Christmas in wine country conjures images of spending festive time in Napa or Sonoma, maybe Paso Robles or Santa Cruz County. But how about this year exploring a totally different wine region like the Alentejo in Portugal? Right now, Portugal is one of the hottest destinations on the planet. And the Alentejo is only about an hour east of Lisbon (a city so similar to San Francisco, you’ll almost forget where you are if you’re an SF native). The wines of Alentejo are great; the food is delicious, and the people, like all of the Portuguese, are beyond friendly. The Alentejo, with its Mediterranean climate, consists of vast plains and rolling hills and is situated south of the Tagus River and north of the Algarve. You’ll discover large cork forests as the Alentejo produces about half of the world’s corks, as well as acres of vineyards growing some of Portugal’s 250 native grape varietals. Here, towns are centuries old and reflect the rich cultural history of previous civilizations. Many of the towns retain the walls that protected them long ago, including Évora – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital of Alentejo. Évora is filled with white-washed houses from the 16th century, narrow, cobblestone streets, palaces, convents, monuments, churches (the building of the medieval cathedral was started in the late 1100s), many built in the popular Manueline style of architecture. There are even ruins from a Roman temple. Wine tourism is immensely popular in the region with more than 60 wineries on the Alentejo Wine Route. Most have extensive programs to engage and educate their guests about their history and their wines. Some also produce olive oil and have restaurants to showcase their wines with high-end gastronomy. Reds predominate with fewer whites due to the challenge of the hot climate. Visiting charming towns like Reguengos de Monsaraz and Montemor-o-Novo along the wine trail is a plus. Here’s what My husband and I found. THE WINERIES (All have US importers except where noted.) Herdade do Esporão (about 40 minutes from Évora) produced its first vintage in 1985 though the property and history date back to the 15th century. Archeological relics confirm the significance of the site. Today, Esporão is dedicated to preserving the land and forging strong bonds with the community. Sustainability is an integral part of their everyday life – in how they farm their grapes and their olives to the materials used in their state-of-the-art buildings. In addition to tours, biking, foraging, bird watching and wine and olive oil tastings, the restaurant at Esporão is a favorite. The dining room is open and airy and extends to a patio, all over looking acres of vineyards. The food is expertly prepared, the presentation beautiful; the fresh flavors represent the bounty of their garden and the local products. Choose your tasting menu and delight in the experience. We started with cured and lightly breaded mackerel in a savory broth of fish bones and tomato water paired with the 2015 Monte Velho White (40% Antão Vaz/40% Roupeiro/20% Perrum). Next was the 2015 Reserve White (40% Arinto/40% Roupeiro/20% Antão Vaz) served with red mullet, mussels and squash. The 2013 Reserva Red (40% Aragonez/30% Alicante Bouschet/20% Trincadeira/10% Cabernet Sauvignon) was paired with succulent aged beef. The peaches and lavender tart for dessert tasted as luscious as it looked.