Wine, wine, everywhere!

And, so many drops to drink! There are a total of 14 different wine regions in Portugal. 12 on the mainland and two more on the islands, Madeira and the Azores. My current pipe dream is to visit each one and to write a book about them. I am planning my next trip to the Minho now. It is the northernmost wine region in Portugal. Might as well start at the top.

The Minho comprises the better part of northern Portugal. It starts at the Spanish border and goes south until the Douro region. Alvarinho is one of the major grapes in the area. it is known as Albarino in Spain. Same grape, different country, and spelling. Vinho Verde is the major type of wine in this area. Meaning green wine, green, in this case, refers to young wine. The most common grapes in Vinho Verde are, Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Loureiro, and, Trajadura, for whites, and Vinão for red.

O Prado’s house red Vinho Verde. http://oprado.pt

Yes, there are red Vinho Verdes, and they are delicious! One of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon, O Prado, has a red Vinho Verde as its house red wine. It is a perfect match for the grilled salmon when it is on the menu. Red Vinho Verde is light, fruity, and Gamay like in its flavors. Unfortunately, for those who don’t live here, it isn’t seen much outside of Portugal. The red Vinho Verde wines can vary in weight and flavor.

Cool label for a great wine! vinhoverde.pt

The Pardos red Vinho Verde from Antonio Joaquim Castro Pinheiro is a rare and wonderful thing. It is a dark, black iris color and is not just spritzy but downright frizzante, with meaty black fruit flavors. It is an entirely different animal, even in the red Vinho Verde department. It clocks in at only 11 percent abv, but it is dry on the palate. It is a wine with plenty of wow factor.

Solheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde. https://www.soalheiro.com/en/home

Vinho Verde wines come in red, white, and rose. They vary from dry to almost sweet but most are light and fruity with a hint of spritz which makes them perfect for the warmer months. Some of the better-known brands are, Aveleda, Casal Garcia, and Solheiro. Most are a blend of different grapes, but the single varietals are wonderful. Solheiro produces Alvarinhos that are delicious. There is more variety within these wines than one would imagine. They are certainly worth checking out.

Castelo de Moinhos Alvarinho Vinho Verde. A little 3 Euro number from our local Mercadona grocery store! They also make a red Vinho Verde. mercadona.pt (Yes, living in Portugal is a wino’s dream!)

Famous Wines

Portugal is famous for its Port wines and Vinho Verde. Port wine is an entire subject unto itself. Port is a fortified wine which means that it has a higher alcohol content than most wines. Usually, around 20% alcohol by volume. Generally speaking, Port is considered a dessert wine. However, vintage Ports can be had like unfortified wines and paired with meals.

Monte bravo vineyards
The Vineyards at Quinta do Montebravo.

An authentic Port wine must come from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The Douro is one of the most stunning wine growing regions in the world. And, it is one of the only regions in the world where foot-stomping is still used to press the grapes. Port wine is versatile and delicious. You should try it if you have not already! It is not just for old rich guys anymore!

CruzPort
White Port at Porto Cruz in Vila Nova de Gaia.

A recent trend in the Douro is the making of quality table wines. Here is where Portuguese wines are the underdogs of world wines. They have quality and diversity that is remarkable. However, most of the world is unaware of this. I am here to tell you that Portuguese red and white table wines are fantabulous!

And that brings us to Vinho Verde, which literally means green wine. Green meaning young in this case. Vinho Verde is historically a light white wine that has a little spritz to it and can be a little on the sweet side. It has become more and more popular in the US as a crushable summer white. Here’s a little secret, Vinho Verde comes in a variety of styles, including dry and red! Most of the red Vinho Verde stays in Portugal and it is too bad because it is delicious.

So, your first step in getting to know the wines of Portugal is to get yourself some Port and a good Vinho Verde! Since it is nearly summer, may I suggest a dry white port to start, which you should use to make yourself a port and tonic. Garnish with a slice of orange. Enjoy!

Gaia.Port
White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval porthouse in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) White Port makes an excellent aperitif.

And Now This…

Portuguese wine and spirits.  Because, I love me some wine and spirits!

Wine is a deep subject. There is no end to it once you start to study it. American wines are probably the most straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they are easy by any means. Then there are French wines, Italian, German and Austrian, and Portuguese, to name a few. Each one is a study in itself and, the approachability descends with each country listed!

I have been a student of wine and spirits for over ten years, and the learning curve continues to challenge me. So, in an attempt to educate myself and hopefully shed some light on the subject, I am going to write here about Portuguese wines and the derivatives thereof.
It would be a waste not to strive for expertise in the subject when I have the supreme good fortune to be living in Portugal! So, here goes!  Bring on the Vinhos Portugueses!(See previous post, Got Wine?)

Check out this little number! Pacheca Rosé Reserva. Now that the weather has started to heat up, it’s rosé all-day season! It is an herbaceous and complex rose made up of 100% Touriga Nacional, the premier grape of Portugal. With brambly red and black fruit flavors, it is outstanding, refreshing, and goes with just about anything. Think of it as the little black dress of wine!  Saúde!

Got Wine?

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 is 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.   

Porrais Douro Valley Red Wine

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.)   

Poeira Dusty Red Wine from the Douro Valley with local choriço and cheese.

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! 

Vila Paraíso Sparkling Red Wine from the Beira Atlantico.