Mateus Rosé was the fashionable wine when I started drinking. It tasted good because it was made sweet for new drinkers, it had a slight fizz and it came in an attractive oval flask-shaped dark green bottle from which many of us made lamp-shaped bases. But best of all it ‘went with anything’ because it was pink. No need to anguish about food and wine matching, no worries if one chose fish and the other steak.
On my recent visit to Portugal’s Douro river region I visited Mateus Palace, the picture of which appears on every bottle of Mateus wine. Behind the palace, below its beautifully landscaped gardens, are its vineyards and beside the palace there is a small winery where they make Port which you can buy in the souvenir shop. But you cannot buy Mateus Rosé there.
The only connection between Mateus Palace (above) and Mateus wine is the image of the baroque palace. The brand was invented for the export market and launched in 1942. Permission to use the image of Mateus Palace was asked of its owner who was officered a few cents commission to be paid on every bottle sold. But a one-off lump sum was demanded instead. This turned out to be a major financial mistake because by the mid 1970’s more than 3 million bottles a year were being sold in the UK and USA, and the Mateus accounted for over 40% of all Portuguese wine exports. By 2014 more than one thousand, ten million bottles have been sold.
Mateus Palace was built in 1745 for Antonio Jose Botelho Mourao. His descendants live there still. The grounds and parts of the house are open to visitors. Dark chestnut wood was used for floor, ceilings and doors because termites don't like its taste. The rooms are packed with rare and valuable works of art, furniture, letters and books, and yet because of the variety of items and the brevity of the tour, one is not overwhelmed.
The Palace takes its name from the Mateus parish in which it is located, which is near the town of Vila Real, about 90 kilometres (56 miles) from Porto.
Queen Elizabeth II of Britain ordered Mateus Rose when dining at the Savoy Hotel, and Jimi Hendrix was photographed glugging a bottle of Mateus, but the brand had fallen out of favour by the 1990s and sales declined sharply. In 2002 the brand was re-launched. Varietal wines, including a Spanish Tempranillo and a brut sparkling wine were added to the range.
The iconic bottle, based on the shape of First World War soldiers’ water flasks, was remodelled to bring it more up to date, but the Palace still takes pride of place on the label.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Peter F May visited Mateus Palace at his own expense.