Wine has been part of Portuguese culture as long as or longer than any other country in the world dating back to the Phoenicians. Even during periods of Moorish occupation when alcohol was banned due to the regulations within the Mulsim religion, the wine making process was secretly being continued behind hidden doors in Monasteries across the country. Throughout the ages the Portuguese have exported wine throughout Europe, although util recently, they have taken a back seat to the marketing of the Spanish, French and Italian wine industries. It wasn’t until Portugal became part of the European Union in 1986 that foreign investment and modern technology began pouring into the country to revitalize the domestic wine industry. There are over five hundred indigenous grape varieties in this small country.
Until recently, most Americans associated Portuguese wines with Port. Nowadays, there is much more to the equation with fine red wines coming from the Douro, Bairrada and Dao regions. Within Europe, the Portuguese wines were seen as average in quality, although substandard in comparison to the high end wines of thier own.
Portugal’s favorable growing environment, consisting of a warm climate and the proximity of the Atlantic ocean breezes along the coast and a drier region inland that produces hearty, tannin reds suitable for longer aging. The primary red grapes grown in the country are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in the Douro
region and Spain). The most common white wines are Alvarinho, Bical, Loureiro and Arinto. The most highly rated wines from Portugal are produced in the Barca Velha located within the Douro region
In looking at Portugal’s wine regions, it’s helpful to split the country in two, by drawing a line about a third of the way down. This separates the northern regions of the Douro, Dão and Bairrada, and the central and southern regions of the Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremadura. As a useful generalization, the future for the northern regions lies in focusing on high-quality, top-end ‘terroir’ wines, while the strength of the southern and central regions is their ability to produce accessible, full flavoured red wines in large quantities and at affordable prices: new world-style wines with a Portuguese twist. In respect to time, at this point I will only be focusing on the Douro region, with the goal of expanding to include both the Dão and Estremadura regions.
In a relatively short period of time the Douro region has established itself as Portugal’s premium wine region. Located behind the city of Porto, the rolling hills and scenic vineyards make this the most visited area for eonophiles. The region, named after the Douro River that runs through it, is one of the most beautiful areas within the country. It’s hard to overstate the scale and pace of change that is currently taking place in this most spectacular of wine regions. The steeply terraced vineyards contain some wonderful terroirs, but because of the economic dominance of the Port trade, it is only recently that these have been widely exploited to produce premium wines. The Douro River runs eastwards into Spain, and is lined with Winery Estates (Quintas), castles and tourist lodges, all of which that can be reached via boat tour.
Wine tourism is a growing trend in Portugal, improved greatly by the flood of visitors in the past ten years. Portugal has always had a reputation of being avid food lovers, and this is not in error. With a large coastline, it is not surprising that seafood is front and foremost on most menus from the Algarve up to the Spanish border. Inland, the large rural population has long held a great respect for the cultivation of fine pork and beef as well as an abundance of vegetables. As with most European countries, there is also great pride in the local cheese industry. From the earliest of days, the Portuguese have produced fine cheeses running the gamut from rich and savory to spicy and dry. Combined with the blossomming wine industry, this is a great country to visit for all food and wine aficinados. Portugal has many beautiful, historic cities such as Lisbon, Sintra, Oporto and Coimbra in addition to the beautiful red rock beaches in the touristy Algarve.