Thanks in part to its large university student population, Vila Real has enough cafes and bars for a fun evening out.
If ‘Mateus’ conjures up images of sickly sweet pink ‘starter wine’ and ubiquitous 1970s wine-bottles-as-candleholders, think again and try a sip of Alvarelhão. This distinctive Portuguese grape is the original base for Mateus rosé, which in the 1950s was retooled for mass marketing in North America, where palates were considerably less sophisticated. Now the growers and vintners of Lavradores de Feitoria, whose numbers include the current Count of Vila Real and heir to the famous Palácio de Mateus itself, are producing an Alvarelhão rosé that more fully honours the legacy of this uniquely Iberian varietal.
Some growers describe Alvarelhão as a grape that is impractical and near-impossible to grow. It matures late, well into October, and is easy prey to mildews and other pathogens – so much so that people traditionally grew it closest to their homes and estates so they could be more easily alerted to possible outbreaks of disease.
Because of its temperamental nature, Alvarelhão – like many of Portugal’s best wines – is bottled in small quantities, mostly for use in Portugal. Until these delicious and deserving wines get wider international distribution, do yourself a favour while touring the Casa de Mateus and sip them while you can!