Portugal is a wine region full of opportunity with a wide variety of landscapes and growing conditions perfect for viticulture. Such diversity allows Portuguese winegrowers to produce a broad range of wines. Water and sunshine are the lifeblood of the vine. There is ample rainfall along the coastal regions, while the interior of Portugal offers a much drier, hotter climate.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, inexpensive, semi-sweet, slightly effervescent roses such as Lancers and Mateus became popular. From the 1980’s onward, we find many producers making still wines. In 1986, entry into the European Union spurred research and financial investing towards building many new state of the art wineries.
The Minho coastal region is home to the famous white wine known as Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is made from the grapes of Alvarinho (also called Albarino in Spain), Loureiro, the most planted white grape variety and Trajaduar. Vinho Verde thus is not a grape, but rather a name that means green wine. It can be white, red or rose. Some notable producers are Twin Vines, Aveleda and Octave.
Mountains can play a significant role in viticulture by protecting vineyards from excessive rainfall and stressful wines. Vineyards planted on high elevations, experience cooler growing conditions, keeping acidity in check and allowing the grapes to maintain a balance between sugars and tannins.
In the Douro region, the Portuguese have experienced great success with fortified wine. Portugal offers over 300 grape varieties in the country and they are available as a pure expression of a single grape or as a blend.
Some of the best Porto (Port) wines are made in the traditional manner. Porto can be made from one harvest or a blend of years. It is the aging period that determines the wines style and how it may be labeled. The two main types are the ruby or vintage style, which is bottled young, and the wood or tawny style, which is aged longer in a cask prior to bottling. Tawny ports are aged at least six years in the cask before release.
Primary red varietals included in the making of Port include:
Touriga Nacional: An early ripening variety that typically produces lower yields. Aromas include mulberry, black cherry, violets, rose petal, strawberry, cardamom, bergamot and gamy scents reminiscent of smoked meat.
Tinta Roriz: Also known as Tempranillo in Spain, this grape produces wine with lots of sugar, body, astringency and potential for longevity. The nose is often floral, herbal and spicy while on the palate are berry and licorice flavors.
Tinta Barroca: This is a thinned skinned grape growing best in cooler sites along the Douro where it is a component of blended dry wines and sweet Porto’s. It produces wine with softer tannins and lower acidity and adds good, deep rich color and a floral fruity nose.
Tinta Cao: This grape takes a long time to develop and lends longevity and complexity to blended wines. It produces wine with floral and fruit flavors with a hint of spiciness.
Touriga Franca: The last of the top five grapes in the Douro this is the most aromatic with scents of herbs. The grape contributes good sugar, acid and fruit qualities.
Some key producers from the Douro are Cockburns and Dows. Dows BomFim is a wonderful expression of still wine comprised of the top five red varietals. Whether you are interested in refreshing whites, still or fortified wines from Portugal, now is the time to tap into the undiscovered area that offers so much adventure.
Kimberly Fisher is Director of Fine Wine Sales for Badger Liquor & Spirits