Portugal may be known for its sun-soaked beaches and idyllic Mediterranean coastal resorts, but it is equally privileged when it comes to its wine offering. From the crisp, cooling ‘green wine’ from the north of the country, to the lush, rich reds of the Douro Valley, there is plenty to explore amongst what’s been labelled the ‘jewel house’ of wine varieties. Join us as we get to know more about the wines of Portugal, where its indigenous grapes open us up to a whole new world of flavours and experiences.
Portuguese wine – the basics
There are three distinct levels of wine quality in Portugal.
First there are the DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) wines which come from a strictly defined geographical area where the quality is controlled by using only permitted, recommended grapes. There are technically 31 DOCs on the Portugal wine map, although because three of them overlap, it looks more like 28.
Next up there are the ‘Vinho Regionals’. Portugal is made up of 14 regional wine areas. Here the rules are somewhat less strict than those of the DOCs in terms of grape varieties and maximum yields, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious contenders in this category. In fact, there are a fair few ingenious wine producers on the Portugal wine map that use the Vinho Regional label to come up with some very special wines using grapes or blends that the DOCs don’t allow.
Lastly there’s the simple ‘Vinho’ label, the most basic classification of Portuguese wine. The country’s table wine, you’ll rarely see it outside of the peninsula.
Portugal wine regions
From north to south, the Portugal wine map offers an eclectic journey through tastes and styles. Here’s a look at some of the most renowned.
Tucked into the country’s green and fertile north west, nestled just south of the border with Spain’s Galicia, you’ll find the home of the refreshingly vibrant and subtly sparkling Vinho Verde. Just inland of the Costa Verde (green cost), you’ll find one of the wettest wine growing regions. In these conditions, grapes ripen with moderate levels of sugar, which is a factor that sets these Portuguese wines apart. Beautifully crisp acidity and vivacious fruity flavours coupled with fairly low alcohol levels make this a truly refreshing style of wine, perfect for hot summer days further down on the starkly contrasting, steaming Mediterranean coast.
There’s also a red Vinho Verde, but you’ll rarely see it outside of Portugal.
This remote region meaning ‘behind the mountains’ is folded into the north east of the Portugal wine map and surrounded on one side by towering mountains, and on the other the border with Spain.
The climate can be rather extreme here, bearing up to harsh winters and contrastingly low rainfall in summer. Portuguese red wine from this region is characteristically lighter and more aromatic than those of the neighbouring Douro.
World renowned and one of - if not the - most revered Portugal wine regions, the Douro is brimming with spirited winemakers. The Douro Valley with its steeply terraced vineyards and schist soil presents a huge array of terroirs, yet it’s sparsely populated and very hot and dry, with grapes grown on breathtakingly steep terraced slopes.
The grapes grown here are the very same that are used to make the country’s greatest export, Port - the aromatic Touriga Nacional, plus the Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Cão and Tinta Barroca. Douro wines have a tendency to be high in tannins and rich in flavour, and thanks to the skill of the winemaker, bursting with fruity freshness.
A side note about Port…
Port is a sweet, fortified wine made from a unique blend of Portuguese indigenous grapes. Made exclusively in the Douro valley, the main grapes used are those listed above, although there are over 50 varieties that can be used.
During the Port winemaking process, the yeasts start to convert sugar into alcohol. Once the winemaker has achieved the required alcohol level, a neutral grape spirit called aguardente is added to the wine to halt the fermentation process and retain a high level of residual sugar, creating that wonderful characteristic finish we all know and love and can’t resist pairing with a good strong cheese after a hearty Christmas dinner.
Matured in large oak vats for four years before bottling, this traditional unfiltered Port is rich, intense and juicy.
This Port, from a fantastic year, was created by the traditional foot-treading method and delivers flavours of ripe plums, stewed blackberries and a hint of sweet tobacco.
South of the Douro Valley, resting on granite slopes and sheltered by looming mountains and pine forests, the Dão region produces one of the best Portuguese red wine varieties.
The area has been through something of a transformation over the past couple of decades, with an influx of enthusiastic, smaller producers creating elegant, everyday enjoyable wines.
Sitting pretty between mountains and coast, this Portuguese wine region is known for its fertile clay soil and single grape variety, Baga. This is a high acidity grape with a fair level of tannins, making the wines quite astringent in their youth, but softening with age. Most Bairrada wines these days are Baga blends, creating a much more palatable style.
Thanks to a younger wave of winemakers in the region, you’ll also find a number of whites and sparkling wines here, all fuelled by the late afternoon breezes that trickle across the vineyards.
This large, coastal region of the Portugal wine map is named after the country’s capital, Lisbon. There are nine separate DOCs here in total, making it the largest wine producing region of Portugal in terms of volume.
The Alentejo province covers almost a third of Portugal. The vineyard area is split into seven diverse sub-regions, and its characteristic undulating hills are home not just to vines, but to olives, cork oaks, wheat and sheep.
Despite the rebellious climate here with summer temperatures regularly topping 35°C and droughts not uncommon, this is a dynamic region, sometimes referred to as Portugal's 'New World'.
This is a predominantly flat region where a whole host of grapes are grown, from Alvarinho (used to make Vinho Verde), to the full-bodied dark-skinned Alicante Bouschet. The great thing about this region is that the wines are generally exceptional value.
This easy drinking, fruity wine is the epitome of what a modern Portuguese wine should be. This bottle delivers soft aromas of blackcurrant and plum, followed by notes of mint and earth spices, all wrapped up in a silky smooth texture.
Other Portugal wine regions include Península de Setúbal, Beira Interior and Távora-Varosa.
Wines of Portugal – a side note about grape varieties
A lot of Portuguese grape varieties won’t be found anywhere else in the world. So if you examine a Portuguese wine label and don’t recognise the grape, don’t worry.
There are more than 250 indigenous varieties, as well as a good few imports, such as Alicante Bouschet, that have blended in very well with the Portuguese winemaking landscape.
Portuguese wine – time for a tipple?
Keen to give Portuguese wine a try? The Oddbins Portuguese wine range is sure to have something to tempt your taste buds. Not sure which to choose? Contact our helpful team for advice via Live Chat, e-mail or by calling 0800 328 23 23.