Quinta do Sanguinhal winery, Silver Coast Portugal

I’d heard good things about Quinta do Sanguinhal and was not disappointed when we finally got the chance to visit this winery on a recent trip to the Silver Coast. The traditional wine estate is just outside the small town of Bombarral and has been in the same family since 1874. It has the distinction of having an onsite distillery, which was used to produce brandy for drinking and making a fortified wine that resembles port wine.

4th Generation wine producers

Ana Reis, our guide, is the granddaughter of Abel Pereira da Fonseca, the shrewd businessman who applied his knowledge of wine-producing practices from the north of Portugal to the three quintas he bought in this part of central Portugal: Quinta do Sanguinhal, Quinta das Cerejeiras and Quinta de São Francisco.

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Wine cellars at Quinta do Sanguinhal

After showing us where the grapes would be unloaded after harvest, Ana took us into a cool room filled with a pleasantly intoxicating aroma. Here, in gigantic 3,500 litre casks that were built in situ from Portuguese oak, lies the family legacy. Aging fortified wine (vinho licoroso) and brandy (aguardente) will stay in these barrels from between 12 and 60 years.

She explained how the small doors in the barrels were designed so that small children could get inside to clean them out. The fumes within would be so strong that the child would likely pass out from them so a sentry used to wait outside to help them get out when necessary.

Ancient oak casks Quinta do Sanguinhal
Antique oak casks Quinta do Sanguinhal

Demarcated brandy region of Lourinha

Not being a spirit-drinker, it came as a complete surprise to learn that there are only a handful of demarcated and origin controlled regions in the world for brandy production. One of them happens to be DOC Lourinha in central Portugal, which produces brandies (aguardente in Portuguese) on a par with Cognac and Armagnac.

Having seen how the addition of aguardente to table wines in the Douro wine region produced sweeter, stronger and longer lasting port wines, Abel constructed his own distillery at Quinta do Sanguinhal so that he had a steady supply of this precious liquid.

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Sanguinhal’s brandy distillery

This is the oldest and largest distillery in the region and was in use until 1970, running for 24-hours a day during peak periods. It was used not only to distill wine into alcohol but also to create a form of grappa (bagaço) from the leftovers. Nothing would go to waste here and anything remaining once every drop of alcohol had been squeezed out was dried and used as fertiliser and animal feed.

Quinta do Sanuinhal wines are biodynamic and as Ana showed us around the family vineyards, she explained how the grass growing between the rows of vines stimulates root growth. It also turns out that the rose bushes at the end of each row are not just for decoration. They act as an early warning system for detecting diseases like mildew.

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Ancient wine press at Quinta do Sanguinhal

After touring the vineyards and gardens, Ana took us to the magnificent adega for the wine tasting session. This massive room has granite tanks along one side, with chutes that would have introduced the grapes from above. I was puzzled by the enormous wooden poles, weighted by huge granite blocks that had some kind of lever which hovered over the tanks.

Ana explained that once the initial foot stomping had released most of the liquid from the grapes, the remaining skins would be roped together in a pile and then crushed using a woven mat to squeeze out every last drop. Several men were needed to operated the winch that lowered the crushing arm and applied the necessary pressure.

Grape crushers and tasting room, Quinta do Sanguinhal
Grape crushers and tasting room, Quinta do Sanguinhal

Wine tasting at Quinta do Sanguinhal

After all that, I was ready for Ana to bring on the wine. I appreciated the tasting notes leaflet – I just wish I could find it now! What I do remember was the little gadgets she gave us to help identify certain aromas, including banana.

If you don’t have time to go up north to visit any vinho verde wineries, the first of the wines we tasted, Sottal, was similar in its light, low alcohol freshness. We moved steadily onwards through white, rosé and red wines to end with the vinho licoroso and a warm pastel de nata (custard tart). Although I’m sure experts might be able to explain the difference, to me it tasted every bit as good as a tawny port wine.

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Practicalities for winery tours and tastings at Quinta do Sanguinhal

If you don’t have your own transport, this is not the easiest winery to get to and you’d be better off visiting as part of a private tour – get in touch if you want to do arrange that.

You’ll need to book ahead if you want to visit and there is a minimum of 2 people (or equivalent price). The standard tour takes around 1.5 hours and includes 7 wine tastings and simple snacks for €22 per person. Email: [email protected] | Tel: +351 262 609 190 | GPS 39º 15′ 16.51”N _ 9º 8′ 38.94”W

If you want to visit another winery in this area, take a look at my wine tasting in a windmill experience with Quinta do Gradil.

If you don’t fancy a long drive after such an experience, or are looking to spend a few days exploring this part of the Silver Coast, check out my tips on where to stay near Óbidos.

See how this and other fun things fit into a 10-day self-drive discovery of central Portugal.

Disclosure: Mike and I received a complementary tour of the winery but I would gladly pay the money for such a unique experience.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.