Portugal is one of the few countries in the wine world that have largely kept out international grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir etc. The raft of indigenous varieties, though not a long list, has enabled Portugal to create individual and unique wines with a real story behind them.
Portugal has been a bit behind the 8-ball when it comes to international export of its wines and has only really started to do so in the last decade or so. This is for a couple of reasons: putting a large focus on the fortified wines of the Douro – Port, and the wines made across the country were often over-oaked, too chunky, lower quality or made in a less fruit-forward style that the international market demands. Since the 1980s there has been a real increase in wines made across Portugal. Now there are whites that could easily beat those of Spain and reds that are in competition with those from France and Italy.
Main Grapes or styles
Alvarinho – is also known as Albarino in Spain. It is the main grape behind the wines of Vinho Verde where it is refreshing and citrusy.
Touriga Nacional – the most lauded wines of Portugal are made from this variety. Touriga Nacional is Portugal’s answer to France’s Cabernet Sauvignon or Italy’s Nebbiolo. It is high in both tannin and acidity but makes sumptuous reds with an aromatic profile encapsulating purple and dark fruits with violets and lavender. Touriga Nacional is also blended into the very best Ports made in the Douro.
Tempranillo – also known as Tinta Roriz and Aragonez, depending on where you are standing in Portugal. It is used in both single varietal reds and helps to flesh out the red blends of Lisbon, Alentejo and Beira.
Douro – in the north of Portugal and stretches across the width of the country to the Spanish border in the east. It is mountainous with vineyards tucked into the curvature along the Douro river. It is red wine country with most of the grapes going into the production of the famous fortified wines of Port. The last few decades have proved that Douro can indeed make cracking red table wines too – all of which have been growing in quality in recent years. Douro is also home to a few white grapes such as Ribagato and Malvasia.
Dao – is just south of the Douro Valley and home to some of the leading wine producers. The red wines from Dao are made from Touriga Nacional and Mencia – they are full bodied, with high tannins and acidities. The leading examples from the best producers are putting a new face on Portugal’s reputation for top-quality wine production.
Minho – the most northerly region of Portugal which has borders with the coast and Spain. The most famous sub-region is Vinho Verde whose white wines are known the world over. Across the region the grapes of Alvarinho and Louriero are used to create refreshing white wines that are fruit-forward and made for drinking early.
Climate and its effect on the wines made here
Portugal is hot and gets hotter the further inland you get. This is the reason why roughly 75% of the wines produced are full-bodied reds. The only exception to this is the region of Minho in the north on the Spanish border. It is home to the sub-region of Vinho Verde which are refreshing, zingy white wines made from Alvarinho.