Wines of Carcavelos – the fortified wine of the Lisbon Wine Region

Since Christmas is approaching, the fortified wines that accompany so well the sweets of the festive season gain a new relevance. Companions par excellence of the family and the good Portuguese table they figure as an indispensable part of a good end of the evening in winter. It is in this context that the Carcavelos wine should be known by all lovers of fortified wines and others.

Carcavelos wine is internationally renowned and has a secular tradition. Its qualities are recognised and confirmed by the Law of 18 September 1908, in which the demarcated region of the Cascais County was defined, as well as the part of the parish of Oeiras which is traditionally recognised for producing fortified wine”, as well as the general principles for its production and commercialisation.

It may be paired with various typical Portuguese culinary delicacies. Carcavelos wine goes well with medium-aged cheeses, such as the island cheeses (never the buttery ones), with the Bolo Rei (fruit cake), French toast and all dried fruits.

As far back as the 14th century, documents sealed with the royal seal referred to the “well kept vineyards of Oeyras”. Then, in the 18th century, with the rise of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Minister of the Kingdom, made Count of Oeiras on 15th July 1759 and later Marquis of Pombal, the fortified wine of Carcavelos was refined in its production, given the fantastic qualities of its estate in Oeiras.

Remember that the Marquis of Pombal was the one who consolidated the delimitation and classification of the Douro wine region in 1756. Therefore, all his experience would be applied here on his own property and for the production of fortified wine.

In the last quarter of the 18th Century, it was already a prestigious wine, well-known by the European elites. Production reached 3,000 barrels in the early 1800s and there was intense exportation, mainly through England, to markets such as North America, India, and Australia.

History tells us that attesting to the excellence of “Carcavelos” is an extremely valuable gift from King José I of Portugal and the Algarves to the mighty Emperor of China. So it was: two splendid bottles of “Carcavellos” wine from the Oeiras agricultural estate of his first minister, the “illustrious” Sebastião José, reached the hands (and mouths) of the said emperor through the Portuguese ambassador. It seems that many more were to follow!

However, the “Carcavelos” wine didn’t live only in good moments, as during its long existence it had some setbacks, due to the wine plagues. This was what happened decades later with the terrible phylloxera that devastated the country and almost extinguished it. Associated to this misfortune, in the second half of the 20th Century, arose the need to urbanize lands and with it another terrible plague: real estate speculation!

In the 1980s, Quintas da Ribeira, dos Pesos and Samarra, in Caparide, risked restarting, on their lands, the interrupted productive practice, an effort that the Cascais Municipal Council (CMC) recognized, through their inclusion in the Municipal Heritage Inventory Catalogue. The implementation of a museological project is also foreseen, through the recuperation and adaptation of the winery and respective annexes to a museum, thus supporting the CM Cascais in the resumption of fortified wine production, creating wine tourism routes in the area, and associating itself to the initiatives of the Confraria de Enófilos do Vinho de Carcavelos.

The Best Portugal is confident that the genetic heritage of the Carcavelos wines has been recovered, and due to the practical impossibility of increasing their size due to urban pressure, we believe that the way forward for these magnificent wines will be to increase their potential quality with the aim of pairing them with their brothers from the Douro (Port wine), Madeira and Setúbal (Moscatel de Setúbal).


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