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With a wealth of exciting regions and native grapes to explore, Portugal offers plenty for oenophiles to enjoy. Sarah Ahmed shares her highlights.
Did you know that Portugal is a wine lover’s paradise? For starters, the country is planted from head to toe with vines, some fanned by cool Atlantic breezes, others clinging to rugged mountains or basking on sunny plains. Unsurprising then that Portugal has wines to suit everyone’s palate and pocket, especially when you factor in its huge number of native grape varieties – more than 300! And with a wine scene that’s as dynamic as it’s diverse, I guarantee that Portuguese wines will appeal to your sense of adventure. Here are my hot tips on regions and varieties to watch out for and you can track down UK stockists using ViniPortugal’s free search facility at www.viniportugal.co.uk.
The advent of cheap flights to Porto has transformed northern Portugal into a must-see destination for gourmet travellers. With great wines on offer, they’re not just there for the port...
The Douro: Breathtaking in majesty and scale, it’s the world’s
biggest mountain vineyard. Originally, the most sought-after grapes came from lower, hotter slopes, that are perfect for port. Today, higher, cooler sites are prized because they are the secret
behind the Douro’s meteoric success
with red and white wines.
Style – Schist soils and old, mixed vineyards make for powerfully structured blends (both red and white) with rich, wild fruit and a mineral core.
Key varieties – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela (reds); Codega, Rabigato, Viosinho, Malvasia, Gouveio (whites)
Vinho Verde: A dramatic shift in focus from quantity to quality underwrites the rise of this once humdrum region which, though next door to the Douro, couldn’t produce more different wines. Why? Its coastal location takes the brunt of cold, wet Atlantic weather while the Serra do Marão, rising to 1,400m, protects the Douro from Atlantic influence.
Style – Unoaked, delicate, aromatic and fresh with floral and citrus notes. Aperitif wines have a touch of sweetness and spritz but watch out for terrific drier and fruitier single varietal Alvarinho or Loureiro wines.
Key varieties – Alvarinho, Loureiro, Arinto, Avesso, Trajadura (whites)
The Dão: Inland and mountainous like the Douro, but with granite not schist soils, the Dão produces immensely food-friendly wines. Defined as much by their
acidity as their tannin and fruit, they used to be a tad austere, but modern wines have flesh to their bones.
Style – Well-structured intense whites and reds; reds are elegantly fruity and floral.
Key varieties – Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro (reds); Encruzado, Malvasia (whites)
Portugal’s capital is sandwiched by low-lying regions around the rivers Tejo and Sado that offer some of the country’s best value wines. Atlantic influence makes for bright and breezy table wines and an aromatic fortified Moscatel from Setúbal.
Lisboa & Tejo: Previously known as Estremadura and Ribatejo, the makeover extends to the vineyards. New plantings on poorer soils focus on French grapes
and Portugal’s lead varieties.
Style – Well rounded and fruity reds; while the whites, many unoaked, are aromatic, fruity and fresh.
Key varieties – Castelão, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon (reds); Arinto, Fernão Pires, Viognier, Chardonnay (whites)
Moscatel de Setubal: This glorious fortified Moscatel (aka Muscat) deserves to be as well known as port. It makes a fine partner (or substitute!) for dessert.
Style – Sweet: young wines make an aromatic aperitif; the longer-aged dessert wines show spicy orange peel, dried fruits, nuts and caramel.
Key varieties – Moscatel de Alexandria, Moscatel Roxo (whites)
South of Lisbon the countryside unfolds in a rolling patchwork of wheatfields and vineyards studded with cork and olive trees.
Peninsula de Setubal: Formerly known as Terras do Sado this up-and-coming region is a magnet for ambitious winemakers. The attraction? Its location between the Alentejo and the Atlantic is perfect for elegant yet powerful reds.
Style – Modern reds are sleek but powerful with great fruit purity.
Key varieties – Touriga Nacional, Aragones, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Trincadeira (reds) Alentejo: Inland and buffered from Atlantic influence, this sunny, dry region has developed a reputation for smooth, generously fruity wines. Blending partners increasingly include varieties designed to impart structure and lift, which is also achieved by planting on water-retentive pockets of schist, clay and limestone.
Style – Generously fruity whites and jammy reds. Best reds are spicy, earthy wines with powerful but ripe tannins;
more complex whites are on the up.
Key varieties – Aragones, Syrah, Trincadeira, Castelão, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional (reds); Antão Vaz, Arinto, Verdelho (whites); PetitVerdot and Viognier are varieties to watch.
Like Viognier but find it too heavy? Try an Alvarinho from Vinho Verde – honeysuckle, ripe peach and apricot flavours cut with fantastic fresh acidity make a perfect match for scallops or crab.
Bored of Bordeaux? Take a walk on the wild side with a Douro or Dão red. Structure and finesse with a hint of mountain wildness make them great partners for game or herb-crusted rack of lamb.
Got a soft spot for Pastéis de Nata? You won’t find a better, more authentic partner for Portugal’s famous custard tarts than Moscatel de Setúbal.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Guide 2010.