Portugal’s fascinating culture and history attracts tourists in their thousands from all over the world. From the charismatic capital of Lisbon - home to the iconic number twenty-eight tram and the world’s oldest bookshop - to the numerous quaint coastal resort towns whose individual charms and fresh local cuisine captivate the visitor; from the visual feast of the Rio Duoro Valley to the floral beauty of Madeira, Portugal packs a wealth of sights and experiences into its ninety-thousand square kilometres. Historically one of the great empires - a legacy of which is the almost two-hundred-and-forty-million native Portuguese speakers worldwide - Portugal is a country that effortlessly combines the traditional with the modern, and this is reflected in its rejuvenated wine scene.
Today winemaking in Portugal is an innovative, forward thinking industry. New technologies coupled with changing attitudes have led to the emergence of countless new wineries intent on enhancing the country’s viticultural profile beyond the Port for which it has historically been known. Like most wine producing countries, Portugal offers a range of microclimates and growing conditions largely on account of its diverse topography and the climatic influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Numerous different varieties have been found to thrive in the Portuguese terroir, including some two-hundred plus native grapes like Touriga Nacional and Albariño, as well as internationally renowned varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.
Portugal’s appellation system distinguishes the highest quality varietals from the lower tier regional / table wines. The Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC - sometimes DOP) label indicates wines of superior quality, often from single vineyards and subject to various restrictions on variety and yield. At present there are around thirty officially recognised DOCs across the country. Whilst second tier wines, designated Vinho Regional, are subject to fewer (if any) regulations, innovative winemakers across the various regions are exploiting the opportunity to make high quality varietals and blends from grapes that are not permitted in DOC wines.
Split into a number of wine zones - of which Alentejo in the east and Douro in the north are perhaps the most well known, this is an exciting time for the nation’s wine industry. A new focus on quality and a sense of uniqueness born largely out of the many indigenous varieties that are being used to produce high quality wines here, are helping to establish the country as a fascinating and increasingly consistent producer of quality wines.
Alentejo is the largest wine region in Portugal and the source of a wealth of good quality wines from a multitude of different grape varieties. Red wines dominate in this sun scorched region, particularly from Touriga Nacional and Allicante Bouchet, but there are are also plenty of examples of respectable whites produced too.
One of the oldest wine regions in Portugal, the Dão has often found itself in the shadows of the Douro and the Alentejo, but over the last couple of decades the area has improved quality dramatically and today producers offer some of the most exciting wines in the country. Around 80% of production is red wine, of which the thick skinned Touriga Nacional grape has significant plantings.
Covering vineyards planted in the area north and west of the capital Lisbon, the Lisboa wine region includes nine DOC wines. There’s plenty of wine produced here, often from large co-operatives. Key white grapes are Arinto and Fernão Pires, while the red Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira dominate.