The Unfolding Revolution at Cortes de Cima in Portugal’s Alentejo

By | 21 May 2024

(Updated May 2024 with notes on new release wines)

In 2020, Anna Jørgensen assumed control of Cortes de Cima, a grand Alentejo winery encompassing over 200 hectares of vineyards not only in Vidiguera but also along the Alentejo coast. The winery was brought to life by Anna’s parents, a Danish and an American. It gained fame for its fresh, technologically advanced ‘new world’ style wines. These wines distinguished themselves in the Portuguese wine sphere during the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the times are evolving, and Anna, having spent 10 years harvesting abroad returned in 2019 with an intention to shift to a more minimal intervention form. Quite a challenging task, considering the winery produces 2000 tons of wine, which requires a massive market.

‘I initiated a multitude of transformations bearing in mind the vision for the establishment for the next two, three or four decades,’ she details. ‘We have strived to utilize the best of what was inherited and further build on it.

‘Our major focus shifted to the vineyard’, Anna mentions. ‘Sustainability is integral to our operations’, She began by halting the use of herbicides post the harvest of 2019, and the following year everything was transitioned to organics. ‘We introduced regenerative practices, lowered to no tilling, minimizing the vineyard area in favor of polyculture from monoculture.’ Currently, forests are being planted where there’s no vineyard. Efforts to include animals have begun. Sheep have been introduced, and in the future, cows will also be present to complete the circle and facilitate in-house compost production.’ Being a warm, relatively dry region, Alentejo’s climate change affects are to be addressed. So one of the objectives of switching to regenerative methods is to enhance vineyard resilience. They are also exploring some biodynamic aspects.

‘We view a vineyard solely as a source of vines,’ she says. ‘How can we manipulate them to yield the grapes we desire? We consider the soil as merely a structure to keep the vines erect. We overlook the extensive kingdom beneath. Nature surpasses us in intelligence, and we will never outsmart it, so we must learn to cooperate and take advantage of it. Every year brings new challenges, necessitating adjustments and eschewing the repetition of old patterns. Fear is a prominent element in farming, unfortunately. The task comes with the anxiety of managing a crop and balancing the budget. Fear often prompts farmers into hasty actions.’

The shrinkage in vineyard areas is quite sizable. ‘Currently, we manage 120 hectares, which is sizable, but in 2019, we managed 240 hectares, signifying a considerable reduction,’ says Anna. ‘We continue to evaluate further reductions: we are assessing the superior terroirs for the future.’

Regenerative/biodynamic strategies are seldom applied to large vineyards. ‘To farm at this magnitude, one indeed has to function efficiently and stay organized,’ Anna states. ‘However, implementing these changes on a large scale is possible, and the larger the scale, the more significant the impact.’

Anna has enlisted some of the best consultants in the vineyard. Marco Simonit, the pruning maestro, has been employed since 2019, along with the terroir expert, Pedro Parra. ‘Gaining an external perspective on our work was crucial for me,’ she says. ‘Working with the field’s best is vital when making significant decisions, so proper direction is essential. Personally, I’m quite young. I’ve conducted 10 harvests, but I wanted to collaborate with other individuals for discussions.’

Marco Simonit has greatly assisted in our vineyards with his eco-friendly pruning techniques, and also in transforming our overall perception of our vineyard. This is seen in our team management, motivational strategies, and knowledge enhancement. Presently, we are venturing into creating the vineyard of the future, in consultation with him. We are considering what kind of vine architecture, density, and rootstocks we should incorporate. It’s a blank canvas for us at the moment.

Cortes de Cima frequently hosts Pedro Parra. Anna mentions, “He has been collaborating with us in studying our soils, surveying the property, and identifying what we have. This has aided in decision-making regarding what vineyards to retain and which ones aren’t as significant to preserve”. Some sections have less topsoil and underneath them lies the bedrock, which the roots fail to penetrate: vines can only grow in these areas with substantial amounts of water. Anna adds that this is not their future direction as it creates dependency on inorganic farming methods like hydroponics.

