Layover 02: PORTUGAL



The second stop on our trip around the Wine World brings us to Portugal. The country has an immense vinicultural tradition that spans over 2500 years, and it leads the world in wine consumption. According to the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine), Portugal consumes 54 liters per person per year. That is more than double the amount of Holland (24.5 liters) and Spain (23 liters)! Portugal is followed by France (51.8), Italy (41.5), Sweden (41), Switzerland (40.3), Belgium (31.6), Argentina (31.6), Germany (29.3) and Australia (27).

On the world map of wine, Portugal represents a true garden of varieties. Its mosaic of indigenous grapes defines the unmistakable personality of Portuguese wine, the epitome of expression and identity.

Few countries this small in size are as rich in indigenous varieties.

Portugal and wine: what you need to know

  • From north to south and east to west, topography stands out as the differentiating factor. Few countries this small in size are as rich in varieties.
  • Portugal is home to 11 wine regions comprising around 27 appellations of origin.
  • The wines made along the coast reveal the influence of the Atlantic breeze, whereas the regulating effect of the ocean isn't as pronounced inland.
  • These days the market is flooded with big-name international varieties. For Portugal, this provides an opportunity to offer different wines, which are increasingly higher in quality, and find an international audience among the world's greatest wine connoisseurs.
  • Portuguese wines always strive for exceptional quality, because the country—given its size and hectares under vine—cannot compete in terms of volume. This affects the end price, which on average is twice that of Spanish wines (the world's leading producer).
  • In addition to the country's climatic and geographic reality, two other factors explain the recent renaissance and success of Portuguese wines:
    • The protection and promotion of its varietal heritage, as well as a decisive commitment to RDI and using technology in the winemaking process.
    • The introduction in 2003 of a commercial strategy overseen by Grupo Monitor to organize Portugal's many vineyards by restructuring them into quintas—sufficiently large pieces of land to produce a viable amount of wine to be competitive in the industry.


Key regions, varieties and wine styles

We'll look at three wine regions defined by two very important rivers, the Douro and the Tejo: North (Vinho Verde, Douro), Center or Ribatejo (Dao and Bairrada), and South (Alentejo and Setúbal).

From the lively and light-bodied Vinho Verde whites in the northeast to the complex, full-bodied, characteristically spicy red blends from the hot, vast flatlands of Alentejo, Portuguese wines come in multiple variations based on their provenance.

  • Among the north's undeniable stars are the wines from the VinhoVerde region—nervy, with a touch of effervescence, they usually find their finest expression in the Alvarinhos.
  • Dao, Bairrada and Alentejo, along with Madeira and Setúbal, comprise a winning hand of regional diversity and excellence, especially when it comes to reds. Dao boasts firm, austere reds for connoisseurs. In Bairrada, the tannic and temperamental Baga variety produces reds of astonishing length.
  • The Tinta Amarela variety shares its reign of the Alentejo region with Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Both yield deep, complex wines with that unmistakable spicy character that defines warm-climate reds.
  • Like Porto, Madeira and Setúbal are active producers of fortified wines. The Tinta Negra Mole variety represents 80{483e5444ab9fc06e19ac83efe1d2198bc64dd97b6326f9ee3936c7b95b1cf489} of plantings on Madeira.

The main varieties grown in Portugal include the reds Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Castelao, Baga and Trincadeira; and the whites Arinto, Loureiro, Trajadura and Alvarinho.

Touriga and port: a proud national pairing

Touriga Nacional is without a doubt the most frequently and best used Portuguese red variety, both in varietal wines and blends. This low-yielding variety produces wines of intense color, aroma and flavor thanks to its high concentration of tannins. It is the star in the production of port wines.

The terraced vineyards along the Douro Valley—a World Heritage Site—boast the finest examples of Touriga Nacional used in the production of port. We would need an entire article on the subject to explore the history and various production techniques that make port the fortified wine par excellence.

Port wines are characterized by the striking persistence and intensity of their aroma and flavor, as well as their high alcohol content, ranging from 19 to 22{483e5444ab9fc06e19ac83efe1d2198bc64dd97b6326f9ee3936c7b95b1cf489} alcohol by volume.

Based on the level of sweetness, port can be classified as sweet, very sweet, off-dry and extra dry. The style is decided during the production process by choosing the precise moment at which to halt fermentation. (Very) generally speaking, we can also differentiate port based on age. In other words, all young port wines fall under the “ruby” category and, once aged for several years, they become “tawny,” because their color fades over time.


After-dinner anecdote

Port grew so popular during the 16th century that between 1758 and 1761 it became the first wine in the world to see its production process regulated as a way of preventing abusive practices by certain English merchants. It remains the most strictly regulated wine to this day.

Survival guide: understanding Portuguese wine labels

Here are some of the most common terms you might see on Portuguese wine labels.

Quality indicators:

  • Denominaçao de Origem Controlada (DOC). Equivalent to the European Union's         Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
  • Indicaçoes Geográficas Protegidas (IGP). Standard European designation that is                      gradually replacing the Vinho Regional category.
  • Vinho/Vinho de Portugal. New standard European designation that replaces theVinho de Mesa (table wine) category.

Other common concepts:

  • Adega/Armazém: winery
  • Branco: white
  • Colheita: vintage, harvest year
  • Doce: sweet
  • Engarrafado en Origem: estate bottled
  • Garrafeira: wine merchant's special reserve
  • Maduro: matured or aged wine
  • Quinta: estate
  • Verde: young
  • Vinha: vineyard

As you can see from this brief look at its defining characteristics, Portugal offers a unique winemaking universe of limitless possibilities and diverse profiles—wines that continue the Portuguese tradition of creating, discovering and reaching great heights from a very small spot on the globe.


Rafa Moreno

Categorías: Wine