Located south of Lisbon and surrounded by Atlantic Ocean and rivers Tejo and Sado, Setúbal is known by its tourism and large wine farms that helped to build an important role in Portuguese wine history. In fact, the longest continuous vineyard in the world during the 19th Century was located in Setúbal with about 4.000 hectares owned by a single proprietor. In recent years, and following a modernization trend across Portuguese regions, Setúbal wine producers have been improving quality in both viticulture and winemaking due to important investments in technology and vineyard redesign.
The landscape is flat, rarely exceeding 200 metres high with sandy soils that are suited to produce high-quality grapes. Due to the proximity to the sea, the relative humidity is high (80%) and the climate is typical Mediterranean with hot summers and mild, rainy winters.
Setúbal is a peninsula with DOCs that make only 20% of the region production: Moscatel, which produces the widely popular fortified Muscat wine, and Palmela, known for its red wines produced mainly from the Castelão variety and white wines from Arinto and Fernão Pires.
Despite the great table wines, the region’s jewel is the sweet and fortified Moscatel made from Muscat grapes and brandy, with alcohol levels reaching 16% – 22%. After waiting around three months on the skins, the wine is aged in large wooden vats from one to 20 years, which helps to develop the flower and marmalade flavours characteristic of Setúbal Muscatel wine.
The region has also become an excellent tourist destination, thanks in part to its numerous natural parks, protected by multiple associations such Arrábida Natural Park, D. Luis Saldanha Marine Park, Sado Estuary Natural Reserve and the Protected Fossil Cliffs Area of Caparica.
The area also has a heritage rich in diversity and historical notoriety, a good example being the Arrábida mountain area that is acknowledged as a Natural and Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Harvest at José Maria Fonseca wine estate
Setúbal main varieties:
Red grapes: Aragonez, Bastardo, Castelão, Moscatel Roxo, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.
White grapes: Arinto, Antão Vaz, Fernão Pires, Moscatel Galego Branco, Moscatel de Setúbal, Malvasia Fina, , Roupeiro Branco, Rabo de Ovelha, Verdelho and Viosinho.
© Picture: José Maria Fonseca Wines
by Francisco Sobral, Wine Curator