As spring inches its way back into Chicago, and with it, long-awaited color, it seems the perfect time to focus on one of wine’s most colorful grapes, Alicante Bouschet (pronounced Ah-lee-KAN-tay Boo-SHAY). Affectionately called “Ali” in Portugal’s Alentejo region where it reigns supreme, this grape is one of the few red grapes that actually has red flesh inside. This is called a “teinturier” (coloring) grape and it is known for producing dark, inky wines.
Alicante Bouschet was created in 1886 by Henri Bouschet, a vine breeder, when he crossed the Petit Bouschet and Grenache varieties. This early-ripening grape was introduced to the Alentejo region 100 years ago when it was first planted at Herdade do Mouchão. Alicante can also be found in Tuscany, Calabria, North Africa, California, and Spain (where it is called “Garnacha Tintorera”).
Typically used in blends for its bold color, massive structure, firm tannins, and lively acidity, Alicante has proven to excel on its own when made into a single varietal wine. This is particularly true in the hands of Alentejo winemakers who have 2,000 years of winemaking tradition behind them combined with an adventurous modern outlook.
All of the wines here are predominantly Alicante Bouschet and each has its own unique expression offering a style for any red-wine lover’s palate.
2016 Rocim Alicante Bouschet 2016 ($20)
This ruby-colored wine is laden with lovely tart, just-picked cranberry fruit aromas backed by a mineral core from its growing site of granite and schist soils in Southern Alentejo (between Vidigueira and Cuba). Oddly, this southerly location is a more temperate micro-climate as it benefits from cool coastal breezes which moderate the summer heat.
The grapes are foot-trodden in open stone fermenters in traditional Portuguese style yielding a vibrant wine with refreshing acidity and fresh red fruit and spice on the lively finish. This is the lightest of the wines I tried and a wonderful expression of young Alicante that is ready to drink now. I also liked the picture of the native Linaria plant on the label; this plant is near extinction and the label is an effort to call attention to it as well as to portray the estate’s respect for the land.
This is a heartier style of Alicante due to the more modern wine-making methods used to produce it as well as to the clay-based soils that it’s grown on. This wine is fermented in stainless steel followed by an additional 5-10 days of skin contact and then aged for 12 months in French oak.
On the nose, this wine boasts black fruit and earthy aromas while the palate continues the dark theme with black pepper, tarry mineral, and spice riding along on its zesty finish. This is a deeply concentrated wine that asserts itself even better with roasted meat.
2017 Herdade dos Grous Moon Harvested ($25)
As its name suggests, the grapes for this wine are hand-picked when the moon exerts the greatest pull on the life-giving sap of the vine. Based in Alberrnoa where the soils are sedimentary schist and Greywacke, the harvested grapes are then hand-sorted at the winery where they are fermented in stone lagares and then aged in new French oak for 12 months. The resulting wine is robust with ripe dark berry flavors, firm tannins, and a fresh iron minerality.
It’s hard to beat a good wine and a good love story, and this wine has both. Located in Estremoz in Northern Alentejo, this estate was once acquired by the King of Portugal D. João V as a present to a lady of the court, Dona Maria, with whom he was madly in love. The estate and the wine currently produced here were named after this lady. Winemaker Julio Bastos is behind the Dona Maria wines and received the Great Gold Medal award for his 2003 Dona Maria Reserva (becoming the first Portuguese wine ever to receive this honor). His success has continued through the years with the 2011 Dona Maria Grande Reserva winning the “2016 Wine of the Year” by Wine magazine in Portugal.
Made only in the best years, this wine is a blend of 50% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Syrah, and 10% Touriga Nacional. It is foot-trodden in marble lagares and spends 12 months in a 5,000-litre French oak vat which is then followed by 18 months in the bottle.
Tasting of wild black and red fruit, leather, mint, and dusty mocha, this is a concentrated and intense wine that reflects its passionate love story. It’s elegant and powerful at the same time and filled with an electric energy that carries its smooth tannins through its long finish. It also makes me think of early autumn in a glass with its warm earthy tones and herbal notes.
This single-vineyard wine comes from the Carapetos Vineyard in the Portalegre area. Winemaker and Owner Iain Reynolds Richardson produces this wine only in the best years from 100% Alicante Bouschet.
The grapes are foot-trodden twice a day in stone tanks with the wine aging in large wooden vats called Numbers 3 and 4. These vats are made, unusually, of Portuguese oak, mahogany, and macacaúba (a Brazilian hardwood). The wine then ages in these vats for 24 months and is bottled as “Tonel Nº 3-4 “ if the resulting quality continues to meet Iain’s high expectations.
This deep garnet-colored wine has a more restrained nose than the others and then bursts into life on the palate with bold blackberry, spice, slate mineral, and eucalyptus flavors. Robust tannins create an attention-getting textural mouthfeel that lasts several minutes after each sip. This is a muscular wine that means business and is a terrific example of how complex Alicante can be.
All of these wines share an intoxicating wildness, mineral core, and raw power that expresses itself very differently based on where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. They are fascinating wines to explore and extremely food-friendly due to their lively acidity and firm tannin structure. Celebrate spring by finding yourself some Alicante Bouschet!
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