One of Portugal’s most exciting wineries is close to Lisbon, and I highly recommend a private tour. Villa Oeiras is the only winery now producing Carcavelos, a fortified wine, which, like port and Madeira, has its own Denominação de Origem Controlada classification. President Thomas Jefferson referred favorably to “Calcavallo” in his letters, and it dates back at least as far as the first Marquess of Pombal, famous for reconstructing Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. His estate forms the core of Villa Oeiras today.
We started in the courtyard of the marquess’s former farmhouse and hunting tower, a pentagonal building now housing the fermentation room and an aging room. South-facing vineyards slope down toward the sea. Alas, the estate lies between Lisbon and the resort town of Cascais, and housing developments in the 20th century consumed many of the vineyards. Fortunately, the municipality of Oeiras partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture to found this winery and to preserve 30 acres. This city-state partnership also restored the aging room, which had been divided into offices. Barrels have replaced the cubicles in this ingeniously designed space, built atop a spring to maintain humidity.
The winemaker, Tiago Correia, and his charming fiancée, Sara, the winery’s guide, gave us a fascinating tour of both the former farmhouse and the palace, followed by a tasting. The flagship wine, a fortified blend of Galego Dourado, Ratinho (two varieties found only in Carcavelos) and Arinto, aged 10 years in oak, is nothing less than remarkable. It tastes rich with nuts, honey and wood, but the acids are so lively they prickle. I also loved the powerful and graceful red Carcavelos, aged eight years in oak (and as of our visit not yet bottled). It amazes me to think that wines of such quality and pedigree were almost lost for all time.