Portugal 101

Nov 10, 2015




No other country can match Portugal’s range of indigenous wine grape varieties, a rich palette for winemakers that goes back to the Bronze Age. Tartessians, Romans, and Phoenicians introduced winegrapes here, and viticulture eventually spread across Portugal’s diverse geography. Isolated from the rest of Europe, many unique wine varieties developed there as vines accustomed themselves to extremes in soil, weather and altitude.

Now, in a small country with over 250 unique, indigenous wine grape varieties to choose from, it is not surprising that Portuguese winemakers usually draw from a variety of grape sources to create balanced, flavorful blends. The result is that Portugal is blessed with a treasure chest of unique and distinctive wines.

Portuguese blends, with their distinctive combinations and unique character, reward people seeking diversity. These wines, at their best, often from small but distinct regions, combine ancient winemaking wisdom with the latest scientific and technical knowledge to put the wonder and pleasure back in wine.

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Light-Bodied Whites: The cool, hilly, verdant north west of Portugal is the main source of a unique style of white wine with lowest alcohol and high, fresh acidity: Vinho Verde.

Full-Bodied Whites: Higher in alcohol and richer in texture, these come from vineyards bathed in copious sun and high summer temperatures. There are soft, rich wines from the Alentejo, intense, minerally whites from the Douro, and full-bodied whites from Trás-os-Montes in the north east. The oak-ageing of top-of-range Reserve whites from Dão and Lisboa rounds them out to full-bodied status.

Rich, Round Full-Bodied Reds: Alentejo hot summers make ripening easy, and sweet grapes mean rich fruit and lots of body.

Robust Reds: Serious, big and often firmly tannic in their first few years of life, top Douro reds nevertheless have their own robust style of elegance, and often a complexity of flavor that comes from the mix of grapes, where old vines of mixed varieties are planted together. Another source is Bairrada, made from Baga, which has full body as well as high acid and tannin, maturing to a softer, complex, savory, malty wine of great originality.

Elegant Reds: Dão has perhaps the greatest concentration in Portugal of elegant reds; altitude is high, the soils granite, the climate cool, ripening slow. The red wines of Palmela on the Península de Setúbal are elegant wines, made from Castelão, with complex, fruity flavors, good acidity and balanced tannins, ageing to a cedary character.

Port Wine: The Port Wine is divided into three big families, White, Tawny and Ruby. The White Port offers a range of colors that can vary from pale white to amber. The Ruby family admits red tonality that extends from light red, to very dark red, almost black. The tawny family usually extends from colors like auburn, copper and amber.

Madeira: All Madeira has a nutty, deliberately oxidized and slightly caramelized quality from wood-ageing under the influence of heat. Madeira ranges in sweetness from just off-dry to seriously sweet. In rising order of sweetness, these are: Sercial, Terrantez, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia

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Portugal has so many wine styles and flavors, including some fascinating flavors that you can find nowhere else in the world. Whatever the occasion, whatever the dish, you need look no further than Portugal for a suitable wine.

Choose a fresh, high-acid white wine if the dish is high in acidity (perhaps owing to a salad dressing, vinegar, a lemony sauce, capers or tomatoes). White wines from the north of Portugal are likely to provide a good match. Wines from Vinho Verde, Dão, Bairrada, Beira Interior or, from the cool, breezy Lisboa wine region. Sparkling wines also benefit from a high acidity that will provide a good match for this type of food. Aromatic, dry white wines can pair well with seafood and with lightly spiced Asian food, especially Indian or Thai, but not sweet and sour dishes.

Look out for wines containing the fragrant Fernão Pires grape. Other aromatic choices could be Alvarinho and Loureiro (Vinho Verde), and Moscatel.

Alvarinho Recipe Pairing

Reds of Bairrada and Douro will pair well with game, offal, meaty stews and other richly sauced meats. Try a smooth red Alentejo, a light, easy-going Tejo red, an elegant Palmela, Algarve or Alenquer, a light red from Óbidos, or a good, mature red from almost any of the regions. These wines can be paired with white meats and most simple red meat dishes. Red wines, especially Baga/Bairrada are surprisingly good with fresh tuna.

Touriga Nacional Recipe Pairing




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