Portuguese wine is a world unto itself. The geography of the country makes it more isolated than most. It is easier for Portugal to keep to itself more than many countries since its only neighbors are Spain to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
As a result of its relative isolation, the wines of Portugal have traditionally stayed mostly at home. Port wine is the one exception. Britain and Portugal have had a close relationship for centuries, and Port wine is one of the reasons. The British have been port lovers since the 1700s, and this unique fortified wine comes from the Douro wine region in northern Portugal. The Douro was the first demarcated wine region in the world. The Marquis de Pombal made it so in 1756. He knew a good thing when he saw it, and real port wine can only come from Portugal. And while Port wine is one of the country’s many claims to fame, the table wines are the unsung heroes of the wine show in Portugal.
Portugal has over 250 different indigenous grape varieties. It is second only to Italy in this respect. (Italy has over 1,000 different native grape varieties!) Any self-respecting wine drinker knows the big names in Italian grapes. (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese…anyone? Anyone?) Portuguese wine grapes? Not so much.
Here’s a hint, for reds, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and, Tinto Roriz (aka Tempranillo in Spain) are big names. For whites, Alvarinho (same as Spanish Albarino, just spelled differently), Arinto, and, Antao Vaz.
Traditionally both the red and white table wines have been blends of various grapes. Single varietal wines are becoming more common as winemakers find the best grapes to vinify on their own. Touriga Nacional is the star of the red grapes, while Alvarinho is the leading white grape.
Here’s the thing, they are all so good! (To quote from the movie Bottle Shock.)
When we first arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, we were excited to try the local wines. So, the fact that 98% of the wines in the stores are local mattered not. A year later, we are still trying all local vinhos and loving them all! Even better, the Portuguese wines cost a fraction of what we were paying for wines in the states. It is fun and exciting to try so many great wines that aren’t available outside the country. All of the drink in Portugal is deserving of a much bigger place on the world stage. Now that we live here, we will continue to enjoy them and look for opportunities to spread the word about them abroad. Viva Portugal!