Jul 01, 2019 02:30PM
This wine story begins over 4,000 years ago with some of the most important early cultures contributing. It is the tale of the country that lies along the Atlantic Coast of the Iberian Peninsula, a land now known as Portugal.
A Celtic tribe called the Lusitani settled the region and remained in control for generations until the Romans arrived and eventually conquered the population. The Romans brought winemaking and grape growing to the north while the Phoenicians are believed to have introduced viniculture and viticulture to the south through trade. The spread of Christianity added new demand as churches needed wine for ceremonies, and the region’s industry thrived.
Portuguese winemaking continued through the centuries of Moorish rule with production being allowed for export until close to the end of the reign, but the vineyards did not fully flourish until the Moors were finally defeated in the 13th century.
English, Scottish, and Dutch wine traders arrived and established themselves in northwestern Portugal around the city of Oporto on the Douro River and began to increase their power. Portuguese and Italian winemaking families founded new wine businesses on the island of Madeira and developed new trade with the Americas.
The country’s wine trade grew, but unfortunately malpractice grew with it. To curb the negative foreign influence and support the Portuguese growers, the Marquis of Pombal introduced new laws for the land which designated specific vineyard areas and production methods. Quality improved and the industry soared again. Mother Nature would soon check this success with vineyard disease that decimated almost all of Europe’s vineyards with phylloxera.
World wars and political unrest wreaked havoc on the industry throughout most of the 20th century. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Union, and European loans and grants became available. This newfound capital allowed winemakers to update their vineyards with new stainless-steel tanks for clean, high quality production. This, along with other European investment in the general infrastructure of the country, made a tremendous difference and the modern industry was born.
Like a phoenix, the wine business of Portugal is rising again. Now grape growers who once delivered their crop to big co-operatives are building their own wineries and bottling under labels of their own. Portugal is now the 10th country in worldwide wine exports and 9th in the world for land under vine. While some producers have planted international grape varieties, some of the more interesting wines are the ones made from the country’s treasure trove of indigenous grapes.
Traditionally, Portugal has been known for its fortified wines like Madeira and Port while its dry reds and refreshing whites had a smaller audience. Fortunately, the U.S. is now getting more of these wines. For consumers, this is good news as good quality wine can now be found at friendly price points.
Many great wines from Portugal are made in a more traditional way from field-blends, but also look for single varietal wines since these bottles can help wine lovers learn about the unique grape varieties that each area offers.
Portugal has 14 major wine regions, each with some distinctive grapes and terroir. There are vineyards in the cold, rocky north on down to the warm, more Mediterranean south.
This small European country has captured a lot of attention in recent years. Its current economic growth, long history, and diverse landscape are just a few of the reasons it was named Travel + Leisure’s “Destination of the Year” in 2016. Wine travel is a substantial part of this growth, with regions becoming more accessible through welcome centers and information on wine tours for travelers.
Enjoy these Portuguese wines and ask your favorite wine-seller what they recommend, too. The small country of Portugal has great things to offer to wine lovers. Take a sip and taste a new part of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Douro Valley lies along the Douro River. The soils are primarily derived from shale. The region has very cold winters and very hot summers. This is the same area is where the fortified Port wines are made. Check out the young wines from boutique producer, Quinta do Portal.
The Colheita Branco 2018 is made from a blend of Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, and Moscatel which come together to offer a crisp, citrusy, floral white with a tropical fruit finish. The Colheita Tinto is the red version made from Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and Touriga Franca. It is fermented at a cooler temperature and aged in neutral oak creating a fruit forward wine bursting with red berry flavors.
The Dâo Valley lies further south. It is home to Portugal’s finest white grape, Encruzado. The white wines of Dâo made from this grape have been compared to white burgundy because of their complex nature, and the Dâo producers are also leading the way with their single varietal reds. Try Casa da Passarella O Oenologo Encruzado 2017. This wine has aromas and flavors of tangerine citrus with verbena, a medium body, vibrant acidity, and a very pleasing texture through the long citrus finish.
The Dâo producers are also leading the way with their single varietal reds. Top-quality wines from Roques include the Touriga Nacional 2016, with floral violet aromas and a rich blackberry flavor and bigger tannic structure blends with good acidity and a persistent finish; and the Alfrocheiro 2014 which is nicely balanced with fresh strawberry aromas and flavors and a lingering fruity finish.
Further south, east of Lisbon lies the Alentejo region. Their history says an ancient civilization called the Tartessians had domesticated vineyards before the Romans and Phoenicians arrived. The area grows a variety of grapes that produce a wide range of styles.Try the Herdade de Sao Miguel Alicante Bouschet 2017, this wine is made from a red grape that also has red flesh inside. It has a deep ruby color that is almost black with a big structure, rich fruit flavors, and a tannic kick.