One could rant endlessly about Portuguese wine culture, the variety of vines, taste and wonderful food. There are now over 200 grape varieties on the Portuguese wine range.
With this article we present a small introduction to the beautiful world of wines from Portugal, with an introduction to selected red and white grape varieties and the Portuguese climate that gives Portugal's wines their unforgettable taste.
Portugal's fine drop
When you think of Portuguese wine, most people immediately think of port wine, probably the most famous wine from Portugal. But port wine is just one of many fine wines that Portugal produces.
The island of Madeira is an enchanting Portuguese destination on the Atlantic coast and has a great, rich wine, Madeira wine .
Historians claim this is the wine that American delegates to the Continental Congress toasted with to celebrate the 1776 Declaration of Independence.
World famous companions
Indeed, Portuguese wines have been a constant companion of great historical turns, sipped by leading figures, yet with far more discretion and humility than their French and Italian counterparts.
For example, a journalist asked the famous musician Jimi Hendrix if he knew that he was actually enjoying a Portuguese rosé in the photo with the Mateus bottle in his hand.
British influences in Portugal
The Portuguese owe a lot to the British and their love of wine.
The Treaty of Methuen between Portugal and England, signed in 1703, allowed the Portuguese to buy English textiles, in return the British could buy Portuguese wine at cheaper prices.
As a result of the agreement and the associated increase in exports, northern Portugal in particular experienced an economic boom with port wine production and set the milestone for the first demarcated wine-growing region in the world in 1756 in the Alto Douro. This has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
The variety of wines from Portugal
Now that we've established that Portugal has a well-deserved place in the world of wine, let's take a closer look at the different types of Portuguese wine.
Here we present some of the main grape varieties used in the production of the most popular Portuguese wines, with their characteristics and climate preferences.
Red grape varieties of Portugal
This variety is mostly cultivated in Alentejo and is the most important grape variety in the Dão region. This grape adapts wonderfully to the country's climate and is becoming increasingly popular in current growing areas.
The Alfrocheiro grape has an intense red color, which is why it is used as a blending partner in many wines. A rich bouquet of red fruits and wild, floral notes unfolds in pure Alfrocheiros. In terms of tannins, alcohol and acidity, this grape variety is very balanced.
The Aragonez grape is grown in the Alentejo, Dão and Douro regions. Aragonez is also called Tinta Roriz , Tinto de Santiago or Tempranillo , the last variety originating from Spain but identical to Aragonez.
The grape is quite famous in Portugal as it is an important part of the popular port wine. In recent years it has also been able to conquer the regions around Tejo and Lisboa.
As with most grape varieties, their taste is highly dependent on the climate. The aromas in cooler regions are characterized by currants, raspberries and cherries, while notes of plums and spices unfold in warmer temperatures.
The vines are extremely adaptable, but prefer a dry climate and loamy soil. Aragonez is often used as a cuvée companion for grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela.
Mainly cultivated in the Bairrada with a total cultivation of 90%. But this grape can also be found in other parts of the Beiras, for example in Dão. Baga grape skins are thick, which explains the high tannin content.
The Baga needs clay soil that gets plenty of sunlight. The grapes ripen rather late, which is why cool and humid periods are unfavourable.
When young, Baga wine is rather astringent (everything tightens in the mouth, which is often confused with a bitter feeling), but with age the wine gains elegance and develops a tannic, acidic structure with aromas of berries and plums as well as subtle notes of coffee, hay and smoke.
With good storage, aromas of herbs, cedar and dried fruit develop.
A Portuguese grape variety of southern origin with very ancient roots dating back to 1531, making Castelão the oldest grape variety in Portugal. The grape is cultivated in regions such as Tejo, Lisboa, Alentejo and Peninsula de Sétubal.
The vines like sandy soils and warm, dry areas. This is mainly achieved by the wine-growing areas in the DOC Palmela on the Sétubal peninsula, where the variety is called Periquita.
The wines have high acidity, are rich in tannins and have aromas of red currants and dried plums that taste fruity and spicy. Growing on the sandy soil gives the thick-skinned berries their dark color and good stature, which means they have also proven themselves for aging in barriques.
The production of calcareous soils, on the other hand, favors the production of acid. These wines should therefore be drunk young.
This grape variety is grown in the Douro Valley and is one of the six main grape varieties authorized for the production of port wine. The grape ripens early and brings a rich harvest. The age of the vine dates back to the 19th century.
Fortified wines are usually made with Tinta Barroca. These are fruity, velvety and full-bodied in taste with notes of cherry, blackberry and jam and a stronger alcohol content.
Tinto Cao (Tinto Ciao) :
This ancient Portuguese grape variety has been in the wine business since at least the 17th century. It is only cultivated by a few winegrowers because it is not as productive as other grapes. But she has a strong and spicy aroma, so she's making a comeback.
It is also one of the six most important grape varieties in port wine and is used in particular for the refined vintage port wines.
The acidity is relatively low and the taste shows fruity-floral notes, red currant and smoothness.
Touriga Franca :
This grape is the most commonly grown in the Douro Valley. No wonder, because it is extremely popular due to its resistance to pests.
The grape variety is also one of the big six of the port wine grapes and is also an important component of red Douro blends (wine combination made from red Portuguese grapes).
The Touriga Franca based wines are elegant with fine, firm tannins, fruit and colour. These tannins support the aging potential of Portuguese blends. The aromas are reminiscent of cassis, black cherries and blackberries.