In terms of their array of wines, significant transformations have occurred. A new line-up of wines named the Wildcard range has been introduced, showcasing captivating small-scale projects. Interestingly, Daqui is the title given to a series of one-time batches, bottled under the NatCool banner in one-liter bottles (the initial Daqui was a joint endeavor with me – the creation video can be viewed below). For the primary range, there’s been a reduction in winemaking interferences and a fresh label design has been launched (commenced with the 2000 vintage). Further, pricing modifications have been implemented for the different wines. Five years back, Chaminé’s production hit a million bottles, retailing at €5 per bottle. Currently, production is decreased to 200 000 bottles, with an increased price of €15 per bottle.

New releases tested in February 2024:

Cortes de Cima Chamine Branco 2022 Alentejo, Portugal
The growing season was hot and dry, with a mere 300 mm rain. There were around 20 days in July where temperature soared above 40 C. During these conditions, the microbiome on the grapes can become more toxic, leading to tricky fermentations, and this wine went through a year and half of fermentation. It’s powerful, lemony and has lots of intensity. A chalky character underlines the strong citrus fruit. Wonderful wine. 94/100

Cortes de Cima Lourinho 2021 Alentejo, Portugal
Comprising 75% Alvarinho, 25% Loureiro, this wine matures for 2 years in a Slavonian Fuder. It has a mineral component with nice intensity along with notes of lime and spice. High in acidity. Truly lovely. 94/100

Cortes de Cima Palhete 2023 Alentejo, Portugal
This is their first wine with organic certification after switching to organic in 2020. The product of a collaboration with Daniel and Kalina Niepoort. It’s made of 80% Viognier and 20% Syrah from Vidiguera. Whole cluster Syrah goes into Talha and then the fermenting Viognier is added, and after 2 weeks it is pressed to steel. The color is a light red. Tastes bright with a hint of creaminess under the cherry and raspberry fruit with good weight and acid line. Pure and fine. 93/100

Cortes de Cima (unnamed wine) 2021 Alentejo, Portugal
This is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Jaen and 20% Syrah, from the coastal vineyard. It’s fresh, bright, lively and chalky with zippy berry fruit notes and some cherry. Has nice intensity with some grip. Really fine wine. 94/100

Cortes de Cima Salino 2021 Alentejo, PortugalCabernet Franc. Coastal vineyard. The grapes were destemmed then infused for 20 days, and the wine then spent 2 years in a tank. The wine is lively and bright, with chalky and minerally flavors and a focus on red berry fruits, with pleasing acidity. The end result is supple and fine, with excellent intensity. 94/100

There are also three new Syrahs from different soil types, signifying a very exciting development.

Syrah Granito 2021 Alentejo, PortugalThis wine comes from a single vineyard that faces east. Even though the granitic soil isn’t very fractured, the roots grow deep. The fermentation process comprises 40% whole bunch and 60% intact berries, and the wine then rests for two years in an old French barrel. The outcome is extremely fine and elegant, with red cherry and blackberry and some peppery detail. It boasts such precision and finesse, with lovely purity and elegance. 95/100

Syrah Calcario 2021 Alentejo, PortugalThe soils here are fractured limestone, with a powder-like texture. This wine is made up of 70% whole bunch. It’s fresh and focused with sweet black cherry and plum. The wine is fine and pricey with pure red and black fruits with good acidity, displaying sheer focus. 95/100

Syrah Costa 2021 Alentejo, Portugal
Enjoy a vibrant blend of crisp cherry and red fruits. This wine boasts an impressive floral intensity and precision. Undeniably a fine and fresh choice with a rating of 94/100.

Set to be released in February 2023:

Cortes de Cima Chaminé Branco 2021 Alentejo
Sourced from coastal vineyards and Vidiguera and naturally fermented in stainless steel, this wine spent a year on lees. Its vivacious, fresh and bright flavors of orange peel and apricot display excellent purity, complimented by pear and citrus on the palate. It has a pleasant texture with a subtly chalky edge, and a respectable density. Rated 92/100.

