Posted on | October 24, 2013
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Vintners from Portugal’s up-and-coming Tejo region make a push in the U.S. market
Portugal’s Tejo is ready for prime time. While highly respected as one of the country’s oldest and most reliable sources of fine table wine, awareness of the region here in America has been minimal. This is certain to change, however, as a quality revolution sweeps through the region, and Tejo’s vintners begin to promote their wines in the U.S.
Situated in the heart of Portugal, the Tejo Region revolves around its namesake River, which runs the length of the region, 500 miles, from the northeast corner, down south to Lisbon and out to the sea. (Tejo is pronounced TAY-JHO.)
“The Tejo River provides a huge mass of water flowing through the region, which produces a moderating effect on the surrounding terroirs, and contributes significantly to the creation of unique and distinctive wines,” says José Gaspar, President of the Tejo Regional Wine Commission (CVR Tejo). “Characteristics of these wines include structure and body, leading to good evolution in bottle, along with the freshness and smoothness typical of the region.” Tejo is the country’s only land-locked region, but thanks to the river, the valley is one of the most fertile places in Portugal.
Viticulture has been happening here since the 13th century, and although it’s relatively unknown in the U.S., Tejo is in fact one of the largest wine regions in Portugal, producing near 20 million bottles a year. (It also happens to be one of the world’s top areas for cork production.)
Dominated historically by large producers, Tejo is in the midst of a significant transformation. For the last 15 years or so, vintners have been replanting vines from seaside fields to higher-elevation interior plots with free-draining soils, which has lowered yields and increased quality. Wineries have been overhauled and updated with modern winemaking technologies. All of which makes Tejo a region worth paying attention to. Here is what you need to know:
Soils & Grapes
The region is blessed with a dry, warm, Mediterranean-like climate ideal for grape growing. Tejo’s terroir is best understood as three distinct zones, divided by the Tejo River. On the river’s right bank is Bairro, which is dominated by chalky limestone and clay soils. To the left is Charneca, marked by arid, sandy soils; it is a dry region, and Tejo’s warmest. The lush, fertile Lezíria zone is located on the river bank’s alluvial plains.
Tejo vintners are blending specialists, crafting roughly equal quantities of red and white, with a very small amount of rosé, from a combination of local grapes. While some international stalwarts have a presence here—Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet—the indigenous varieties are the lifeblood of Tejo (see sidebar). The best wines from Tejo are unquestionably based upon native grapes. “Tejo’s innovative spirit shines in our blends,” says Gaspar. “Our winemakers blend high-quality indigenous Portuguese varieties with international varieties. These unusual, complex and delicious blends are an important source of differentiation from wines from other leading Portuguese regions.”
Coming to America
With quality on the rise and a spirit of entrepreneurship spreading in the region, Tejo vintners are focusing on the export market. Shipments from Tejo have been increasing, particularly to EU countries like Germany and England, and now the focus is the U.S.
This month, the Tejo Regional Wine Commission, in partnership with Beverage Media Group, is hosting a series of roundtables which will bring together a group of 30 wine journalists, sommeliers and top retailers to taste through an assortment of some the Tejo’s best wines for review. The Commission is also hosting a large group of American influencers in Tejo this month. Look for the results of these roundtable tastings in the December issue.
Gaspar looks forward to seeing how the U.S. trade receives Tejo wines: “The quality of Tejo wines has undergone a significant evolution in the past decade, thanks to technological developments at the wineries. Proof lies in the number of national and international prizes awarded to these wines, as well as high scores and positive reviews. We are excited for American wine professionals to discover what these wines have to offer.”