The Carcavelos crusaders: Resurrecting an ancient wine

By Doug Frost MW on May 15, 2015
Carcavelhos was once considered a worthy peer to the country’s other great fortified wines.
Photo by: istockphoto/Massimo Angelo Rossi

Story highlights

  • Two young wine lovers, Alejandro Lisboa and Tiago Correia are resurrecting the fame Carcavelos wine.
  • The Portuguese dessert wine has been absent from the marketplace for decades.
  • In a last ditch effort to save Carcavelos, the nearby town of Oeiras – with EU help – spent 3 million euros (US$3,271,590) on the restoration project.

A famed and legendary dessert wine of Portugal, Carcavelos was once considered a worthy peer to the country’s other great fortified wines of Madeira, Port and Moscatel de Setubal.

Yet it has been virtually absent from the marketplace for decades. Now a young group of enthusiasts is rescuing it from near-certain extinction.

The vines of Carcavelos barely hang on, snaking along the backyards of a row of sterile, modern apartment buildings. These vineyards date back to the mid-18th century, planted as part of an agricultural station founded by Marques de Pombal, the (sometimes) benign dictator responsible for Port’s delineation in the mountains above the Douro River, and countless other public works.

But many of the vines were grubbed up to make room for these high-rises looming overhead; and the ribbon of vineyards leads to a refurbished agricultural station (again, courtesy of Pombal).

Here two young wine lovers, Alejandro Lisboa and Tiago Correia are making Carcavelos, something that hasn’t happened in years.

They’ve had the backing of the nearby town of Oeiras; with EU assistance, 3 million euros (US$3,271,590) have been spent on the restoration project. It was a last ditch chance to resurrect Carcavelos, though vines can be still found here and there around the region. “The other [vintners] are not producing anymore,” explains Lisboa, “they’re just bottling old wines [wines still in cask].”

There are a total of 60 acres of vines in the defined district of Carcavelos, half of them are hiding between those apartments.

They’re a mix of grapes: Arinto, Galego Dourado, Ratinho, while Lisboa explains, “the oldest wines mixed red and white grapes.”

The law still defines Carcavelos as having two years in barrel and six years in bottle; here, they prefer five or more years in barrel. But they’re experimenting with grapes, barrels and everything they can to restore the region’s past glory.

Alejandro is a landscape architect; his partner Tiago is a technical engineer.

These are not their day jobs. “It is our passion but not our businesses. When we sell one bottle, we are not getting rich. We are restoring our heritage.”

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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