little light and azulejos, the typical Portuguese tiles, on the wall.
Luckily we then moved on to the tasting part. As I mentioned, Bacalhôa has a big portfolio, with wines from all over Portugal, but in this tour, you only get to taste three. Luckily our guide was in a good mood and threw in a fourth. Here they are :
Quinta da Bacalhoa 2016, Vinho Regional Peninsula de SetubalThis is the estate’s white, made of Sauvignon, Sémillon and Alvarinho. The nose was rather simple, with citrus, and a touch of honey. The wine was round and ripe, despite the use of sauvignon, which normally gives freshness. Unfortunately, not much freshness here and a bit simple on the whole. Price : 16,99€.
Quinta da Garrida, Reserva 2014, DaoA wine from their estate in the Dão, made of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. A rather lactic nose, cherry yoghurt, and very peppery. Again a round wine, with the cherries playing the main role here. Not very complex and lacking depth. This is all about the fruit. Price : 7,49€.
Moscatel de Setubal 2015, DOP Moscatel de SetubalThe entry-level Moscatel of Bacalhoa. Very dark in color. The guide explained that they use the must of red grapes to give a bit of color to the wine. The wine is very aromatic, with loads of fennel and aneth, almost a bit like cough syrup. Despite that this is a sweet and fortified wine (17%), this is a pleasantly refreshing, balancing the candied fruit rather well. Good finish, with a bit of caramel lingering on your tongue. Really nice. Especially given the price of 4,99€…
Moscatel Roxo Superior 10 Anos, DOP Moscatel Roxo de SetubalThe guide threw in a fourth wine, which was normally not included in the tour. I’m glad she did, because this was clearly from another level. Beautiful and complex nose, with marzipan, spices, honey. Just like in the basic Moscatel, there is a great acidic spinebone in this wine that carries the sweetness of the ripe fruit. The density here is remarkable, with the wine really coating your palate, without becoming gooey. This is a delicious nectar, that nestles on your tongue to stay there very comfortably for a while. Price : 19,99€.
The Moscatel Roxo was a nice ending to a long visit. I didn’t expect the Moscatels to be so attractive. I have tasted several Muscat based fortified wines, from the Languedoc for example, but most came across as sugary and simple. Here they really have more to offer than that, and they are very well made, nicely balanced. I was less impressed by Bacalhôa’s still wines, however. And it’s particularly the white estate wine that raises a few questions in my mind. It’s not very clear to me why you would want to make Sauvignon blanc in a hot region like Setubal. The wine wasn’t bad, but if I want a Sauvignon blanc, then I will look for it in Bordeaux, or the Loire, depending on the style I want.
Anyhow, Bacalhôa should be commended for preserving the patrimony of the region. The Palacio was really beautiful. And for art lovers, there is plenty to revel in. If you go for the wines, do check out the Moscatels. The Roxo was the best Moscatel I had in the region.