Portugal has a great tradition of winemaking with a wealth of characterful (if sometimes unpronounceable) indigenous grape varieties.
Just to give you a heads up, Portuguese wines were distinguished at the 33rd International Wine Challenge edition with 64 gold medals, 238 silver medals and 341 bronze medals. Portugal was among the most awarded countries alongside with France, Italy and Spain.
Portugal has been undergoing something of a quiet revolution over the last twenty years or so. A reluctance to follow trends and plant international grapes is now paying dividends and the new breed wines are more than able to compete on the world stage. The unique flavours that are the hallmark of Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties have become its trump card. Good news for those looking for a change from wines made from ubiquitous international varieties.
Like most European wines, Portuguese bottles are often labelled by region, rather than grape variety which makes articulating “Arragônes” and “Trincadeira” unnecessary. And despite vintners beginning to include some grape varieties on labels, it’s easier to discover new favourites by region.
We have a few varieties that some you might have heard or even tried. I will try to keep it simple…
The steep, terraced vineyards along the Douro River have been producing world class wines for centuries—mostly in the form of the famous dessert wine, port. In the last few decades, however, the dry wines are emerging from the shadows. Because there were already established vineyards and talented winemakers in the area, the region went from zero to sixty right away. Dry Douro wines can be red, white, or rosé and a wide range of grapes are allowed.
The red wines tend to be robust and full-bodied and often spend some time ageing in oak.
Port wine vines need to grow in schist rich soil and require a specific micro-climate. It is produced through a unique vinification method. The red varietals are the most common. The wine is produced in the beautiful landscape of the Douro Valley in Alto Douro region, a region that is classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. You might see white grape-based white Port from time to time, mostly served as an aperitif or in a highball with tonic. White Port is a little sweet since the fermentation is stopped by fortification, just like red port.
Dão enjoys a Goldilocks climate: not as hot as the interior, and not too close to the cold ocean breezes. This region’s location is just right for the ideal balance of ripeness and acidity in wine grapes.
Many people compare the Dão’s red wines to those from Burgundy in France—a comparison that has more to do with the graceful nature of the wine than any actual similarities to Pinot Noir. The wines will generally be full-bodied with flavours of black cherry, earl grey tea, and cocoa.
White blends are made in the area, but if you’re going to try just one, seek out the tasty white wines made just from the Encruzado grape. Fans of dry Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay will also love the richness of Encruzado, which offers flavours of baked apple, lemon, and pineapple.
This massive region is mostly known for its miles and miles of cork trees. But even though only five percent of the land is planted with grapes, wines from this region have started to generate a serious buzz.
If you’re starting to get familiar with Portuguese red wine grapes, you may recognize a few of the biggies here. One common factor you’ll see in all these wines is sunshine: riper grapes mean higher alcohol levels and fuller-bodied wines. For both red and white wines, check out Herdade do Esporão, a major player who is pushing quality in Alentejo forward.
Milho – Vinho Verde
If you’ve ever drunk something ice-cold on the beach that happened to be from Portugal, we wager it was Vinho Verde, a wine from Minho. Best served young when the wine is at its peak of aromatics and crisp acidity, the wines of Minho are the ideal wine alongside salads, fish, vegetable dishes and even do well paired against citrus-driven sauces.
- White Vinho Verde wines, light-bodied white wines, often have a slight spritz and fruity.
- Reds/rosés of Vinho Verde are offered red berry flavours with quenching acidity like lemonade
In Portugal, this type of grapes origins the famous “Moscatel”, a sweet floral wine served typically with the desert, as the Port Wine. It’s, thus, a liqueur wine that can be made in two different regions – in Setúbal Peninsula and in the Douro Valey. The Douro Valley Moscatel is made mainly from the “Galego” (white) grape variety.
For 200 years, Blandy’s Madeira has been synonymous with quality Madeira wine. The Blandys are unique in being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their own original wine company. The family has played a leading role in the development of Madeira wine throughout its long history and members of the family continue to live on Madeira, maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1811.
To help you out, I think these words might be helpful when it comes to chose it:
- Adega: Winery
- Branco: White
- Casta: Grape variety
- Colheita: Vintage year
- Doce: Sweet
- Espumante: Sparkling wine
- Garrafeira: A reserve red wine aged at least two years in a barrel and one year in a bottle; a white wine aged at least six months in a barrel and six months in a bottle.
- Maduro: Mature (in opposition to verde). Mature wines are Portuguese wines produced in all regions except the ones produced in Vinho Verde region; due to this, the term “maduro” rarely appears on bottles.
- Quinta: Vineyard
- Reserva: Superior quality wine of a single vintage
- Seco: Dry
- Tinto: Red
- Verde: Green (in opposition to maduro). Wines produced in Vinho Verde region with a distinctive method.
- Vinho: Wine
Read more about the 2017 harvest season.