Setúbal, Portugal: Somewhere to “wine” about.

Wine Barrels

We recently had the pleasure of visiting “José Maria da Fonseca” winery while in Portugal. The winery is located in Setúbal, south of Lisbon, amongst picturesque mountains and coastline. Founded in 1834, José Maria da Fonseca is the oldest winery in Portugal to bottle its own wine. They are a 100% family owned winery run by both sixth and seventh generation family members.

The tour began in the original building, evidence of the company’s history and awards all around the beautiful room. The first award the winery won was in Paris in 1855.

Antique Wine Bottling MachineIn this room were the original bottling machines, which had the capacity to bottle 30 bottles of wine an hour. Now, the company produces somewhere in the region of 80 million litres a year.

Outside, we were lead to two massive above-ground cellars.

Mahogany Barrels

Pictured: Large mahogany barrels on either side of the cellar. Smaller oak barrels in the middle.

The first was once a shed used in the cotton-manufacturing business. When the shed was being sold, José purchased it and found it to be perfect for a cellar. The room is extremely impressive. It is used to house their “Periquita”, a red wine that has been in production since 1850. The Periquita is very unique: It is Portugal’s first bottled red wine, is made exclusively in the Setúbal region, is made of a blend three grape varieties and is aged in gigantic Mahogany barrels. The large barrels were constructed inside the cellar, the Mahogany shipped from Brazil. This is now a protected tree, so can no longer be imported in Portugal–the barrels they have are likely to be all they will ever have. The Mahogany is also unique because the wood lends no flavour to the wine. The wine is aged partly in these Mahogany barrels and also in traditional Oak, and then the two are blended 80% Mahogany and 20% Oak to produce the Periquita. The cellar’s temperature is controlled naturally and varies as much as 10 degrees celsius throughout the year.

The second cellar (pictured below) houses hundred of barrels of oak filled with Moscatel, the first official product of the brand in 1849. Each barrel is stamped to mark the age and the type of Moscatel. For example, MS stands for Moscatel Setúbal, which is produced in Setúbal and aged for five years. The SS is for Setúbal Superior – a Moscatel aged for 20 years.

Moscatel Cellar

Hundreds of barrels of Moscatel

Moscatel can be served cold–as an aperitif, or room temperature as a dessert wine or digestif.

The Moscatel is particular to the grapes that are used to make it, they are a sweeter grape. After ageing the wine is then blended with neutral brandy in order to stop the fermentation process. Moscatel is unique as it will last up a year after opening and almost indefinitely in its sealed bottle.

MoscatelIn this amazing cellar resides the family’s private collection of Moscatels, the oldest barrel of which dates back to 1880. Each year they add to the collection, only ever taking from it on extremely important occasions such as if Royals or the Pope should visit. Only five years are missing from the collection, on account of war or disease in the vines when no moscatel was produced in those years.

Private Moscatel Collection

The Family’s Private Moscatel Collection

After viewing these cellars, we were taken back to the wine shop for a tasting of two wines. You may also choose from a selection that costs for each individual nip. These wines are fantastic quality and are all extremely well priced.

Wine Tasting Machine

Wine Tasting Machine

Inside the shop Wines for saleOur two sample wines were a special edition Periquita Reservá (7,49 euros per bottle) which is aged for 8 months only in oak, and the 2006 Moscatel Setúbal Armagnac (17,95 euros per bottle). Both were exquisite.

The tours cost only a few euros. Contact the winery for more information, and visit their website:

We were lucky to have this wine tour included as part of our mountain bike experience– “Arrábida Bike Tour” with Lisbon Bike Tours [link]. In you are in the area, the experience should not be missed.

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