Hidden Gems of the Algarve

The Algarve – perhaps best known as a holiday destination in the far south western tip of the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal whose capital is the city of Faro.  Vacationers come here to lap up the Mediterranean lifestyle – a sun-baked paradise courtesy of the bountiful sunshine and expansive coastline tracing the Atlantic Ocean, ocean to table seafood, and world renowned golf courses for which the Brits are to be thanked.  The area is also home to one of the regions best kept secrets – its long wine producing history and a host of new wineries springing up in the region producing some very compelling wines.   

The area has been something of a paradox in the wine world:  arguably referenced more for its dominant role the in world’s cork production than for the production of quality table wines.  The same climate which brings tourists in their droves is also ideal for growing grapes.  Protected from the north westerly winds by the chain of mountains running from the Spanish border to the Atlantic Ocean, the Algarve’s south facing amphitheatre vineyard area boasts a warm micro-climate blessed with plentiful sunshine hours gently cooled by the sea mists and ocean breezes of the Mediterranean to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. 

However, without stringent controls in the vineyard to restrain prolific yields and careful management in the wine cellar, the result is often underwhelming wines for which the region is traditionally associated: “baked”, jammy reds with overpowering alcohol, and lacking in acidity and flavour.  Luckily, in the last decade thanks to a handful of new and forward thinking boutique wineries producing mainly Vinho Regional Algarve wines (due to this appellations flexibility of grape choice), an increasing number of Algarve wines are achieving international acclaim proving the region has potential as a quality wine region.  This is welcome news for wine enthusiasts as the Algarve, and indeed Portugal, is a rich resource of native Portuguese varieties rarely found in other modern wine producing countries.

In this hot Mediterranean climate with summer temperatures often exceeding 35 degrees, rain is certainly a rare phenomenon so when it does come not only is it a welcome reprieve for the locals but also for tourists wishing to take a brief break from the basking sunshine.   Having viewed the weather forecast and hopefully an accurate prediction for a solitary day of rain during our week in the region, it was a welcome discovery that the famous wine estate Quinta dos Vales winery was located a brief 30 minute drive from our guestroom at the luxurious Conrad Algarve.  Thanks to the Conrad’s concierge team, this winery experience was fittingly straightforward with a private winery tour and tasting allowing us to simply arrive in the lobby, ready to go, the next morning.

Turning off the main road in Estombar, the boutique nature of this 50 hectare property became immediately apparent:  a mere 18 hectares of vineyards planted on the property’s gently rolling hillside.  Perhaps most striking was the collection of life size sculptures across the property which left us wondering if we had stepped into one of the MOMA New York’s exhibitions.  Indeed we were soon to discover that president and owner, German born Karl Heinz Stock, enjoys dual passions of fine wine and creating sculptural art. Both of which have been successfully incorporated into the Estate.  Indeed it is hard to leave the cellar door without a bottle of his wine in one hand, and a smaller version of the large 2 metre sculptures in the other, which both represent unique memorabilia for the journey home.

Quinta dos Vales has a relatively short history in winemaking terms.  Initially developed in the 1970s, the Estate started coming into its own in 2007 when the retired German businessman and his wife purchased the property.  One year later for a not insignificant amount of money, the winery and vineyards were radically revolutionized with the introduction of state of the art modern winemaking equipment including the acquisition of temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks and new French oak barrels.  Additionally the vineyards were grubbed up and replanted with the vision of producing top quality wines compared to the basic table wines customarily produced in the properties past.

Today the vineyard is home to 15 different varieties including Portugal’s celebrated native varieties: Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Arinto, and international varietals such as Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon which are suitably adjusted to the Algarve’s unique terroir.  Coupled with a leading team of oenologists, a new philosophy in the vineyard management, and progressive winemaking techniques (including temperature controlled fermentation and gentle grape pressing in pneumatic presses), Karl Heinz Stock’s entrepreneurial venture has gone from strength to strength.  Quinta dos Vales wines are recognised locally, regionally and internationally with a growing number of award winning white, rose, and red wines.  Additionally, they have introduced the region’s first traditional method sparkling wine putting Quinta dos Vales and indeed the Algarve region on the map.  With Karl Heinz Stocks’ entrepreneurial streak and uncompromising quest for quality at the heart of every aspect of the Estate, Quinta dos Vales, and indeed the Algarve, is certainly one to watch in the future.