From Alastair Leithead, Getting Certified

Guest writer and former BBC correspondent, Alastair Leithead shares his stories living ‘off the grid’ in Portugal. To read more of Alastair’s blogs please follow him here:

We sometimes joke that the biggest threat to our health here in Alentejo is the amazing price of Portuguese wine.

I’m sorry, but where else in the world can you buy an annual guide to the best wines “between two and 15 euros”?

The Portuguese Popular Wine Guide scores every value bottle – and even a few boxes – like the finest of fine wines and compiles its annual top one hundred across all categories and regions…and there are some real gems in there.

Actually I’m not sorry: so much wine, so little time.

Living off grid in Portugal has been life changing in more ways than one.

After years of staring at walls of wine in supermarkets and off-licences, in bottle shops and liquor stores, and using price as a guide to the quality of wine, all bets are now off.

We’ve recently discovered a €3.19 bottle of Portuguese white which would condemn a tenner’s worth of anything French to the spittoon.

Some of our favourites are under €10 and there are some beautifully elegant reds around the €30 mark.

And there are some amazing fine wines – for my recent 50th birthday my brother-in-law treated me to “the best wine in Portugal” – a Barca-Velha 2011 (Google it!).

So finally, after playing at it for the last few decades, we’ve decided to go legit: to calibrate our taste buds, hit the books, and get certified.

The first question was what is the best, most affordable and accessible wine course to formalise decades of semi-hazy tastings from Cape Town to California.

We loved the documentary Somm, but thought trying to join the Court of Master Sommeliers with everything else going on might be a bit of a push.

And then someone recommended the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and we started digging.

We found a few places in Portugal offering entry levels one and two, including a fantastic looking course at the Plansel wine school and vineyard in Alentejo, but it’s a long commute and so we settled on an online course based in London to get us started.

Ana’s the most certifiable as she’s the one with the best nose for wine.

One fabulous tasting day in Franschhoek she famously sniffed a fancy South African champagne (a Method Cape Classique) and declared “bacon” to the smart sommelier who after the initial shock agreed she had a point.

We’re going straight in at Level 2 and while also trying to keep up with the reading I am focussing my efforts far more on the weekly tastings.

And I can report that we have already learned more of the lingo and have a really nice structure to methodically follow in pursuit of the perfect tasting note.

We’ve spent years scoring wines on random scales such as “14 out of 17,” “five out of 11 starfish” and “three and half terriers out of a mastiff” in order to own something we felt pretty uncomfortable with.

But now we’re learning to go through the checklist of appearance, nose and palate while learning to pick out aromas and identify fruity flavours.

We need to separate our citrus from our stone fruits, our herbals from our herbaceous and train our tongues for tannins, associate acids and then draw some convincing conclusions.

But like everything…practice makes perfect, right?

Portugal has attracted many new residents due to the ease of obtaining a visa to live in Portugal at low cost and, with care, a ten year tax free holiday for new residents. 

Sovereign has developed great expertise in assisting clients to obtain visas and in structuring the clients affairs and assets tax efficiently to take advantage of the not uncomplicated ten year tax holiday. Read more about Residency in Portugal.

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