An Underrated Haven of Undiscovered Wines
What are some of the countries that come to mind when you think of those that are most well-known for their wine? France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and the United States are probably a few that you would rattle off when thinking of famous wine countries. If so, we are proud! That means you’ve been studying up on your wine knowledge, and now you deserve to celebrate with a glass of that oh-so revered beverage.
Hm, so what sort of wine should you pour for yourself to celebrate that wine wisdom of yours? Might we suggest something a little bit different – maybe a Portuguese wine?
While Portugal may not be the first country that comes to mind when considering the top-producing wine countries in the world, it certainly stands alone as having some delicious wines that are unlike anything else on earth. In fact, Portugal is home to hundreds of native grape varieties that don’t grow anywhere else, making for a truly unique experience for those on the lookout for their next favorite, undiscovered wine. On top of being unique and delicious, you can also find a quality bottle of Portuguese wine for less than $20. Yes, really!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the wine that this coastal country on the Iberian Peninsula has to offer. Keep that wine glass of yours handy, because today, we’re going to discover Portuguese wine!
History of Portuguese Wine
The origins of Portuguese wine date back nearly 4000 years and have influences from several ancient civilizations including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans – with the Romans having the greatest influence. The Romans influenced the expansion and promotion of viticulture within the region, and Portuguese wine was produced not only for local consumption but also for export to the Roman Empire.
There are 14 wine regions and 31 DOC (Denomicação de Origem Controlada) regions in Portugal. The Douro wine region was demarcated in 1756, making it the oldest wine region in the world with some grape varieties that can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages. So it’s safe to say that Portuguese winemakers know what they’re doing!
Because Portuguese winemaking was developed without much influence from other wine powerhouses, it is distinctly different from other varieties in the world. Unless you’ve gone out of your way to research Portuguese wine for fun (and we don’t blame you if you do), chances are, it is unlikely that you’ve come across the names of these Portuguese grape varieties. One of the best ways to gain some familiarity with Portuguese wines is by taking a look at a few of the most well-known wine regions within the country.
Wine Regions (Appellations)
As we discussed earlier, there are 14 wine regions in Portugal. These regions fall under what is known as the Vinho Regional category of Portuguese wines, which is a less strict classification than DOC wines. The DOC regions have stricter laws and more defined boundaries, which typically, though not always, result in a higher quality wine. These 31 DOC regions fall within the larger 14 wine regions.
One of the best ways to get a feel for Portuguese wines is by taking a tour of the different wine regions in the country. We will look at 6 of the 14 regions in Portugal that produce some of the country’s best wine.
Although it translates to Green Wine, Vinho Verde is a region well known for its refreshing, low ABV white wines. The “green” refers to the youthfulness of the wine, meaning that this vino is best enjoyed soon after it is made. Reach for a Branco Vinho Verde or a Rosado Vinho Verde – a rose version of this refreshing vino. Wines from this region typically have bright, acidic notes of lime and white peach, and are best enjoyed in the sunshine on a white, sandy beach or with some quality seafood.
The Douro river valley is best known for the dessert wine, Port, which is well-known and replicated throughout the world. Douro is so revered that the entire region is a UNESCO world heritage site. The terraced hills that lead to the river have been hand carved and maintained for thousands of years, making it a truly unique region unlike any other in the world. A couple of other varieties that are worth a try from Douro include Tinto Douro and Douro Branco.
The Dão region is one that collectors have noted for its quality, with some experts comparing wines from this region to the Burgundy wines from France. These wines are typically medium to full-bodied and are known to age well because of their excellent structure. When picking out a Dão wine, get your hands on a bottle of Dão Touriga Nacional or Dão Jaen.
Fun geography fact of the day: the Lisboa region is where you can find Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. Wines produced in Lisboa can range from full-bodied reds to refreshing, aromatic whites. Many of these wines are ideal table wines, or everyday “go-to” wines. Alenquer and Bucelas are both excellent varieties to look for when on the hunt for delicious Lisboa wines.
Alentejo is a sunny region that produces wines that are similar to our beloved California wines. The climate is ideal for growing fully ripened grapes that create full-bodied, high ABV vinos. For a white wine, look for Branco Alentejo, or for a red wine, keep an eye out for Tinto Alentejo. If you are a fan of a rich, Argentinian Malbec or a bold Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, definitely be on the lookout for an awesome wine for Alentejo!
The Madeira Islands are well known for their fortified wine of the same name. Madeira is made in a unique process that involves oxidizing the wine using heat and aging, and 85% of the Madeira produced is made from the red grape Negra Mole. Quality Madeira is a prized find among serious wine collectors, and can often be quite pricey.
The Bottom Line
The world of wines out there for you to try just got a little bit bigger! Isn’t that exciting? We all know and love those classic Italian and French wines on the market, but you definitely don’t want to miss out on the complex and unique wines that Portugal has to offer. Chances are, you’ll likely find a high-quality bottle at an affordable price as well – just one of many things to love about Portuguese wine. The next time you find yourself in a wine shop or perusing the menu at a wine bar, check out their Portuguese wine selection. We think you’ll be glad that you did!