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The Wines of Portugal
While the most prestigious wines exported from Portugal are the Portos, the country does produce a range of good quality table wines.

Years ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, the most ubiquitous wines were the rosés from Portugal. Along with other European "fine wines" (I'm thinking of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, Mouton-Cadet Bordeaux and Riunite Lambrusco), the other famous Euro-exports were Lancer's and Mateus rosés.  People buying these sorts of wines were thought of as "bon vivants," being some sort of wine "expert."

Today these wines cannot be found in a serious wine shop (we'll special order them for you, if you like).

portugal.gif (22204 bytes)Portuguese wines are, for the most part, unknown to the San Francisco wine drinker. In fact, few outside of Portugal are very familiar with the wines of this Iberian Peninsula country.

While the typical wine connoisseur most certainly has bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Cabernet, other than a bottle of Port, you're not likely to find Portuguese wines in the collection.

The Portuguese have had a system of wine regulations in place longer than France, for example. Wine regions were demarcated and standards were instituted, but the Portuguese didn't keep up with the times. As a result, there are but a few Portuguese wines which fetch premium prices.  This will change, as we're starting to see a few very fine bottlings from Portugal.  Also, many Portuguese producers are now venturing to the U.S. in hopes of creating a market for their wines. 

In 1985 there were but 10 demarcated regions. Today there are 55. Things are changing.

Portugal's entry into the European Union is good news. Monies became available to upgrade the vineyards and wineries. While we still taste some rustic (or rusty) wines from Portugal, some positive signs (and wines) are showing up here.

Though there are nearly 200,000 winegrowers in Portugal, the bulk of the business is done by cooperative wineries (of which there are a few more than a hundred) and large independent vintners.

The past decade has seen major changes and Portugal is producing some great "value-priced" bottlings and there are numerous deluxe, high-priced efforts, too.  The landscape is changing, with a number of good, small, privately-owned estates.  But some of the large wine companies make lovely wines and with their names often being difficult to pronounce, these are overlooked by many American buyers.

Happily, the producers don't require us to be able to say their names correctly to be able to buy a bottle of their wines.

The Regions

The Minho

Vinho Verde

This is the region from Oporto at the south to the Spanish border at the north.
Though the region produces something like 70% red wines, it's the mildly fizzy white wine called "Vinho Verde" which is amongst the most famous wines of Portugal.

There are several important sub-regions , including Amarante and Penafiel (near Oporto), Braga (see the map above), Baião, Lima, Cávado, Sousa and Monção. It is in this latter region where one finds the Portuguese version of Albariño, "Alvarinho". Some contend this is a sort of "Vinho Verde", though we find it considerably more interesting.


The Dão

Located in the Beiras region

Dão


Dão Nobre

(more "noble")


Dão Novo 
(a
nouveau style)


Dão Clarete (bigger than Novo, lighter than standard Dão)

The center of this region is Viseu and it's some 50 miles south of the Douro. There are three rivers along which you'll find vineyards, the Alva, the Dão and the Mondego. There are 50,000 acres of vineyards and, until recently, I read that there is but one "estate grown and bottled" wine in the entire region! 

Most of the wine is red although white Dão is somewhat simple, and steely-dry. 

We usually find the reds from Dão to be somewhat on the order of a little French Minervois or Fitou, for example. 

The red grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto. Jaen, Tinta Pinheira for the reds. White varieties include the Encruzado, Assario (known as Malvasia Fina in the Douro), Cerceal and the Bical.

Bairrada
Located in the Beiras region

Though the Dão has a head-start in selling its wines around the world, Bairrada is a challenger in terms of really good quality wines, along with the Douro. This region is north of Coimbra and south of Oporto, just west of the Dão. The cities of Mealhada and Anadia are the main towns in the Bairrada region. You'll find mostly reds here (it's quite a warm area).

The main grapes are Baga (for the reds) and Bical (for the few whites). 

The reds tend to be rather strong and have a firm backbone of tannin. The Castelão is often used to soften the Baga wines. Another red variety, Preto Mortgua (the Touriga Nacional of the Douro and Dão) is also found here. 

Arinto and Cerceal are two other white grapes currently being cultivated.

RIBATEJO

This is a rich agricultural area inland from the Estremadura and north and northeast of Lisbon.  

Grape varieties include the Aragonez (or Tinta Roriz), Baga, Camarate, Castelão, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Trincadeira for the typical reds.  There's some Pinot Noir in the Ribatejo, as well as Cabernet and Syrah.  Whites include Arinto, Fernão Pires (sometimes called Maria Gomes) and Rabo de Ovelha. 

