You must pay attention to the details, in every aspect, if you want to achieve the highest level of quality consistently. “You sweep the driveway, every day. If there’s a leaf there, you sweep it,” says Francisco Bento dos Santos, the son of owner José Bento dos Santos, and our enologist guide at Quinta do Monte d’Oiro, in the little village of Freixial de Cima, in Alenquer, Portugal.

The namesake “hill of gold” catches the sunrise, which we’re a few hours late to see, but we can imagine it as we look out over the sloping lands surrounding the quinta. We’re only 5 km from the Montejunto massif, and our proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and the mountain shows—except for today. “The name of our area means ‘windy parish,’” says Francisco, but today the wind is calm. On nearly every other day, the constant wind tempers the air, rendering it not more than 30 degrees C in the summer, for the most part, and always cool at night. The microclimate allows for the slow and complete ripening of the grapes.

José Bento dos Santos identified the quinta’s potential to adapt to the Rhône style of wine at its inception, and planting began 30 years ago of the blend of varieties that make up the quinta’s palette today: primarily Syrah and Viognier, with Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Arinto, and Marsanne—and a few rows of Petit Verdot—rounding out the profile. The first harvest was in 1997.

In 2006, the quinta began the conversion to organic farming, and for 10 years now has added no inorganic compounds to the vineyards. Instead, they use the labor-intensive methods adopted by vinhateiros through the last decades: keeping production low, using a “green harvest” reducing the bunches to ripen on the vine, and diligent canopy management to shield from the sun and the wind.

The soils vary under our feet. Throughout the rolling slopes, the owners have found differing content of clay, and the depth of the clay, and the silica within from the limestone all around. Currently, there are 20 hectares under vine, with 10 different plots of Syrah, a similar amount of Viognier, and single plots of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Marsanne, Arinto, and Petit Verdot.

The 2018 growing cycle proved difficult all over Portugal, and Alenquer suffered as much as anywhere—as its grapes are not accustomed to sudden flashes of heat. Across the Alenquer, depending on the grape variety, some producers lost up to 90% of their crops during the heat wave in early August. Thin-skinned varieties like Castelão burned on the vine. We witnessed these sad raisins still hanging behind the turning leaves all over the area.

Francisco credits the organic disposition of the vineyards with the relatively low percentage of losses suffered at Monte d’Oiro—only 30% across the board. “The problem was the huge heat [up to 44C] in two days,” says Francisco, and that the heat wave happened during the weekend, so there was no time to react—everyone was off duty. By the time the workers showed up Monday morning, the damage had been done—much like a freak hailstorm. Still, they realize that they came out of the crisis relatively well.

For harvest, the weather evened out significantly, allowing for the quinta’s normal practice of extending the harvest over the course of a month; they pick as the parcels are ready. The goal is to preserve the acidity and freshness of the wines, in both the reds and whites, and the resulting gastronomic affinity this creates.

Each plot is fermented separately, and goes into stainless steel tanks of varying sizes (some quite small), and then new and used French oak. The plots are kept separate until the final blend, potentially up to two years later, depending on the wine.

Though we were only able to taste it in the half bottle—the rest has sold out—Francisco describes the process of making the 100% Viognier Madrigal thus: “[It] comes from our best plot of Viognier, a hillside parcel facing north—for the Lybra blend we use Viognier from the valley and bring in Arinto and Marsanne. We harvest the parcel twice, meaning two different parcels at two different dates, so we can pick all grapes at perfect ripening. Those two harvests are split into tanks and French oak barrels (500 liters, used and new), where the wines ferment and mature for several months (a very smooth battonage). The final blend gets around 45% [from the] barrel and 55% unoaked.”

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro estimates that it exports 60% of its wine, and it is proud to be the house wine of Michelin-starred chef José Avillez’ restaurants in Portugal. Production is evenly split between the Lybra tinto and branco wines, and the Reserva wines, at around 20,000 bottles apiece.

We enjoyed our tasting looking out over the barrel room, in a cozy space served up with tabuas of local sausages and cheeses, and homegrown pomegranates, with quince and abóbora jams. Comfortable conference and meeting spaces are also available on the beautiful grounds.

An ancient oak tree spreads its branches over the praçeta in the midst of the quinta, and we can feel its vibrant health, and its dignity as it shelters us passing underneath. Though the winds may blow through, they bring a vitality to Quinta do Monte d’Oiro that shows through its attention to detail in its wines.

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

Freixial de Cima

2580-404 Ventosa ALQ

+351 263 766 060

[email protected]

Tasting Notes: November 27, 2018

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Branco 2016

From VR Lisboa. Not a field blend but in that proportion, with 50% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and 20% Arinto. On the nose: white peach, pear in fruit cocktail, and fresh citrus aromas from Arinto, with a little bit of petrol. Good acidity and flavors from stone fruit, more apricot. 13% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

From: VR Lisboa

Style: Fruited, moderately acidic white

Variety: Viognier, Marsanne, Arinto

Price: €9 retail in the quinta’s loja

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Tinto 2015

From VR Lisboa. 100% Syrah: “Our business card,” according to Francisco. A blend of 4 to 6 different plots, that low production in tonnes per hectare. Only second and third year barrels are used for aging; no new oak. Fresh clean blackberries on the nose, then cherries, with cedar as well. On the palate, a touch of menthol, and dark berries with a bit of stem. Medium tannins, with a little room to develop. 13,5% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2015 Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

From: VR Lisboa

Style: Elegant, moderately fruited red

Variety: Syrah

Price: €10 retail in the loja

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Madrigal Branco 2015

From VR Lisboa. From a half bottle given to us to taste at home. 100% Viognier selected from single plots, which are vinified separately through the aging process, with 50% fermented and aged for six months in new French oak barrels. We found a light nose of spring flowers, stone fruits, and, after it comes to room temperature, like the warm wood and paint from a picket fence in the sun. On the palate, a taste of lemon thyme, then citrons, then, finally, almond or cherry stone pits. The Madrigal went perfectly with our chicken liver parfait on buttered toast. 13% abv. With the 2017 bottling, the Madrigal will take the “Reserva” name.

Vintage & Producer: 2015 Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

From: VR Lisboa

Style: Medium weight, mildly acidic white

Variety: Viognier

Price: sold out in the 2016 vintage, but normally €20 in the loja

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Tinto Reserva 2013 

From VR Lisboa. 100% Syrah: “Flagship red.” Blend of the best Syrah plots, even lower production per hectare. Aged in some new French oak, from various cooperages and wood origins. 4% Viognier grapes to co-ferment within the plots, as in the Rhône style. The Syrah can handle it because it’s so concentrated. Black cherries, and warmth on the nose at first; grilled BBQ rib meat as well. A bit lost in the middle at first when cool but this comes into fruition as it warms a bit. More menthol on the palate than the Lybra, with slightly stronger tannins. Overall, more berries, less meat. 13,5% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2013 Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

From: VR Lisboa

Style: Elegant, moderately fruited red

Variety: Syrah

Price: €32 retail in the loja