With 17 registered winemakers all operating within the small region of Setúbal, it's difficult not to find yourself standing by a table of glasses into which someone is pouring wine...
Wander through the pretty village of Nogueira de Azeitão in the heart of the Arrábida Natural Park, and the first thing you'll notice is people relaxing in the sunshine at pavement tables, enjoying a glass of something amber-hued. If you keep your eyes averted as you stroll past the village square, you may not notice the sculpture of a giant bunch of grapes down which a steady flow of water is trickling. But as you pass the ornate fountain with its twin spouts, the urge to gaze upon the 19th-century, Azulejos-tiled façade of the José Maria Fonseca adega next door is just too much and, despite your valiant efforts, you'll probably soon find yourself in front of the oak casks, a glass of sunshine in your hand, learning how the world famous Setúbal Moscatel is macerated and aged.
Known as one of the top wine-producing regions in Portugal, Setúbal has played a leading role in Portuguese wine production since the Romans cultivated vines here back in 2000BC. Today, vineyards braid the green hillsides, vying for space among the elegant stone pines and silver olive trees. If you're a wine lover, welcome to paradise!
The sun in a glass
Described by French author Léon Douarche as 'the sun in a glass', the honey-coloured dessert wine of Moscatel has been enjoying worldwide fame since the 14th century when it made frequent appearances at the dining table of Richard II. Produced from the white grape varieties of Tamarez, Malvasia and Arinto, grape brandy is added to the fermentation process, and the wine is then cask-aged for a minimum of two years. Enjoyed either as an aperitif or with dessert, Moscatel has a syrupy texture; light golden colour; an aroma of crystallised orange peel and honey; and a fruity, soft, full flavour. In Azeitão it's best enjoyed with a Torta de Azeitão, a sort of Swiss roll made from eggs, sugar and flour, handily made fresh daily at the Negrito café, right opposite José Maria Fonseca adega.
Art and wine at Bacalhôa
Resist the urge to follow your nose into the covered terrace of Casa Das Tortas where sardines are sizzling on the charcoal barbecue, and head down Azeitão's Rua de Lisboa to reach the estrada nacional (main road), where your eyes are drawn to a woad-blue Terracotta Army announcing the presence of the Bacalhôa adega. Here, alongside a Japanese garden embellished with sculptures and featuring a persimmon tree which is the great-granddaughter of the only tree to survive the Nagasaki bomb, you'll find an elegant tasting room where you can try a selection of their wines, including Catarina Branco – a crisp, elegant Chardonnay blend, partially fermented and aged for five months in new French oak barrels.
Vines and swine at Alcube
On the ridge above the neighbouring village of Aldeia Grande, a wide driveway lined on both sides by robust vines leads to the family-owned Quinta de Alcube adega. Walk past the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, emus and ponies to the tasting rooms and you'll have a glass of Touriga Nacional in your hands before you can say por favor. Most of the annual production is sold here or enjoyed on the lovely patio outside, so this is a rare opportunity to taste their eminently quaffable Trincadeira.
Beyond the windmills to Piloto
The panoramic ridge that connects Azeitão to the medieval castle of Palmela is dotted with old windmills, their sail-less arms outstretched against the cobalt sky, patiently vigilant over the vistas that spread to the Tagus Estuary and Lisbon on one side, and the Arrábida Natural Park on the other. And just as you think you've made it safely to the celebrated wine menu of the Palmela pousada, the path passes right by the Quinta do Piloto tasting room where the vanilla and spice tones of their Touriga Nacional 2016 and their award-winning Moscatel Roxo Superior 2011 contrive to waylay you just a little while longer.