The border between Spain and Portugal is one of the oldest, unchanged borders in Europe. Furthermore, the two countries and cultures share many similarities on the Iberian Peninsula to make it relevant to anyone interested in Spanish wine to learn the basics of Portuguese wine.
The wines of Portugal have their differences, and their unique and compelling qualities as well. So this section on Portuguese wine will be more of an introduction to the subject, rather than a full site dedicated to all Portguese wine.
Portugal, like Spain, has a long history of winemaking dating to before the Romans. Also like Spain with Sherry wines, Portugal has its own unique style of fortified wines that are truly world famous: Port wine and Madeira wine. Then, there are modern still red and white wines, mostly from native Portuguese grapes. Some of these grapes are the same as some Spanish grapes, with different names, and also different character due to length of time in their place and the adaptation the clone of the grape has undergone to its particular area.
Port wine – the name “Port” evolved in English for these fortified wines shipped from the town of Oporto in northern Portugal. Port wines are fortified and sweet, and capable of long aging. Their styles range from fruity and purple (Ruby) to oxidized and nutty (Tawny), with host of shades in between. Most all are from red wine and are sweet. There is a small amount of white Port.
Madeira wine – popular for a long time in cooking, Madeira is actually a fortified, sweet wine much like a Tawny Port wine (oxidized nutty style). It comes from the island of Madeira in the Atlantic which is part of Portugal.
Still Red and White wines – Portugal produces interesting whites, reds, and roses, mostly from native grape varieties. These days, most of the winemaking techniques are modern and similar to those in different countries. Modern techniques, such as temperature control and much cleaner facilities, have allowed Portuguese producers to make ever-better still wines. As with Spanish wine, people probably first think of red wine when they hear Portugal. However, after Port and Madeira, probably the next best known wine from Portugal is a white wine: Vinho Verde – literally “Green Wine.” Here green refers the the freshness, to the youth of the grapes, wine with vibrant acidity, also from a very green area of Portugal in the north. Then, there are plenty of red, white, and rose wines from all over Portugal to explore.
There is almost no part of Portugal where wine is not produced, being a small country with favorable climate. The main regions are (from North to South):
1. Vinho Verde – both a DOC and the name of a style of wine. Not all wine that comes from Vinho Verde DOC is what people in the US call “vinho verde.” The wine “vinho verde” is a crisp, lighter-alcohol, green-tinged white wine. Sometimes is has very slight effervescence, but not always. It can be produced from various white grapes. In addition, there are other white wines in the DOC Vinho Verde that are, again, not what US drinkers might expect from Vinho Verde. One such example is Alvarinho wine, or white wine made from the Alvarinho grape, which is akin to Albariño in Spain, just across the border in Rias Baixas.
2. Port e Douro – also both a DOC and the name of a style of wine, in the case of “Port.” The wines for Port come from terraced vineyards along the Douro River. The vineyards are planted with a variety of grapes, mostly red, some white, so field blends are common in the Douro.
3. Dão e Lafões – an interior, landlocked region below the Douro River, producing wines of high quality and distinction. Mostly reds, some whites.
4. Alentejo – In the upper Southern half of the country, inland bordering Spain. The region produces a lot of wine. Some are noted to be a bit lighter, but style vary widely.
5. Madeira – both the name of the DOC and the style of wine. Madeira is a small island in the Atlantic.
These are the principle wine DOC’s in Portugal that you as a consumer are likely to come across. There are of course more, so please peruse other sections to learn more about Portugal and its wines and wine-regions.