The Wines of Portugal: More than Port
Portuguese wine is finally coming into its own. While many of us associate the country with rich, decadent Port and Madeira wines, the fact is that Portugal's dry wines deliver exceptional taste and phenomenal complexity at great value. It's a newly re-discovered gem, full of bold reds, zippy, refreshing whites, and lush, fruity rosés.
Portugal's Trove of Native Grapes
One of the things that makes Portugal so exciting as a winemaking country is the sheer number of indigenous grape varieties found throughout its climatically and geographically diverse regions. There are easily over 200 distinct varieties.
From aromatic white grapes like the zesty Alvarinho, which is known as Albariño across the border in Spain's Rias Baixas, to Antão Vaz, Encruzado and the ubiquitous Fernão Pires. Bold reds made from grapes like powerful Touriga Nacional, tannic Baga, and Touriga Franca. And like it's neighbour to the east, you'll find Tempranillo in Portugal's vineyards, called Tinta Roriz or Aragonez in this side of the Iberian Peninsula.
Vinho Verde is Portugal's 'green wine' (the literal translation), meant to be drunk while it's young and fresh. A dry wine with just a hint of sparkle, Vinho Verde can be red, white, or rosado and are typically comprised of a blend of grapes. The white versions are practically made for shellfish and light pasta dishes.
Though famous for Port production, the Douro Valley is also home to outstanding dry red wines of exceptional power and finesse. These are some of the finest examples of Portuguese wine you'll ever come across and are capable of ageing in cellar for several years. Touriga Nacional performs especially well here amongst the steep slopes carved out by the River Douro.
The Dão is a mountainous region. Its vineyards often creep up the slopes of the Serra de Estrela range where the greater sun exposure helps concentrate the flavours of the grapes. The result is intense wines often based on Touriga Nacional and Aragonez/Tempranillo (known locally as Tinta Roriz) which maintain excellent levels of acidity, to make overall well-balanced wines.
Historically more famous for its cork forests, today, wine lovers are taking note of the southerly Alentejo region for its wonderfully rich, intense wines. Fruity reds ideal for everyday drinking are the stars here. Because it boasts a warm climate, white wine production is slightly tricker, although there are a handful of skilled winemakers producing white wines of incredible beauty and finesse. Look for red wines made from Aragonez, as well as Castelão, and Trincadeira.
Right now, Portuguese wine is still fairly under the radar, but who knows how long that will last? These are brilliant wines perfect for any occasion – especially once you factor in the fact they offer outstanding value for the quality of wine you're getting. If you haven't sampled Portuguese wine before, now is the time to do it. These wines have never been better.