This grape is one of the best grapes in Portugal and is rightly on the podium in the world rankings alongside world celebrities such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
She celebrated her start in the north of the country, whether in the Dão or in the Douro is not quite clear, but now she is everywhere. From the Algarve to the Tagus and even in the Bairrada region, it competes with Baga.
It owes its strong color and intense tannins to the thick skin, resulting in promising aging potential.
This fine grape variety is a pleasure both in its pure state and as a cuvée or in small oak barrels.
Tinta Amarela :
The grape is also called Trincadeira in Alentejo , while the name Tinta Amarela comes from Douro.
This grape variety produces quality wines with high acidity and active raspberry aromas, laced with herbal and floral notes and fresh pepper.
But growing this grape is not that easy. The large foliage must always be cut back so that the grapes do not lose their taste.
It is also prone to rot, which is why it feels particularly at home in the warm climate of the Alentejo and Tejo. In fact, the grape is cultivated everywhere in Portugal.
White grape varieties of Portugal
This grape variety comes from the north of Portugal and is one of the first grape varieties that has been processed as a single variety. It grows along the Minho River in the Vinho Verde region and is considered the Riesling of the Iberian Peninsula.
The white wines from Alvarinho smell very subtle, are full-bodied, powerful with a higher alcohol content. The vines are rather small and the grapes are robust, which makes them very robust for the Atlantic climate.
These wines have high acidity and aromas of green apple, lemongrass, mint and alpine rose.
The grape variety is also very popular in Spain, especially in the Rías Baixas region, the wines have a fruity spiciness.
In Vinho Verde regions, the grape is also called Pedernã or Arinto de Bucelas and is one of the oldest grape varieties in Portugal, being mentioned in writing as early as 1712. Judging by the name, this grape probably comes from Bucelas, which is north of Lisbon.
The vines adapt to different climatic conditions and ripen late. The mostly light colored grape is also known as "Arinto Roxo" as a mutated berry which is purple in colour.
The acidity is well preserved even in the warm climate with vibrant aromas of grapefruit, fresh apples and citrus. Because of the high acidity, the grape is also often used to produce sparkling wines.
Fernao Pires :
An old grape variety native to the north of Portugal. Written records date it back to the 18th century, but it is probably even older. This grape is the most grown of all grape varieties in Portugal, particularly in Tejo, Lisboa and Bairrada.
The Fernão Pires sprouts and matures very early, is sensitive to water and must be harvested at the right time, as it degrades its acidity towards the end of the ripening process.
The wines based on Farnão Pires lack freshness and oxidize quickly, so they should be drunk at a young age.
In terms of taste, the wines are very fruity with aromas of lemons, oranges, tangerines and flowers such as roses and linden blossoms, and at the same time very round and soft.
An exclusive grape from the Dão region that produces one of the best white wines. This production is of the highest quality and the wines have good aging and aging potential and strong structure.
It is a fairly disease resistant vine variety that produces good yields. When stored in the cellar, however, a lot of care needs to be taken, as it tends to oxidize, which would endanger the aroma.
With the right treatment, aging in new wood with the Encruzado is also a method that strengthens the taste and structure.
The wines are delicately mineral with a straw-like colour. The taste is reminiscent of green peppers, violets, rose petals, resin, hazelnut and lime.
This grape is probably of very old descent from the Lima Valley on the north coast of Portugal. It is mostly cultivated in the Vinho Verde region. The name Loureiro indicates the intense aroma of laurels and laurel blossoms.
The aromas of this grape variety are so strong that it is therefore often mixed with the Treixadura and Arinto de Bucelas varieties to obtain a fresher and lighter, fruity white wine: Vinho Verd e .
In terms of taste, aromas of peaches, oranges and green apples stand out with a prominent acidity.
This vine is found in Minho in northern Portugal, but is also known in Galicia (north-western Spain) under the name of Treixadura . However, their roots are probably Portuguese, which then made their way to Spain.
The grapes have a thin skin with medium-sized berries that ripen early. It is one of the Cuvée Vinho Verde varieties, has little acid but lots of fruit. The wines taste like fresh apples, pears, peaches and apricots.
The Trajadura can be found as a blending partner together with Albari ño and Loureiro in Rías Baixas, but also in Ribeiro in Galicia.
Fortified wines from Portugal
The typical feature of fortified wines is that alcohol is added before the fermentation process, which prevents the sugar from transforming into alcohol.
Due to the resulting high sugar and alcohol content, these wines retain their sweetness and have an intense taste.
port wine :
Port , originating from Porto , is made from different red and white grapes and has two different aging potentials: ruby type and dawny type.
The main permitted grape varieties for port wine are: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão.
Ruby stands for the English "ruby", which it owes to its strong cherry red color, which results from little oxidation and aging.
Ruby is stored in a large tank, filtered and bottled. The aroma is fruity and the vintage port is the highest quality port wine that ages in the bottles.
Tawny types are also stored in tanks, but are then transferred to pipes to oxidize faster, which accelerates the aging process.
The taste is reminiscent of dried fruit and nuts. The color can range from garnet to golden.
Portuguese sparkling wine
The Vinho espumante is the Portuguese name for sparkling wine. Portugal produces a range of white, red and rosé sparkling wines across the country.
But the best are found in Alto Douro (around Lamego), Távora-Varosa and Bairrada. Brut reflects the diversity of a good quality sparkling wine very well.
But how do you recognize the quality of Portuguese wines? Find out in this article about the different categories of wine in Portugal .
Portuguese wine culture holds many treasures and interesting stories en masse. Follow our “ Wines from Portugal” blog and get (v)inspired.
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