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Introduction to Portugal

Most people forget that, until 1974, Portugal was under a dictatorship. It was only once the Estado Novo regime was overthrown that the quality of wine in Portugal improved. This was helped further by EU membership in 1986, which means that it is eligible for EU subsidies and funding.

The climate in Portugal is varied (even though it is a small country): from the warm coastal regions to hot, dry inland ones - with wild variations in rainfall too. Portugal differentiates itself from other countries further by using mostly native grapes in its wines (rather than 'International varieties' like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, etc).

Classifications (in descending order)

  • Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) - similar to France's AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée)
  • Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada (IPR) - similar to France's VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure)
  • Vinho Regional - similiar to France's Vin de Pays
  • Vinho de Mesa - similar to France's table wine


"Reserva" refers to a single vintage, with higher alcohol levels, which has passed a tasting panel.
"Garrafeira" refers to a Reserva wine which has also received ageing of a certain level (3 years for reds, 1 year for whites).

 

Northern Portugal

Vinho Verde

This is Portugal's most northerly area and spreads from the coast inwards: the climate being warm, with high rainfall. The "Verde" refers to the greeness that the wines show in their youth. The most notable wines produced in Vinho Verde are made from the Alvarinho (aka Albariño) grape: they are dry, with high acidity and fresh green apple flavours - they should be drunk young. They will sometimes have a light prickle to the wine which is created by injecting carbon dioxide.

Duoro

This region is famous for producing Port from grapes such as Touriga Nacional. There is a limit to how much Port can be produced each year, so surplus grapes are used for still wine. The wines tend to be full-bodied, with high tannin, crisp acidity and be fruity.

Dão

Pronounced "Downg", this is a much drier region due to it being further inland. The main red grape is Touriga Nacional which produces fruity, deep colour wines with light tannins (and can be aged). The best white wines are produced from the Encruzedo grape, which are full-bodied and nutty.

Bairrada

This is a damp and rainy area near the coast. Most of the wines are produced from the local Baga grape which is a bit like a cross between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir: plenty of tannin and acidity, with elements of red berries and pepper. Another interesting grape used here is Bical, which produces aromatic wines with exotic fruit aromas.

 

Southern Portugal

Ribatejo

This is a large area which produces large volumes of wine - much of it not particulary impressive. However, there are some good wines being made here (but yields will need to be restricted in order to create a wine with substance). Most of the grapes grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Alentejo

This area is well known for its production of cork and, being inland, has a hot climate with low rainfall. The most notable grape here is Trincadeira, which produces dark, deep wines with flavours of chocolate and coffee.