Within the context of western Europe’s wine producing traditions, Portugal has succeeded in preserving its individuality – due to geographical isolation, as well as a diverse range of regional climates and grape varieties. While Portuguese fortified wines like Port and Madeira have retained a devoted following for centuries, the country’s still wine production underwent a modern resurgence of quality at the end of the twentieth century that continues through today. Let’s explore the prominent regions and grapes that make Portugal so special.
Located in northern Portugal along the Douro River (Duero in Spain), Douro enjoys a warm-to-hot continental climate, which allows grapes to easily reach physiological ripeness. Although Douro is best known for its Port wines, a wealth of excellent table wines are also produced here. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão are the most important black grapes of the region’s numerous varieties; many vineyards are terraced along the valley’s hillsides, which makes for a truly spectacular sight.
Still red wines may be blends or made from a single varietal – Touriga Nacional is considered the finest. They are medium- to full-bodied with ripe tannins, lively acidity, and concentrated dark fruit flavors. Wines designated as “Reserva” and “Grande Reserva” have the potential to mature for long periods of time in the cellar.
To the south of Douro, the mountainous Dão region contains vineyards with a broad diurnal range (the temperature difference between day and night), which encourages well-balanced grapes. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are also grown here, as well as two more black grape varieties: Alfrocheiro and Jaen. Red wines are softer than those from Douro, but the best examples are also capable of aging. White wines produced from the Encruzado grape are very flavorful and elegant in style.
Found further south, the hot and dry region of Alentejo has a growing reputation for intensely flavored, full-bodied red wines. Classic blends are produced from black grapes like Aragonês (Tempranillo), Trincadeira, and Castelão, but plantings of Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, and Syrah are becoming more fashionable. Many of these wines are considered to be among the best Portuguese values.
The Vinho Verde region is located in northwest Portugal, where the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean creates ideal conditions for light-bodied, refreshing white wines. Many examples are slightly effervescent, aromatic, and fruity.
The next time you’re in the mood for a great Old World red or white that over-delivers, try a bottle from Portugal and taste what all the buzz is about!