Sustainably Red in the Alentejo Wine Region

With a focus on agricultural sustainability and organic production, Herdade do Esporão is bringing the Alentejo wine region into the 21st century. A comparison of the Alentejo wines Esporão Reserva Red 2019 and their Monte Velho Red 2021.

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olive trees in the alentejo wine region
In Portugal, you can usually be certain that whatever is in a bottle coming from Herdade do Esporão, whether that’s wine, olive oil, or more recently artisanal beer, it will probably be good.  One of the magazine Drinks International‘s “Most Admired Wine Brands” in the world, Esporão (pronounced esh-por-OW) as the brand is more simply known here, is also one of the main wine producers in the Alentejo wine region.
But the Alentejo, now one of the most important wine regions in Portugal, was not always so.  The Herdade do Esporão, the principal Esporão estate in the city of Reguengos de Monsaraz in the Évora district, was purchased in 1972 by José Roquette with his former partner Joaquim Bandeira.  [A few years later, Roquette was arrested as a political dissident and the estate was nationalized for three years.]    The Alentejo of that time was primarily devoted to agricultural products like cereals, not wine, but Esporão aimed to bring the area into a more diversified future and put Alentejo wines on the map. Today, overall wine production in the Alentejo region is the third-highest in Portugal, after Douro and Lisbon.
When the leadership of Esporão was eventually taken over by José’s son, João Roquette, in 2006, the company shifted to a more concerted focus on land sustainability and organic farming practices. All of the company’s Alentejo (and Douro) vineyards are now certified for organic farming – though only some of their wines use 100% organic grapes and can be labeled as organic  – and in 2022 Esporão won the Robert Parker Green Emblem award recognizing “wineries that are leaders and, in many cases, pioneers of sustainability.” You can visit the herdade and dine at Esporão’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurante Herdade do Esporão, which features farm-to-table Alentejano cuisine and organic produce from the estate.
In terms of climate, the Alentejo region is a hot and dry climate for most of the year, with a short, mild winter and poor soils.  To the extent that any truly “fruity” wines can be found in Portugal, they tend to be Alentejo wines. Particularly known for its reds, Alentejo red wine tends to be full bodied, velvety, and drank young.   You’ll see this come through in the red wines we’ll be looking at here.

First Up: Herdade do Esporão Reserva Red 2019

  • Ageing: 12 months in American (60%) and French (40%) oak, plus 8 months in the bottle
  • Alcohol Content: 14.5% vol.
  • Average Price: US $25.00
Herdade Do Esporao Reserva Red 2019
A dark purple color, the Reserva offers a bouquet that is complex, almost sweet with prune or plum elements coming through, but soft – not leathery or oily.  This wine goes down silkily, smooth on the front end, but with a tight, lingering finish.  After being open for about 15 minutes, the bouquet almost smells floral, and more dark fruit comes through in the taste. 
Herdade Do Esporao Reserva Red 2019 glass
For deliveries in the United States, find the Esporão Reserva Red 2019 here at wine.com.
UPDATE: As of the current date, wine.com is out of stock for the 2019 and only has the 2020 vintage available for sale.  While I am not specifically reviewing the 2020 here, I did recently have a glass of it from a freshly opened bottle while in a restaurant in Cascais and I was pleasantly surprised at the continuity of the lovely bouquet and silkiness across both the 2019 and 2020 vintages. 
For deliveries in the United States, find the Esporão Reserva Red 2020 here at wine.com.

Next Up: Esporão Monte Velho Red 2021

  • Ageing: 3 months in stainless steel
  • Alcohol Content: 13.5% vol.
  • Average Price: US $11.00
Herdade Do Esporao Monte Velho Red 2021
The Monte Velho has a deep, oily nose with dark fruit and a touch of pepper.  It’s a bit on the drier side, though not especially tannic, and that pepper smell comes through in the taste.  After being open for about 15 minutes, the nose isn’t quite as oily, and a touch of perfume emerges, along with more berry flavors. 
Herdade Do Esporao Monte Velho Red 2021 glass
For deliveries in the United States, find the Esporão Monte Velho Red 2021 here at wine.com.

How the Wines Are Similar

Both wines are produced at the Herdade do Esporão estate in Reguengos de Monsaraz, and both are blends, which is common in Portuguese wine.  Historically, Portugal did not have a strong tradition of monovarietal wines (i.e., something like 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes) because the grapes were mixed on the vine over many years and difficult to separate. 
Although our two wines come from different harvests, both 2019 (for the Reserve) and 2021 (for the Monte Velho) were productive years in the Alentejo in terms of yield and quality, which would produce high quality grapes for each – and good wines for us. 
2025 10001817

How the Wines Are Different

Esporão’s Reserva is more of an upmarket wine – though not at the top end of their range, which would be their Private Selection label, something like their 2016 red – and the Monte Velho is more of a day-to-day bottle.  This is reflected in their appellation.  The Reserva is a DOC Alentejo wine, while the Monte Velho Red is a vinho regional alentejano, or Alentejo regional wine.  DOC stands for denominação de origem controlada (protected designation of origin) and means that wines produced in a particular DOC region in Portugal, such as the Alentejo, meet certain production standards not required of vinho regional, or just regular table wine without any denominação de origem status at all.
While both wines are blends, the Reserva includes a greater number of grape varieties — 7 to the Monte Velho’s 4 — which add additional depth to the color of the wine and its aroma.  The Reserva is also aged longer, and in oak, which gives it a silkier texture.
The Reserva also has a bit more alcohol to it (14.5%) than the Monte Velho (13.5%), which lends a warmer quality to the wine, while the Monte Velho feels a bit drier, almost a bit like a Douro red.  (I compared two Douro reds here, if you want to know more about these drier wines.)

The Takeaway

The Monte Velho is a great wine to pair with a robust pasta dish or a fattier meat on a simple night at home, but if you’re looking for something to stand alone, you can’t go wrong with the Reserva.
Now, you be the judge!
For more wine comparisons like this one, check out our other posts in the Same Maker, Different Wine series.
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