Portugal is not that well known for its table wines, instead when you think of this country you will be more likely to think of the Port it produces in the Douro region (or its beaches!). It is a country that has tended to keep a lot of the wine it produces for the domestic market but is slowly growing internationally. Where other wine producing countries have tended to focus on international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Portugal has a rich resource of local varieties.
Traditionally wines from the Douro area have been overshadowed by the fortified wine, Port produced in this region. However, the wines have greatly evolved over the last decade to prove that this region is not a one-trick pony!
Situated in the North West is Vinho Verde, and the white wines from here are the second most exported Portuguese wines after Port. They are made from a blend of local grapes, with one notably being Vinho Verde Alvarinho, made entirely from Alvarinho. Red and Rosés are also produced in the region too.
South of Douro lies the region of Dão where there have been plantings of noble grapes since the early 1990s, including a high percentage of Touriga Nacional, which is considered to be Portugal’s finest red grape. This grape has also become very important for the Bairrada region, which lies between Dão and the Atlantic Ocean. After the development in winemaking techniques, Bairrada now produces soft and juicy reds that often have great ageing potential. It is also known for its sparkling wine.
Ribatejo DOC produces large quantities of white wine from the Fernão Pires grape and the majority is used for the local market. The exported wines from this region are mainly red wines made from traditional grapes such as Casteláo Frances. One region that is becoming important is Alentejo DOC. Here, intense red and white wines are produced, with of some whites being fermented or oak aged for extra complexity.
Portuguese Classification System
As with most countries in Europe, Portugal has different levels of wine;
- Vinho de Mesa – table wine
- Vinho regional- regional wine, equivalent to France’s Vin de Pays. Some producers are opting to use this level when labelling their wines as the rules are less strict than the following two levels
- Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada (IPR) – these wines have more regulations placed upon them than the previous two categories but are not in a DOC region.
- Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) – These are the most protected wines and indicates that they are from a specific vineyard.
There are also two terms that can be an indicator for potential additional quality;
- Reserva- this means the wine comes from a single vintage and must have passed a tasting panel. If it is a DOC level wine it must have a higher percentage of natural alcohol.
- Garrafeira- this means a red wine must be aged for at least two years in cask and a further year in bottle, and white wines must spend at least six months in cask and six months in bottle. This in addition to meeting the standards of a Reserva wine.
Fill your wine rack with some Portuguese wine, here!
- Colares wine is type of wine produced outside Lisbon between the foothills of Sintra and Roca Cape. Because of Lisbon’s urban sprawl, the land available for vineyards became so small, that the demand has always been higher than the production, making it one of the most expensive Portuguese wines
- The island of Madeira is a small outpost of Portugal off the west coast of Africa, which produces a fortified wine of the same name. It is made in a similar style to Port, with the addition of grape spirit. An additional feature, however, is the heating of the wine for about six months.
- Portuguese wine history is longer than the foundation of Portugal. It is believed that wine was first planted in the Tagus and Sado Valley around 2000 B.C. by the Tartessians.