There\u2019s an unlikely new star among Portuguese grapes.\r\n\r\nAlicante Bouschet has a long history but, until recently, was typically only appreciated in one iconic wine: Mouch\u00e3o. But increasingly, wine producers in Alentejo, east of Lisbon, have decided that this teinturier grape, one of the very few where both the flesh and skin are red, is their new variety of the moment.\r\nHow a French crossbreed became Portugal\u2019s hidden star\r\nThe history of this unlikely diva began in the 1850s in the South of France. Henri Bouschet, at Domaine de la Calmette, north of N\u00eemes, crossed Grenache with Petit Bouschet. The latter is itself a crossbreed Henri\u2019s father, Louis Bouchet, created from Aramon Noir and an unknown red-fleshed grape.\r\n\r\nIn Mediterranean France, Spain and California, Alicante Bouschet sometimes pops up in blends that look for serious color.\r\n\r\nNow, Portugal has become its spiritual home.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe think Alicante Bouschet was planted at Mouch\u00e3o in the late 1800s,\u201d says Iain Reynolds Richardson, managing director and member of the family that owns Herdade do Mouch\u00e3o. The winery has been nestled in the wild cork-oak hills of northern Alentejo, two hours northeast of Lisbon, since 1901. \u201cMy family is recognized as one of the pioneers of the grape in Portugal,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nRichardson describes Alicante Bouschet wines as \u201cdark, rich and concentrated.\u201d\r\n\r\nToday\u2019s Mouch\u00e3o is one of the great wines of Portugal. Its flagship blend is Alicante Bouschet with just a drip of Trincadeira. Traditionally fermented in open stone lagars after foot treading, Mouch\u00e3o exhibits all the pluses and minuses of Alicante Bouschet.\r\n\r\nWhen young, it\u2019s shy and lacks effusiveness, says Richardson. The wines need to age in huge old-wood barrels for several years, after which the wine begins to shine. Mouch\u00e3o\u2019s most recent release is their 2013 vintage.\r\nA new era for Alicante Bouschet\r\nDavid Baverstock, director of oenology at Herdade do Espor\u00e3o, the largest estate in Alentejo, says Alicante Bouschet has many advantages over most red varieties.\r\n\r\n\u201cCompared to other Alentejo varieties it has better color, better natural acidity and a better tannin structure,\u201d he says. \u201cThe wines have great ageability.\u201d\r\n\r\nBaverstock planted Alicante Bouschet at Espor\u00e3o in the 1990s. He was inspired, he says, \u201cby Mouch\u00e3o, which created a great impression on me when I arrived in Portugal 40-odd years ago.\u201d\r\n\r\nAlexandre Relvas, owner of Herdade de S\u00e3o Miguel in Alentejo, believes in the importance of Alicante Bouschet in his Reservas.\r\n\r\n\u201cPlanted on our schist soils, it is the grape that gives the structure and power,\u201d he says. \u201cRipe and full-bodied, while its acidity still keeps freshness.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe grape has its challenges. It needs to be picked at just the right time, says Richardson, when both the stems as well as the berries are ripe.\r\n\r\nPeter Bright, winemaker at Terras de Alter, was also inspired by Mouch\u00e3o when he first tasted it. He says that as the wines age, Alicante Bouschet changes \u201cfrom rustic, stewed beetroot, plum to a floral, spice with silky tannins. The Grenache in the cross comes out after 10 years.\u201d\r\n\r\nPortuguese winemakers are some of the most skilled blenders in the world. Confronted with Alicante Bouschet, however, even they proceed with caution.\r\n\r\nBaverstock blends the grape with Syrah in Espor\u00e3o\u2019s Private Selection wines. Relvas prefers it act as the main grape in a wine. And both Bright and Richardson tend to keep it to a minimum in blends or not use it at all.\r\n\r\nYet, for all its challenges and its sometimes-petulant behavior, Alicante Bouschet produces magnificent wines. Created more than 150 years ago in a small vineyard in the French Languedoc, it has turned from an ugly duckling into a swan. Best of all, the results are increasingly available to taste.\r\nSix Alicante Bouschets from Portugal to Try\r\nMouch\u00e3o 2013 Red (Alentejo); $60, 96 points. Fermented in traditional open-top granite tanks and aged for three years in large wood barrels, this wine celebrates Alicante Bouschet. It has power, dense tannins and a powerfully rich texture. These contrast well with the solid black fruits and the impressive poise and elegance. Wine in Motion. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nSymington Family Estates 2017 Quinta da Fonte Souto Vinho do Souto (Alentejo); $55, 94 points. A blend this is among the first releases from the Alentejo estate bought in 2017 by the Douro\u2019s Symington Family. This flagship wine is densely powerful with massive tannins that are masked by the concentrated black fruits. There is juiciness along with the richness and the promise of considerable aging. Drink from 2023. Premium Port Wines. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nHerdade do Espor\u00e3o 2014 Private Selection (Alentejo); $65, 93 points. This impressive wine is built by rich tannins, ripe dark fruit and smooth oak tones. While it shows dense concentration on the midpalate, the finish ends elegant and rounded. Drink now. Now Imports. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nMonte da Ravasqueira 2014 Premium Alicante Bouschet (Alentejano); $60, 93 points. The dense dark color is a hallmark of a wine made exclusively from the red-flesh grape Alicante Bouschet. Big tannins and a rich texture give the wine its weight and density paralleling the black-plum flavors. The wine is impressive, rich and still needing a little time. Drink from late 2019. LGL Imports. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nHerdade do Rocim 2017 Rocim Alicante Bouschet (Alentejano); $22, 92 points. This densely colored wine from Alicante Bouschet is packed with tannins, a black plum flavor and a firm structure. All of which suggests that this Catarina Vieira wine, from a warm south-facing vineyard, will age very well. Certainly don\u2019t drink before 2021, when the tannins will have softened. Shiverick Imports.\r\n\r\nRibafreixo 2015 Herdade do Moinho Branco Alicante Bouschet (Alentejo); $38, 92 points. Fermented and aged in oak, the wine is powerful and dense. It shows the richness as well as the dark color that comes from the Alicante Bouschet. The bold fruit and dense texture are just now coming to maturity. Drink now. Dionysos Imports.