Lisboa

Lisboa

Lisboa.jpgWest and north of the city of Lisbon, the Lisboa wine region was until recently known as Estremadura. A lot of wine is made here, much of it in co-operatives, in a very wide variety of styles and qualities. This region where the "vinho regional" Lisboa is predominant also has nine DOC.

Fresh sea breezes keep the windmills turning in this charming, hilly coastal region to the west and north of Lisbon. They also keep the vineyards cool, especially on the seaward side. The Vinho Regional Lisboa area (which was known as Vinho Regional Estremadura until the 2008 vintage) has more DOCs than any other Vinho Regional area of Portugal: a total of nine, of which one is for aguardente (brandy) rather than wine. Many excellent wines are also sold as Vinho Regional Lisboa. There are a growing number of private wine estates, but a great many small-scale producers deliver their grapes to large co-operatives. The region makes a lot of inexpensive quaffing wine, known as vinho da mesa.


Sub-regions

It’s hardly surprising that the two historic DOC regions west of Lisbon have dwindled in recent decades. Land is at a high premium along the region’s southern coast - fast roads head into Lisbon from the fine sandy beaches, the posh towns of Cascais and Estoril, historic palaces, mansions and smart commuter houses. In the southern DOC of Carcavelos, long famous for its sweet wines, most vines have given way to buildings. DOC Colares is likewise little in evidence. The Colares region begins around the headland from Cascais, beyond the spectacular, golden surfing beach of Guincho, inland from Cabo da Roca, Europe’s westernmost headland. The vines of Colares were famously planted deep into the sand dunes and protected by windbreaks, produce the high-acid, tannic reds legendary for their keeping power. The main grape of Colares is the tannic Ramisco, scarcely found nowadays elsewhere in Portugal - even in Colares, only 10ha remain. White Colares is based on Malvasia grapes.

DOC Bucelas is the third of the small, historic wine regions close to Lisbon. Though only 25km north of Lisbon’s central Baixa district, it has survived and indeed grown in recent years, and justifiably so, as it produces some of Portugal’s finest white wines. Bucelas (white only, both still and sparkling) is crisp, dry and mineral, based largely on the Arinto grape. Whilst these wines can be enjoyed young, Bucelas can develop complexity and finesse with two or three years’ maturation. 

Just north of Bucelas, still inland, lies the small region of Arruda. This is delightful, fairy-tale country: hills, an ancient ruined castle, old Roman roads, historic windmills (nowadays also modern wind turbines), and vineyards, growing mostly red grapes. Since 2002, DOC Arruda wines may include international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, as well as some classy grapes from elsewhere in Portugal, such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. (The same goes for the other DOC regions in the central part of the Vinho Regional Lisboa area: Alenquer, Torres Vedras and Óbidos)

In this mild climate, grapes can ripen at leisure, and at best can produce very good, concentrated red wines and whites with good, fresh acidity.

North again from Arruda, still inland, in the countryside and around the town of Alenquer, DOC Alenquer is protected from the raw Atlantic winds by the chalky hills of the Serra de Montejunto. In this mild climate, grapes can ripen at leisure, and at best can produce very good, concentrated red wines and whites with good, fresh acidity. There are very highly motivated, quality-conscious producers in Alenquer, and some promising, innovative winemaking.

It’s cooler to the seaward side of the Serra de Montejunto, in DOC Torres Vedras, especially on the region’s western flank, where sea breezes are strongest. This is a source of light, dry white wines, including a low-alcohol white known as Vinho Leve. There are a few light, tangy red wines, too. Back inland, north of Alenquer, the DOC Óbidos area, with the beautiful, walled medieval town of Óbidos on its north-western flank, is quite cool, producing good, crisp whites (including Vinho Leve) and some of Portugal’s finest sparkling wines, as well as some reds which are at best light and elegant.

To the windswept west of Óbidos, Lourinhã is the DOC for brandy. The region’s north-eastern tip reaches out to the busy fishing port of Peniche and the Cabo Carvoeiro headland. Northwards beyond the cape, an ancient pine forest, the Pinhal de Leiria fringes the surfing beaches, curbing the spread of the dunes, taming the gusty ocean winds, and protecting the vineyards of Encostas de Aire, Vinho Regional Lisboa’s largest and northernmost DOC. This is hilly country, where pears, apples, peaches and figs vie for space with vineyards. The region surrounds the pretty, cobbled town of Leiria, the famous pilgrimage centre of Fátima, and the fabulous monasteries at Batalha and Alcobaça, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. Both white and red wines are light, fresh and low in alcohol.


Main white grapes: 

  • Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia, Seara-Nova and Vital

Main red grapes:

  • Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira