José Maria da Fonseca Wine Tour – Portugal

We have decided we are on a mission to see “How It’s Made” or “Where It’s Made”. There is so much around us in Spain and Portugal that is locally grown/made, so why not see what we can, first hand?
José Maria da Fonseca Moscatel Cellar - Family Reserve

This day was a wine tour just on the outskirts of Setúbal, Portugal.  José Maria da Fonseca (JMF) is the oldest producer of table wines in Portugal.  They are best known for their Periquita and Moscatel.  The company was founded back in 1834 and after 7 generations, the same family still runs the show.  We reserved our tour in English in advance and arrived right on time. We were greeted in reception and paid our 3 € for each adult. This cost covered the tour and a tasting as well. The kids were free, because there is no tasting for them.

The Private Tour

We waited for our tour guide in the José Maria da Fonseca Manor House front reception room. Until the 1970’s this was still the family home. At that time they decided to turn this portion of the home into more of a museum area.  We were greeted by our guide and we were very excited to find out we were in for a private tour. Our guide showed us the first bottling machine and corking machine. We also learned that they wrapped the entire bottle with paper and hand wrote the wine and year as the label. There were several awards, certificates and family pictures around as well. We were all fascinated with everything that was being shared with us. They make several varieties of wine, but are most famous for their Periquita and Moscatel.

That’s a BIG Barrel Ya Have There

Upon leaving the family house, we entered a courtyard. There was a bit of rain, but such a beautiful property with Fall in the air.  While we didn’t get to go into the very intriguing gardens, I did manage to sneak a few pictures of the paths leading to them. We first walked over to the Periquita Cellar. We entered into a long wide room full of barrels. Down the center were French Oak Barrels full of wine that is stored here to get a light aroma. It is then mixed with the BIG Mahogany Barrel for aging (10% oak 90% mahogany).  To give you an idea at how big these barrels are, if you imagine a barrel on it’s side, the circular piece of wood was about 10 feet tall.

We were all fascinated with the Big Barrel. They were so large, they had to build them in the room, as they were twice as big as the doors. At the bottom of this type of barrel were a few attachment nozzles to aid in the release of the wine and the barrel cleaning. There was also a tiny little door at the bottom that one of our children might be able to fit through.  When necessary, they have an adult go in to clean the barrel. We were all full of questions and our guide was more than happy to answer them all.

Big and Dark

Next we walked over to a very large and dark Moscatel Wine Cellar.  The room was incredible, with thick 25 ft stone walls, wood beamed ceilings and sandy floors.  As you enter, you are hit with the very strong smell of musty yet sweet wine. Of course, I was thinking “ah what a perfect place for a haunted house”. The room was filled floor to ceiling with the French Oak wine barrels.  Along the center wall was an original stained glass window.  Just above us in the center was an incredible handmade chandelier. It had to be at least 6 feet in diameter with just one light in the center. Below this light was a hollowed out iron monogram of the winery (JMF). The light passed through it and projected it below onto the sand.

The Family Reserve

Way at the end of this cellar, behind lock and key, was the private family reserve. With each vintage the family saved 1 barrel and 60 bottles for their reserves. They have kept record of each year they put wine in their reserve since 1880. The family will use this as a tasting room for very prestigious guests. I guess the Wagoner Family didn’t rank to that level this time. The table is made of chalk board, so when a tasting is done they may write the name and vintage of the wine near the glass.

The Red Face Test

As we left the wine cellars and the courtyard area, we entered into the wine shop. There they had their 2 most popular wines ready for us to taste as well as a plate of crackers. The kids were all over the crackers, as if they have never seen food before.  We had to slow them down, as it was a tad bit embarrassing.

First we enjoyed a 1993 Periquita Family Reserve. YUM!  It was a subtle red wine that was soooo smooth. We both really enjoyed the wine, but best of all it passed the Red Face Test! (For some reason, after having children, my face turns bright red with just a sip of “cheap” wine. Not sure if I am allergic or just change in the old body.) Of course we just had to purchase a bottle, for a very reasonable price, just under 8 €.

Next we moved on to the Moscatel.  Depending on the age of the wine, it may be served as an aperitif or a dessert wine. This was a “young” bottle of nearly 20 years, thus could be served as both.  It was caramel in color and so very sweet.  Quite tasty, without a doubt!

What is that thing?

After the tasting we explored the shop and noticed a modern contraption machine with a variety of wines attached.  It turns out you can purchase a card for the machine and taste any of the wines. Each wine had their own price for the “sample” depending on it vintage and variety.  Very cool! It was time for us to go explore Lisbon, but we so enjoyed this tour and highly recommend if you are in the area.

I was quite surprised how much he kids enjoyed this tour. They kept talking about it throughout the day as we toured Historic Lisbon. Even on the car ride home, late that night, they were still talking about it!

José Maria da Fonseca
Rua José Augusto Coelho nº11-13
925 Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Portugal

Our “Where it’s Made” wish list:

We hope to see Various Wines, Olive Oil, Grenadine among other things throughout Spain. Just comment below and tell us if there is something you would like for us to see  “Where It’s Made”. We will take note and see if we can add it to our travel plans.


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