Wine tourism: Most famous and Less Known Portuguese Wines
They say we all have gaps in our knowledge. For those of us in the wine world it’s usually some place like Greece, Croatia, or Lebanon. For me, it was Portugal. I just never really encountered much outside of the occasional bottle of Vinho Verde, and, of course, Port and Madeira. I knew Port well and I had a passable knowledge of Madeira but the non-fortified stuff? Not a clue.
So what are the wines of Portugal?
Last month I took a trip to Portugal with my best friend’s family and came face to face with what turned out to be a rather giant knowledge gap. On our second day we showed up to a wine bar for a tasting we had booked a month prior. I had foolishly assumed that this tasting would be guided, that we’d have someone giving us the lay of the land, running the show leaving me completely off the hook. So, when the clerk at the counter handed us an electronic card and pointed us to a wall of Wine-o-Matic machines I was left with a ton of egg on my face.
To make matters even worse the only information aside from the name of the producer of each wine was the region. We still had a great time (who’s ever really mad about an afternoon wine buzz?). We tasted through everything pretty much blindly and even managed to find a few things we enjoyed but overall learned very little. So, I bought a book and vowed to fill that hole with a least a basic understanding of the wines before I left.
What is Vinho Verde?
Aside from Port and Madeira, which are a whole different matter altogether, the Portuguese region that gets the most attention outside of the country is Vinho Verde. Literally translated ‘green wine’ this is Portugal’s northernmost wine producing region.
The grapes are picked early and the wine is meant to be consumed young. They possess a slight effervescence (even the reds it turns out!) and are delightful on a hot day. While most are made from a blend of grapes the single varietal bottlings can be killer!
We had a bottle of Loureira that was so pretty I wanted to knit it into a dress and go dancing. And if you stumble upon a red from Vinho Verde pop that puppy in the fridge and maybe don’t share it. It’s delightfully weird and goes great with a charcuterie plate or an Italian hoagie.
What is Douro wine?
The next region of note that you may be familiar with is Douro which in addition to Port, also produces a fair amount of unfortified wine. There are a plethora of grapes in this region from things you’ve probably never seen like Mourisco Tinto and Tinta Amarela to more common ones like Tinta Roriz, known as Tempranillo in Spain. The red wines here are big, full, tannic and can withstand some aging while the whites are a bit more subtle, crisp, salty and acidic.
Beautiful Dão region
In the central part of Portugal lies Dão. This was easily the biggest surprise for me. While Dão wines are lighter in style than their brothers to the north they are by no means a throw away. Quite the opposite. Think Spanish Mencia (here it’s called Jaen) or a really elegantly done Priorat. It’s full of ripe red fruit, baking spices, and chocolate. I particularly enjoyed the Alfrocheiro we had with our Bifanas (pork sandwiches) at lunch. It was lusciously ripe and juicy with this bright acid vein that literally gave me goosebumps.
Bairrada wine region
Just to the west of Dão is Bairrada which also holds a number of hidden gems. This region contains not only some of the most mountainous areas of Portugal but some really old vines. Truthfully, the wines seemed to be a little all over the place. Some of the reds were big and angry, acidic, boorish, and begging for a charred steak. Others were subtle, fruit focused, and herbaceous. The whites were lean, a bit chalky, refreshing. Think the poor man’s Chablis.
Algarve and Lisboa regions
Further south there are the regions of Algarve and Lisboa, both of which produce a variety of wines. Algarve boasts sun soaked Syrahs and Aragones (also another name for Tempranillo) that will immediately remind you of Australia. Lisboa has everything from super concentrated, high tannic reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to crazy weird oxidized white wines made with Malvasia Fina which satiated my seemingly constant desire for sherry.
The best part about Portuguese wines? They are still so inexpensive! So, maybe next time you’re trying to find something to pair with dinner consider something from the land of Fado and tile. If doubt, we recommend to use Wine Picker, a wine pairing app for Android and iOS to make a perfect food and wine match!