Cortes de Cima Branco 2021 Alentejo
Fermented and matured in 2000 litre Austrian foudres for a year under low sulfites and full lees, this wine spends two winters in the winery. Initially, it tends to move towards oxidation but soon tightens up. It is boldly spiced and mineral with a hint of apple and pear. The palate is bold, concentrated with mineral-laced fruit and some fine spices, as well as a bit of salinity. Rated as pure, fine and layered. 94/100

Cortes de Cima Lourinho 2020 Alentejo – The wine which is predominantly made up of 85% Alvarinho and 25% Loureiro coming from the coastal vineyards. It is aged in oak for 10 months and then rested in stainless steel for a further 8 months, without any sulfites being added until the blending process. The end product is a minerally, spicy wine which has a fine texture with a beautiful mineral intensity. It is also saline, fine and fresh, with extraordinary precision. This is scored 94/100.

Cortes de Cima Loureiro ‘Salino’ 2020 Alentejo – The naming of this wine is yet to be finalized. It’s a product of collaboration with Dirk Niepoort, and the wine-making process involves picking at night, followed by pressing without sulfites. The wine is then aged and fermented in stainless steel and barrel for an extended period with the addition of 1% seawater. The wine presents a linear and taut character, some pithy notes, and a mineral saline twist. It finishes with a juicy citrus note and high acidity. Score 94/100.

Cortes de Cima Daqui 2021 Alentejo – Produced from the Viognier variety from Vidiguera, this wine is skin macerated talha (amphora) white. It went through a process involving lining the talhas with bees wax and resin. The duration of aging in talha is two months without adding any sulfites. The grapes are foot-trodden, and the cap is layered by hand. Once fermentation is finished, one talha is used to top up the other. The product is a vivid, spicy wine with an intense citrus fruit flavor and a hint of marmalade. There is also a sweet acidity present, with sour apple notes on the finish. Despite the presence of volatile acidity, it integrates well. Rating 93/100.

Cortes de Cima Chaminé Tinto 2020 Alentejo – This transitional year wine is mainly Syrah, complemented by Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional among others. 30% of the whole cluster is fermented, then aged in old oak and steel tanks. It gives off a bright, fresh aroma with a delightful red cherry and plum fruit flavor. There is also a sleekness to it due to its freshness, and fine hints of olive and good balance. Its sweetly fruited with a slight sprinkle of fine spices. Score – 91/100.

Cortes de Cima Tinto 2020 Alentejo
Originating from granite soils, it boasts a composition of 80% Syrah and 20% Touriga Franca. A 30% whole cluster ferment, followed by a year in used oak. It’s supple, displays delightful freshness, and bears a grainy, savoury edge. It resounds with notes of cherries, spice, and cedar complemented by subtle earthy hints. It concludes on a spicy note. The judgment? 92/100

Cortes de Cima Daqui 2020
Featuring Touriga Franca, a 30% whole cluster, housed in a 2000 litre amphora, removed from skins on 11 November post-harvest. Uncommonly supple and fine with a grainy structure and pleasing acidity. It emanates notes of cherry, spice and lively fruit. Pure, accompanied by a suggestion of stony minerality. A keen 94/100.

Cortes de Cima Palhete NatCool 2021
This concoction is 80% Viognier and 20% Syrah from limestone soils, and it’s a team creation with Daniel and Kalina Niepoort. Whole cluster Syrah in an amphora augmented with fermenting Viognier and then pressed when fermentation concludes. Its ageing process takes place on lees sans sulfites. It’s fresh, fine and supple with a juicy citrus and red cherry fruit, as well as some vivid redcurrant and a good acid line. The limestone contributes a particular quality to this wine in terms of the acid line. It’s supple, sappy, fresh and enjoyable. A robust 94/100.

Cortes de Cima Cabernet Franc 2021 Coastal Alentejo (tank and barrel sample)
It’s green and chalky with refreshing hedgerow and red berry aromas. The pallet is fresh and young – a real portrayal of Cabernet Franc. It’s vibrant with chalky green tones under the exact berry fruits, showing gravelly detail. A stellar 95/100.

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