The Wines of Portugal – Character and Quality
Posted on June 02 2014
Throughout my short(ish) career in the wine trade I’ve always had a soft spot for the wines of Portugal. I enjoy the richly fruited and complex reds and whites at a fraction of the price of their equals from the rest of Europe. What I hadn’t realised, until recently, was the incredible variety of wines that this country can produce.
In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to taste some wonderfully individual wines from all over Portugal that have really illuminated the sheer diversity on offer. I’ve put them all together in a case of 12 which you can buy throughout June for £175 – at a saving of £31.
One of Portugal’s historical problems has been a lack of knowledge of regions and grape varieties (very few international grapes are used here) by wine consumers. To help you discover some of Portugal’s outstanding wines I’ve put together a brief profile of several of the key areas.
Vinho Verde is one of Portugal’s more familiar regions, particularly famous for its fresh, spritzy and low-alcohol whites that are made from a variety of local grapes including Arinto, Loureiro and Avesso. In the very north of the region the Alvarinho grape (known as Albariño across the border in Spain) gives much more full-bodied, intense whites with flavours of peach, apricot and citrus. Two to try: Quinta da Raza Arinto, Vinho Verde, 2013, Quinta do Feital Alvarinho Auratus, 2011
Portugal’s best known wine region, the Douro Valley is world famous for port but also uses the same grapes varieties to produce some fantastic unfortified wines that share port’s lush texture and rich fruit. Most reds are blends that major on Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). These produce dense, textured, full-bodied reds with rich flavours of blackberry, dark plum and liquorice. Excellent with richer red meat dishes but such is their softness that they can be very enjoyable alone. Whites from this area are rarer but just as enjoyable and tend to marry full-bodied, textured mouthfeel with wonderful perfume and acidity – almost a cross between white Burgundy and Riesling! Two to try: Quinta do Crasto Branco, Douro, 2012, Passadouro Tinto, Douro, 2011
My current favourite region is the Dão. Here cold, damp, winters and long, dry but not overly hot summers combine with granite and schist soils to produce superbly balanced and elegant wines. The reds typically blend Touriga Nacional’s lush, powerful textures, Alfrocheiro’s rich fruit and structure and Jaen’s delicate, balanced aromas. The end result can often be compared to more masculine styles of red Burgundy such is the delicious elegance and perfume of the wine. For whites the most successful grape is Encruzado which can make well-balanced, full-bodied whites with an appealing mineral character that respond well to oak ageing – reminiscent of white Burgundy but a little more tropical in fruit character. Two to try: Encruzado, Quinta dos Roques, Dão, 2012, Elfa Tinto, Casa de Mouraz, Dao, 2010
Bairrada lies just to the west of Dão and uses the Baga grape to produce fairly robust, structured wines with generous flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant that can evolve to cigar, honey and spice with proper ageing. Fans of Barolo and Barbaresco should definitely not miss these. One to try: Vinhas Velhas Tinto, Luis Pato, Bairrada, 2010
Just south of Lisbon is the Península de Setúbal where wine styles can vary greatly and many different grapes, both native and international, are used. Some of my favourites blend native Portuguese varietals with international grapes such as Chardonnay and Syrah. There’s some amazing value to be had here and the wines are often a little more approachable than others so it may be a good place to start exploring the wines of Portugal. Two to try: Adega de Pegoes VR Branco, 2012, Colheita Seleccionada Tinto, Adega de Pegoes, 2009.
Hopefully this will have gone some way towards demystifying this hugely rewarding corner of the wine world. If you’ve been inspired do consider my Perfect Portugal Case or come in and browse our Portugal shelves.