An introduction to Portuguese Wine

an introduction to Portuguese wine

to find a title to this article proved very difficult and it changed many times, I was trying to be funny, I took a cultural turns than I switched to historical reference but this article is about Portuguese Wine, simple and straight forward.

an introduction to Portuguese wineAs in France, the country best known for wine production, Portuguese wine is a an integral part of culture and accompanies most meals, served at every lunch and dinner at home or out.
By some of the older folk it´s often enjoyed already from the early hours in small quantities and glasses that resemble a short drink.

Vineyard Central PortugalPortuguese wine is often produced by the local vineyard or farmer who works on making a collection of bottles that can be enjoyed by family and friends. Some of the local, home produced wines are quite good, some really bad.
In the villages you will often be presented with a glass to taste by a proud producer.

But Portuguese wines go far beyond the home produced varieties and on offer is a large selection of medium and high class wines from several wine district each with it´s unique quality and style.

Portuguese wine makes use of a unique art in wine production that is winning more and more international prizes thanks to its resulting original tastes.

This article is mainly written by one who enjoys wine but who is certainly not a connoisseur but in Portugal I enjoy its natural, unpolluted and pure taste and appreciate it´s historically cultural reference. I specifically enjoy the distinctive oak barrel flavors form the Douro, Ribatejo and Dão regions.
I believe that a lot of the wines rank with the best worldwide and deserve to be better known and understood.

Wine from Portugal is not very well known internationally, even though most wine professionals will have tasted them and some will have awarded some of them, the supermarkets abroad generally offer just a couple of Portuguese wines amongst the large selection of better known greats from France, Spain and more recently from Australia, USA and countries like Italy and Bulgaria.

There is a reason for this, which I will explain later.

Iguarias do ConventoIn order to write this article I´m going to need a lot of proven facts, examples and historical notes and back up!
But I hope that after reading it you will inspired to taste the different regions and grapes and get to know them better!

Speaking for myself I grew up with French wines, I was informed about Chablis, Burgundy, bordeaux, cote do Rhone, Languedoc and Roussillon, Loire than later I learned the Italian Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Valpolicella and Soave before becoming a student and getting to know the Spanish, Californian, Bulgarian and Australian wines.

Portuguese wine I only discovered after my first trip to Portugal many years later.
Quinta da CardigaThe history of Portuguese wine is an interesting one. Portugal has been isolated from the world when it comes to wine making. It is generally accepted that the Tartessians a Greek society concentrated in the South of Spain and spread to Portugal planted the first vineyards more than 2000 BC in the Sado and Tagus valleys. In the tenth century the Phoenicians had there impact on Portuguese wines by introducing new grape sorts. It was the Celts, ancient Greeks and Romans that spread the vineyards more North.

In 1758 Marquis de Pombal established one of the first wine regions in the world, the Douro region and to this day the Douro region has remained one the most known for producing excellent wines.

In current times Portugal is best known for it´s fortified Porto wines, it´s Mateus Rose and varios Vinho Verde wines but there are so many others still left to Discover.

regions please read about the regions here
Vinhos Verdes, Porto/Douro, Bairrada, Bucelas, Colares, Carcavelos, Setúbal, Alentejo, Algarve, Madeira, Tejo

The Vinhos Verde translates as the green wines but means young wine. The wine is not allowed to mature and should be drunk in the same year it is produced. Vinho verde comes in white, red and rose. It is not a grape variety but many and the name refers mainly to its maturing process. It originated in the far north district of Minho but the Vinho Verde district now extends to the south of Minho.

portoPorto/Douro The Porto wines are possibly the best known wines from the Douro regions and the ones that have traded internationally the longest. The Douro region however produces both the fortified Port wines as the lighter to bodied Douro wines. The Douro wines range from light, Bordeaux style claret to rich Burgundian style wines aged in new oak.

Dão Region and wines The Dão region is situated mainly around the Mondego river to the Serra Estrela. The Dão is left to ripen a minimum of 6 months in oak barrels which give it it´s distinctive flavor. Like Port wines it is produced from the Touriga grape.

Bairrada The Bairrada wines originated in the Beirra district. The region is known for its deep colored tannic red wines that often have bell pepper and black currant flavors as well its emerging rosé production.

Colares The Colares district has a very unique history, wine type and production process about which you can read more extensively in our article about
Adega Viuva Gomes close to Lisbon where wine tastings are organized. The vineyards are those of the unique Ramisco grape. The only fully European grape to survive the Phyllovera insect which spread over Europe in the late 19th century.

Almourol castle in the TejoTejoThe Tejo district produces the Ribatejan wines possibly the least known internationally but nevertheless it produces a large selection of award winning excellent wines. The entire disctrict is allowed to use the Tejo VR label and some areas can use the Tejo DOC label. The grapes include Arinto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Camarate, Carignan, Chardonnay, Esgana Cao, Fernao Pires, Jampal, Malvasia Fina, Malvasia Rei, Merlot, Periquita, Pinot noir, Rabo de Ovelha, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, Tamarez, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Muida, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira das Pratas, Ugni blanc and Vital and the sub districts Almeirin, Santarem, Cartaxo, Tomar, Chamusca and Coruche.

The future for Portuguese wines.
The last decade has seen a decline of wine consumption by the Portuguese younger generations, however export is becoming more and more relevant for the Portuguese wine producers. At the 2013 edition of the International Wine Challenge, Portuguese wines won a total of 57 gold medals and wine tourism is becoming ever more popular with more and more wine producing Quintas opening it´s doors for wine tasting and wine events.

The tendency seems to be more and more on the production of quality wines and less on the table wines making this an exiting time to get to know more about Portuguese wines.

Some terms and labeling

Vinho de Mesa – Table wine
VR (Vinho Regional) – Regional wine not a strict classification
IPR or VQPRD – candidates for DOC status
DOC (Vinho de Calidad) – Quality wine subject to strict regulations and certain districts-
CVR – Wines produced in a specific region from at least 85% of locally grown grapes.
Reserva – Quality wines that have been aged for a minimum of 3 years subject to strict regulations

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