News article

Wines of Portugal: Not Just Port and Madeira Anymore

Jim Seder | Wine Inquirer | 13-01-2010 | General, Other Subjects
While Portugal has hung its hat on the signature fortified wines, Port and Madeira, the country has awoken the rest of the wine world to its tremendous potential in quality red table wine and mostly through native grapes.
Portugal shares its border with Spain on the west and a small stretch to the north while the eastern side joins the Atlantic.  The country spans only 380 miles north to south and, on average, about 100 miles east west.  The terrain ranges from mountainous north of Porto in the northwest portion of the country to rolling open plains in the south central Alentejo to flat on the Atlantic west coastal plain.  The Douro River cutting westward from Spain (where it is known as the Duero), carves out deep canyons rimmed by steep and rugged vineyard terraces.  Much of the region is still somewhat remote with small winding roads.  Soils in the hearty Douro region are rocky with an abundance of schist.  Climate, overall, is maritime with warm summers and cool, wet winters.  However, move a bit inland, and temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees for long stretches during the summer.  Rainfall ranges from around 80 inches in the mountains to less than 500mm in some inland regions.

Without question, it’s the Douro region in the northwest that produces most of Portugal’s finest reds.  While known, historically, for the infamous Port, the table reds emerging from this region has improved rapidly in quality over the last five years.  Testimony to this was confirmed as the Wine Spectator chose one of these wines for it #3 wine of the year in 2008 (Quinta do Crasto).  Most of the reds are a blend of more than twenty indigenous grapes with names such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in Spain) and Tinta Amarela.  At their best, these wines are full bodied, robust and intense yet with mild tannins, deep in color with aromas of dark fruit, chocolate, tobacco and graphite and a sense of minerality on the palate.  Many of these wines are capable of being cellared for 8-10 years.  Some names to look for are Niepoort, Quinta do Cotto, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vale Meao and Quinta do Vallado.  Prices can range from ~$20’s at the entry level to over $100.  When pairing these wines with food, think about hearty dishes of game, lamb or beef.

While Douro owns the fame, don’t overlook the wines from Alentejo, Beiras, Bairrada and Estremadura.  Alentejo occupies a large piece of real estate in the south central part of the country.  Unlike the Douro, Alentejo is characterized by rolling hills and open terrain.  In the past, this region was renown for cork production from bark but now, many of its wines are joining the quality party, again using native grapes.  Keep an eye out for Quinta do Carmo and Cortes de Cima amongst others.

The Bieras, located in the north of Portugal and Bairrada, in the northwest, are both slowly improving wine regions with excellent potential.  The Bairrada region produces a couple of top quality reds capable of cellaring for 3-8 years amidst reds that are drinkable now or over the next few years, while the Beiras produces a much wider variety of wines ready for consumption at release or within a few years.  Some of the names in Bairrada to watch for are Jose Maria da Fonseca, Luis Pato, and Sogrape.

Estremadura, located on the Atlantic in the middle of the country, stretches from just north of Lisbon to the Bairrada.  This is Portugal’s largest wine producing region in volume and sometimes is perceived as a large, inexpensive “jug wine” operation.  Truth is, there is a wide diversity of wines when it comes to quality ranging from the cheap to more serious, the latter reflecting the potential of the region.  The reds produced are for current drinking for the most part although higher quality wines can be laid down for a few to several years.  Some names are Quinta de Pancas and Casa Santos Lima Pahla-Canas Red.

While Portugal is known for its reds, it does offer a distinct white called Vinho Verde (green wine).  The wine is a blend of up to 25 different grapes, including the Portuguese version of the Spanish Albarino called Alvarinho and conjures up aromas of zesty citrus fruit such as lemon, grapefruit, apple and peach, some hints of smoke and spice along with nice minerality, some sea salt and a clean crisp flavor.  You will note that many of these wines are effervescent due to carbon dioxide that’s added just prior to closure.  With their clean, crisp character, these wines are perfect for the hot summer in Arizona and are very affordable, most running under $20.  Some of the quality names are Aveleda, J & F Lurton and Jose Maria da Fonseca.  Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be surveying Tucson for these wines so stay turned for the details on our Wine Finder segment.


  • Type the letters from the image

  • Your submitted comments will be appeared after approved. Infovini reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business.