Five Indigenous Portuguese Grapes Everyone Should Know

Jul 20, 2018

Five Indigenous Portuguese Grapes Everyone Should Know

Indigenous grape varieties are all the rage right now, with wine lovers pushing aside standard, international options like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir for the new and different. While many top winemaking countries specialize in in a handful of grape varieties, Portugal is awash in varietal diversity, with vineyards stretching from verdant Vinho Verde to sunny Alentejo.

In fact, Portugal has the highest density of indigenous grapes per square kilometer, nearly tripling that of the next-highest ranking wine country. This plethora of local varieties – over 250, to be precise – means that there is a Portuguese grape for every type of wine lover, just waiting to be discovered by oenophiles.

“Portugal’s winemaking history dates back thousands of years,” Sónia Vieira, Head of Promotion & Education Departments for ViniPortugal, says. “This has created a wealth of high-quality, native grape varieties, each of which thrives in special pockets of Portugal’s diverse winemaking regions.”

If the exciting landscape of Portugal’s local grapes seems daunting, taste a handful of the most important ones first. These five grapes will get wine lovers started on an entirely unique flavor journey.

If you like dry Riesling, drink Alvarinho
Also known as Albariño just across the Spanish border, Alvarinho calls Portugal’s northwestern Vinho Verde region home. In this cool, hilly area, Alvarinho produces Vinho Verde’s highest quality wines with fragrant, citrus and floral driven aromatics reminiscent of orchard fruit such as peach and apple, snappy acidity and fine minerality of dry Riesling.

If you like Chardonnay, drink Encruzado
Though Encruzado is definitely under-the-radar for most American wine drinkers, it is one of Portugal’s most exciting white grape varieties. The north-central Dão region produces elegant, complex Encruzado wines that combine richness with fine texture and minerality. Like Chardonnay, the wines range from full and oaky to pure and acid-driven, spanning many style iterations.

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, drink Touriga Nacional
Once used solely to produce world-renowned Port wines, Touriga Nacional is now creating some of Portugal’s most exciting reds. It is black-fruited in nature, with herbal accents that meld well with the sweet spice flavors of new oak. Round and mouth-filling, Touriga Nacional satisfies palates attuned to a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, with complexity and aging potential.

If you like Pinot Noir, drink Baga
Lovers of red Burgundy and Barolo will wonder why they haven’t been drinking Baga all their lives, as this north-central variety could easily pass for Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, depending on the age. It makes long-lived, complex reds with distinct acidity, high tannins, and full body, progressing from rich cherry flavors to nuanced herbal, savory, tobacco-like notes over time.

If you like Malbec, drink Touriga Franca
The most widely grown grape in the Douro Valley, Touriga Franca creates much of dry Douro red and Port coming from the region. Wine growers love Touriga Franca as it is easy to cultivate, hardy, and dependable for good yields, but it also produces delicious, easy-drinking wines. Touriga Franca layers delicate floral aromas atop ripe blackberry fruit, with a juicy, full-bodied character akin to Malbec.

If a spark of enthusiasm is lit at just the idea of tasting these five indigenous varieties, the full treasure trove of Portugal’s native varieties will set off an explosion. From Arinto and Antão Vaz to Castelão and Trincadeira, the endless possibilities of Portuguese wine styles may just have wine lovers eschewing all other winemaking countries for good.



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