I’m excited to share a guest blog with you today. Miguel Caldeira is a wine enthusiast who lives in Lisbon, Portugal! We connected with each other via Facebook, and he kindly agreed to write an article for me on Portuguese wines. I’ve learned so much already from Miguel, and I can’t wait to learn more.
Get ready to explore Portuguese wines! And when you try some, please add comments to my blog and send your comments to Miguel as well.
Portugal’s relationship with wine has been greatly influenced by the many peoples who passed through or settled in the country, bringing with them numerous grapes that have adapted to the country and contributed to its great diversity. Portugal has approximately 285 wine grape varieties!
A fun factoid about Portugal is that it has the oldest demarcated, regulated wine region in the world. The Douro Wine Region was established in 1756 to define the area of production of the vineyards that provided the grapes for the famous Port wine.
Speaking of Port, for centuries, the Portuguese wine industry focused almost entirely on Port production. So grapes grown for Port got a lot of attention and were very high quality. Everything else was much lower quality.
In the 1990s, thanks to the efforts of winemaker João Portugal Ramos in the Alentejo region, the quality of Portuguese wine began to improve dramatically.
In Portugal today, you see a beautiful pairing of old-world practices with new-world technology, creating unique and sometimes complex wines that amaze many wine lovers who were expecting to taste low-quality Portuguese wines.
Portugal has managed to resist the use of foreign varieties. They also resist the temptation to copy wines that have a more international profile.
With 285 varieties grown in the country, I will introduce you to the two varieties that I believe are the most representative and probably the most important, Touriga Nacional (red) and Alvarinho (white).
Touriga Nacional is considered the finest red grape variety in Portugal. It is a thick-skinned, low-yield grape with a lot of color and tannin, and it plays a key role in the blends used for ports. It’s also used in a lot of non-fortified wines. According to Catavino.net, “When we speak of Portugal, we are often speaking of one particular grape that is the main culprit for my nose filling with lush, vibrant, purple violets: Touriga Nacional.” So when you think Touriga Nacional, think violets! I strongly believe that in a couple of years Touriga Nacional will be one of the most important red grapes in the wine world.
Alvarinho is one of Portugal’s finest and most characterful. It was one of the first Portuguese grape varieties to be bottled as a single variety. Alvarinho is easy to recognize by its complex but delicate aromas reminiscent of peach, lemon, passion fruit, lychee, orange zest, jasmine, orange blossom and lemon balm. The wines are delicious young, but they can also age well, often for ten years or more. Alvarinho vines are vigorous, and care is needed to restrain their exuberant vegetation. In spite of their vigorous nature, grape yield is low, and the grape bunches are small.
Alvarinho in Portugal is the same grape as Albarino in Spain. According to The Wine Guy, this grape was “Brought to Iberia from eastern France by Cluny Monks in the 12th century. The grape’s name in both countries means ‘white from the Rhine.’ It is related closely to the Riesling grape from the Alsace region of France.”
Portuguese wines are very well priced, making them very affordable to try. I would love for you to taste some and let me know what you think.