Sub-regions include Cartaxo, Santarém, Almeirim, Coruche, Tomar and Charmusca

ESTREMADURA The Estremadura is a stretch of land north of Lisbon and bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

It's a large region which supplied, for many years, inexpensive bulk wine to other regions.  

There are many very good wines now coming from the Estremadura and these are often attractively-priced.

Carcavelos is a tiny appellation, not far from the famous Estoril resort. This area produces and off-dry dessert (or aperitif, if you like) wine which is reminiscent of a Madeira.

Colares is a red wine of some fame. It's produced from a grape called Ramisco and is grown in the sand dunes west of Lisbon between Sintra and the sea. The vines are ungrafted as phylloxera can't deal with sandy soil.

Bucelas is slightly better known and a larger appellation, located about 10 miles north of Lisbon. White wine of little distinction tends to be produced in this region. Arinto is the grape in this region.

Alenquer is a particularly interesting region.  The region is the home of many apple and pear orchards, as well as fine vineyards.  Soils are varied, with limestone and chalk dominating in the west.  Not only are local grape varieties prominent, we found unusual grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah and Aglianico here are well!

Douro

Three Sub-Regions

BAIXO CORGO
The smallest in terms of actually size, but the largest in terms of vineyard plantings (15,000 hectares of vineyards). It is the most westerly area, with cooler temperatures and greater rainfall. 

CIMA CORGO
The middle area or the heart of the Douro...it has about 13,000 hectares under vine and is slightly warmer than the Baixo Corgo and a bit drier.

DOURO SUPERIOR
The "Upper Douro" has a mere 5,000 hectares of its more than 110,000 hectare landscape planted to vines.  It's much drier and significantly warmer than the other two Douro sub-regions.


The Douro is a remarkable region, capable of making wines comparable to the finest in the world.  Its calling card for the past couple of hundred years has been the fortified wine called "Porto" or "Port."  This was created by adding alcohol to the juice or wine from the Douro to make them more stable for shipping and export.

With alcohol consumption decreasing, the sale of high-octane Ports has slid.  Producers are adjusting to these conditions and today we find an impressive range of table wines coming from this rugged, remarkably gorgeous terroir.

The Ferreira Port firm makes what has been the most prestigious (and expensive) Portuguese red, Barca Velha. Now many vintners are making wines capable of competing in international markets.  Names such as Niepoort, Van Zeller, Wine & Soul, Quinta do Crasto and others are turning out top table wines.

The grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cão and Sousão for the reds. White varieties are the Malvasia Fina, Viosinho and Gouveio.

TERRAS DO SADO

Setúbal is the peninsula some 20 miles south of Lisbon and legend has it that it was settled by one of Noah's son, Tubal. The Phoenicians brought Muscat to the region and its wine became a favorite of Louis XIV. Today the Muscat of Setúbal is still famous, though on these shores, seriously under-appreciated. This is (or can be) one of the world's greatest dessert wines.

Palmela covers much of the same ground as Setúbal, but extends a tad further east to Montijo.  The major red grape is Castelão, which had been called by many producers "Periquita."  It was finally established that Periquita is a brand of wine and so today only one winery, Jose Maria da Fonseca, offers "Periquita."  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are now cultivated

Alentejo This is a large area occupying the southeast part of Portugal. It is said that half the world's cork supply comes from this region.

 
Portalegre is a northern area, right on the Spanish border. The main variety here is the Aragonez (known as Tempranillo in Spain), along with Trincadeira Preta, Castelão and Grand Noir.  Whites made from Arinto, Fernão Pires and Síria.

Borba is planted primarily with Castelão. You will also find a bit of Trincadeira Preta and Moreto.  White wines are often made of Arinto, Síria and/or Antão Vaz.

Reguengos and Redondo are predominantly Castelão, Alfrocheiro, Aragonez and Trincadeira Preta.  Whites tend to be Arinto, Antão Vaz, Síria or Fernão Pires.

Vidigueira is the home of the Alfrocheiro Preto, a variety more common to the Do. Some Aragonez, Castelão and Trincadeira Preta are now cultivated.
The Romans aged their wines in clay amphoras and these are still to be found in the Alentejo.

Don't forget Évora and Moura.

The region also features a significant number of cork trees.

Algarve This is the southern coastal area of Portugal.
The appellations include Lagoa, Lagos, Portimo and Tavira. Red wines in the region tend to be mostly Negra Mole, while whites come from the Crato Branco variety.


Golf is prominent in this region.


Some Portuguese Table Wines

Portuguese Dessert Wines

PHOTOS TAKEN IN OPORTO

TOURING IN PORTUGAL

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