Regional Wine Guide: Portugal

Carly MERETT

Kiss of wine

Perhaps better known for its beaches and seafood, Portugal also boasts a productive and highly regarded winemaking industry. While Port wine put Portugal on the winemaking map, its repertoire expanded to all styles in surprising quantities. They continue to gain popularity due to their fine quality and unique variety.  

Top wiew of Lisbon housing revealing commonly unspoken winemaking industry.

History

As one of the less famous wine regions, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Portugal boasts a long and rich history in winemaking. It dates back to 2000 BC when the Tartassians went to the valleys of Tejo and Sado. It was, however, the Phonecians who first cultivated different winemaking techniques and introduced different varieties of grapes.

Side view of Portuguese wine farm highlighting the variety of vineayeards acorss Portugual.

Main Regions and Varieties

Wine is produced right across Portugal. Split by geographical features and climate, most regions are defined by the river which runs through them. Mountains, cool Atlantic climates or hot interiors produce Portuguese wines of a wide variety.

Major regions are:

Douro

West of Porto and home of Port, Portugal’s most famous and copied wine. Thanks to its ancient handcrafted terraced hillsides, Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Dao

One of the oldest regions in Portugal, Dao is more famous for its reds than anything else. This region is warm but not too warm, so the wines are lighter and have excellent ageing qualities owing to their structure.

Minho

The most northern wine region in Portugal, Minho is also called Vinho Verde, the most widely produced in Portugal. The northern climate and proximity to the Atlantic make its reds, whites and reds light, crisp and delightful. 
Close up of vine touched by the Portuguese sun rays.

grapes 

For centuries, Portuguese winemaking evolved with little influence from the outside. As a result, many of their varieties are native to the region. Let’s take a look at some unique and indigenous grapes of Portugal!


Touriga Nacional Wine

Said to be the finest variety in Portugal, it’s likened to Cabernet Sauvignon of France. This red wine has bold dark fruit flavours with hints of spice and leather and has found itself popular in Australia and California.

Alvarinho (Albariño)

If a wine can be salty, then Portuguese Alvarinho is salty due to the proximity of the vines to the ocean. But never fear, this is a good thing! Naturally, it pairs well with seafood and green leafy vegetables.

Antaô Vaz

Another local but Chardonnay-like variety, this white wine is crisp, refreshing and dry when picked early. When left to ripen on the vine, Antaô Vaz produces richer and more textured wines with juicy fruit flavours.
Table consisting of a variety of different wine glass styles being filled with a smooth white wine.

Wine styles

While Portugal captures all wine styles with excellent quality and quantity, there are two that stand out as iconic to this country — Port and Vinho Verde.

Port

Portugal’s famous fortified wine! Port originated in Porto (starting to see the connections here?) and is widely drunk as a dessert wine because of its sweet, red richness. It has dark red fruit flavours with caramel and cinnamon. Try a tawny port instead of a red if you prefer it sweeter. 

Vinho Verde

Literally translating to “green skin”, this is Portugal’s little treasure. However, it’s not “green wine”. Instead, Vinho Verde is usually white. Grown in the northern regions, it is crisp, fresh and sometimes fizzy.

Antaô Vaz

Another local but Chardonnay-like variety, this white wine is crisp, refreshing and dry when picked early. When left to ripen on the vine, Antaô Vaz produces richer and more textured wines with juicy fruit flavours.
FUN FACT: Port is only made in one region of Portugal, the Douro Valley region. This is also the world’s oldest wine region with UNESCO World Heritage status. Similar fortified wines made outside of Portugal shouldn’t be called Port, a little bit like Champagne.
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