Why Portugal? – Part 1

Why Portugal? – Part 1

7th Jul 2010

The most criminally underrated (and underexposed) wine producing country in Europe.

It’s sometimes easy to ignore Portuguese wine and many wine lovers do! As one community member pointed out:

“Either they are not cheap enough for everyday drinking or they are too expensive and you might as well be buying a decent Claret, or Ribera… Aside from Port, Portuguese wine needs to earn trust with us over here.”

It is true that the Portuguese consume the Lion's share of the best wines and have subsequently pushed up prices beyond the reach or interest of many consumers. As small quantities are exported, Portuguese wines have a weak ‘brand’ in the UK and other countries when compared to say New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and of courses established regions like Bordeaux and Rioja. Many wine drinkers simply say ‘why bother with Portugal’, when they see a Portuguese wine on the supermarket shelves or in a wine merchant's. Still, if you do try Portuguese wine, you could be in for a nice surprise. The beauty of wine is diversity, experimenting with new wine styles, grape varieties and wines from different regions. Portuguese wine is now some of the most exciting and varied in Europe and can only get better!


Thewineremedy team sampled many fine Portuguese wines during the London Wine Fair in May, confirming our belief about the great potential of the country, which is increasingly being realised.  We have seen a fantastic revolution taking place in the quality of Portuguese wines in the last few years. At the cutting edge are some excellent wine makers making both everyday wines and ones of unprecedented quality for this ancient wine producing country. The greatest wines we have tried come from the Douro and Alentejo, in Part 2 we will give a detailed overview of the main regions in Portugal.  In Part 3 we will look at top producers in the regions. We have omitted Port producers from our lists, as many wine writers have already talked about that famous fortified wine at length!


Portugal's most famous region the Douro  has five leading red grape varieties that were indentified in the 1970’s as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cao. Some producers consider a sixth, Tinta Amarela, to be equally important. Touriga Nacional is usually part of a blend, for port and table wines in the Dao and Douro regions. It is a low yielding variety, producing deep, rich tannic and aromatic wines. It can really shine as a varietal wine and does not need blending to produce outstanding material. Touriga Franca has a particularly fine, floral scent and is a good blending partner for Touriga Nacional in Port. Baga is a variety indigenous to Portugal and is best from the Bairrada region, producing firm, elegant perfumed wines not unlike some Medoc. There is also a smattering of foreign varieties which permeate through regions like Ribatejo, in our experience they rarely live up to the wines made from the indigenous varieties.


Mention Portuguese white wine and most people automatically think of Vinho Verde.  Unfortunately, good Vinho Verde from the Minho region in Portugal is rare. Despite changes to viticulture, the damp climate makes it difficult to get Alvarinho (the best grape) Loureiro, Trajadura or other grapes fully ripe for the white version that is widely exported. Try Wales for rain guys, if you think you have it bad!


Good Portuguese whites do exist, but are not commonly found outside the country. Bical is a white variety that makes sparkling and still wines not unlike a dry Riesling. The best can age really well. Arinto is another one to look out for, making richly textured but bone-dry and crisp wine. Aged examples from the Bairrada region can smell like butter and honey, think Semillion and you are there.


The above is just a snapshot of what Portugal can offer. There is so much to discover in this beautiful and fascinating country, so many regions, varieties and wine styles.  In fact, there is only one big problem with Portuguese wine. Getting hold of some! In the UK we advise seeking out specialist wine merchants, as supermarkets rarely sell good Portuguese wines. Try http://www.casaleal.co.uk for a varied range of superb and affordable wines.


So, on to Part 2.


Visiting the estate of Herdade Dos Lagos in Alentejo


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