Portugal is the 11th largest wine producer in the world, but unlike most of the higher-ranked countries, the Iberian country doesn’t rely on international varietals to satisfy this demand, rather it shines with its own history.
There’s no doubt Portugal is a winemaking powerhouse with a focus on quality as opposed to quantity. The country’s impressive number of grape varieties has caught the eye of wine enthusiasts across the world, as it allows this relatively small country to produce exceptional and exciting wines with no equal.
Portuguese wine is larger than life. Although the county’s wine has enjoyed fame since the Ancient Romans planted vines in the country, it is modern Portugal and its recent winemaking efforts that are turning heads. Read on and discover what makes Portugal’s wine scene so exciting today — from classic styles to new emerging wine regions.
If you’re still not well versed in the traditions of Portuguese wine, grapes and regions, this is your go-to guide to catch up and start enjoying the extraordinary fermented grape juice that’s putting Portugal right back on top of the popularity ranks. This is what you need to know about Portuguese wine in the 21st century.
The all-time classics
There’s no doubt that the big names in the Portuguese wine scene still play a significant role in the country’s popularity. Although Portugal is home to 31 DOCs (Denominação de Origem Controlada) spread throughout fourteen wine regions, just a handful of appellations steal the spotlight in the international market.
Portugal has always been famous for its timeless, age-worthy fortified wines, Port and Madeira. These big, bold and sophisticated wine styles might not be a growing trend, but they have established their position and are a timeless classic. They are every connoisseur’s ace up the sleeve — these are contemplation wines worthy of the most memorable occasions and have a place in every serious wine collection.
The Douro Valley, home to the acclaimed Port producers, now also produces still, dry red wines from their sun-drench vineyards overlooking the Douro River, and the inky red wine is up there with the most astounding reds on the planet.
Another popular Denominação that has gained popularity worldwide is the refreshing Vinho Verde. Uncomplicated, the maritime white wine is fantastic with seafood and light dishes, such as the country’s comforting kale soup.
There’s no doubt Portugal’s popular wine styles spearhead the country’s vinous efforts and are an entry point for those interested in getting to know Portuguese wine. Still, it’s the lesser-known wine regions that are producing the most exciting wines.
The new kids on the block
Along the most interesting emerging wine regions, all of them with centuries of winemaking history but relative newcomers in the international wine scene, you’ll find the northern region of Dão, Bairrada, the arid Alentejo and the extraordinary Algarve, in Portugal’s southern Mediterranean coast.
Dão lies south of the Douro Valley, and the region’s vineyards enjoy high altitudes and comparatively cold temperatures. This is the source of intense, concentrated red wines, often blends using Touriga Nacional, of ever increasing quality. Bairrada, near the Atlantic coast, are known for fragrant red wines made with the unique Baga variety; these are medium-bodied, fruit-forward delights worth trying. Alentejo is a vast arid wine region gaining popularity fast — the Portalegre subregion is home to extraordinarily talented producers.
Perhaps the single most exciting wine region that deserves more international recognition is Algarve, along Portugal’s southern coast. Blessed by a warm and fresh Mediterranean climate, talented, independent wineries are single-handedly elevating the region’s wine quality to extraordinary heights.
Quinta dos Vales’ forty-hectare estate boasts around twenty hectares of vines, located in the heart of the western Algarve. Founded in 2007, the estate has elevated the region’s quality while bringing to the small wine-producing area international acclaim — Quinta dos Vales has been awarded eight times the “Best Wine of the Algarve,” and they’re just getting started.
Portugal’s Past, Present and Future
There’s no doubt the classic wine styles that have made Portugal famous for centuries are still coveted and highly appreciated; they’re amongst the loveliest on the planet. Still, with increased knowledge, investment and a new generation of enthusiastic winemakers, all of Portugal is waking up, and there are more wines to add to your bucket list than ever before. From lusciously sweet, fortified wines to robust reds and refreshing white wines, Portugal has a wine style for every food pairing, budget and occasion.
If you want to get to know Portugal’s modern wine scene, you’ll find in the Algarve an astounding holiday destination. The very essence of Mediterranean hospitality meets the centuries-old wine region, now home to winemakers doing everything right.
The best part? Algarve is not only thriving with fine wine, leisure and world-class cuisine; it is also an opportunity for you to become a winemaker. Visit Quinta dos Vales and enjoy the finest wine in the Algarve. While you’re at it, choose a plot and make the calls, from the vines to the bottle. This is the future of Portuguese wine, and you’re part of it!