The wine tradition on the territory of modern day Portugal goes back thousands of years to the times of the Greeks and the Romans. Today, Portugal is the tenth largest exporter of wine in the world. This small land has an amazingly variegated soil and climate conditions from its fertile North to its dry South and the islands, which means that it also has a great diversity of wines. Furthermore, there is a great variety of methods used to produce the wines. Portugal produces red wines, white wines, Port wine, Madeira wine, muscat wines and the characteristic vinho verde.
Northern Portuguese Wines and Port Wine
The northern part of Portugal, namely the regions of the Douro, Bairrada and Dão, are known for their production of high class wines that have received numerous international awards. Perhaps the most famous of the Portuguese wines is Port wine, named after the city of Porto from where it was exported to countries all over Europe. Port is a fortified wine that comes in a couple of varieties, either as a dry or semi-dry white wine or sweet red wine. Produced from the grapes grown in the Douro Valley, Port is fortified with the adding of aguardente, a Portuguese brandy which literally means firewater. This stops the fermentation process and leaves sugar in the wine, making it sweeter and boosting its alcoholic content.
The Douro region also produces many types of table wines. The most famous Douro table wine is undoubtedly the red wine of Barca Velha, which has been produced by Casa Ferreirinha for more than 55 years. The Dão region is famous for its unique grape variety of Touriga Nacional, which is used for the production both red and white wine. The most prominent are Aliança and Grão Vasco. Bairrada produces mainly red wines, but also sparkling natural wines, such as the Marquês de Marialva.
Last but not least, we come to interesting vinho verde, literally meaning green wine. Its name has nothing to do with its color, however. Rather, the green refers to its light and youthful taste. It is made in the northernmost part of the country, in the Minho region, and comes mainly in the form of white wine. It is made to be consumed within a year of its production and possesses either a floral or a fruity aroma, in accordance with the variety used. It is always served fresh and is slightly carbonated; not enough, however, to enable us to categorize it as a sparkling wine or even a semi-sparkling wine. Vinho verde is a unique Portuguese wine. Being very refreshing, it is the ideal wine to accompany a traditional Portuguese fish dish.
Southern Portuguese Wines
In the southern part of Portugal, the most prominent wine region is Alentejo, producing excellent yet accessible fruity table wines. Alentejo’s specific dry and sunny weather give the wines a special taste. While the North has preserved ancient wine traditions and is very typically Portuguese, Alentejo combines modern, state-of-the-art production, still maintaining a Portuguese feel in its wines. North of Alentejo lies the province of Estremadura, where the district of Setúbal is particularly famous for the production of moscatel, or muscat wine. There are red and white varieties of moscatel and it is essentially a liquorish wine with a sweet aroma. The most renowned is undoubtedly Moscatel Roxo, which is stored in the cellar for twenty years before being sold.
Another fortified Portuguese wine comes from the islands of Madeira and is hence called Madeira wine. Like Port, it can be dry or sweet, depending on the variety, and is consumed either as an aperitif or as a dessert wine. Furthermore, it also uses distilled alcohol from cane sugar to boost its alcoholic content. There are different aging methods used and they result in different quality wines. The highest quality Madeira wine is aged naturally in rooms heated by the sun for a minimum of twenty years.
Portugal Wine Tours
If you are a wine lover, Portugal is a great country for a wine tasting adventure. You can start from the North and move slowly down to South or vice versa. There countless little estates, or quintas, that you can include on your itinerary. Gastronomic tourism has been developing rapidly in Portugal over the last few years and there are wonderful tours that take visitors to some of the most rural parts of the country, offering a truly unique and remarkable experience.