Vinho dos Mortos, or "What's this Wine of the Dead" Thing All About?
It all began with the Peninsular War in 1807, when French armies invaded Spain for control of the Iberian peninsula. The second invasion of Portugal in 1809 focused on northern Portugal, when the French took Chaves, Braga and, Porto. The stout Portuguese of the the mountain villages around Boticas, just west of Chaves, wanted to be spared the humiliation of seeing the French make off with their wine, so they buried it. Years later, after the French had been repelled, they recovered it. It had changed in taste and color, and had some fizz. They named the buried wine "vinho dos mortos" or "wine of the dead."
The wine is produced today as a commercial venture by Armindo de Sousa Pereira, a tireless promoter of its virtues.
How to Visit Boticas and See How Vinho dos Mortos is Made
Visitors to Boticas interested in Vinho dos Mortos will want to stop in at the tourist office to make arrangements to visit the small historic repository on the outskirts of Boticas (Repositorio Historico do "Vinho dos Mortos"). The tourist office is in the center of town near the river.
Boticas shows off its unique wood or stone granaries, and the area around the riverfront park is quite nice and well cared for. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot to do in Boticas.
We recommend Restaurante Marialva, across from city hall (Município de Boticas). It has some fine wines, including the vinho dos mortos.
If you're staying the night, Casa de São Cristóvão has a couple of rooms and an apartment. The location is convenient; it's in the same square as the tourist office in the center of Boticas.
Vinho dos Mortos: What's in it?
The grapes found in vinho dos mortos are: Alvarelho, Bastardo, Malvasia fina, Tinta Carvalha and Tinta Coimbra. Like older Chianti blends, Alvarelho and Malvasia are white grapes, but the final wine is red.
Generally, the wine finishes at a low alcohol level because of the climate of northern Portugal and the fear of bad weather at harvest. Normal alcohol levels for vinho dos mortos is 9 to 11%, but the bottle we tasted was up to 11.5% alcohol.
The wine is a light raspberry in color. The nose is a bit floral with a hint of sour cherry. It's a bit astringent in the mouth. We didn't detect the advertised effervescence. It's a very good country wine, but the market price is probably inflated by its unique qualities and the fact that there's only one producer of the wine.
You can buy the wine online here, although you might have trouble getting it in the US. The site is in Portuguese.
Is it worth visiting Boticas?
I enjoyed our visit, learning about the wine, and the lunch we had at the Restaurante Marialva in Boticas. Sometimes, the journey is the thing. Mr Pereira is a tireless promoter of his wine, and considering the place he's growing it in, it's quite a good mountain wine and withough question unique, as is the experience of seeing the winery and historic repository (which functions as a small museum).
If you have a car, Boticas is an easy day trip from Chaves, which is a spa town near the Spanish border worth visiting.