Portuguese Wine Guide
The Portuguese wines that we enjoy so much today are the result of centuries worth of traditions that were introduced to Portugal by such ancient civilisations as the Carthaginians, The Greeks, the Phoenicians and, most of all, the Romans. The wines of Portugal were first exported during the Roman Empire to, no prizes for guessing, to Rome.
Following the Methuen Treaty in 1703, the first exports started to trickle into England, and this commerce proved so successful that many different varieties of grapes were planted, cultivated and turned into wine. In 1758, the Região Demarcada do Douro in the Douro valley was designated as the first wine growing area in the modern world.
There are now two wine producing areas in Portugal that are protected by UNESCO as world heritage sites; The Pico Island wine region and the aforementioned Douro Valley region. The sheer variety of wines that are produced in Portugal are partly responsible for the huge success that they enjoy as a wine exporting country. Most of the wines are produced in the wetter northern regions of the country.
The wines produced now are considered by connoisseurs to be amongst the best in the world, high praise indeed when you think of the volume and quality of wines that are produced around the globe. Portuguese wines are renowned for their taste, quality and clarity and the perfect climate for grape growing results in an abundance of perfect grapes at every harvest. Considered by many to be Portugal's best kept secret, and only when you visit can you appreciate just how many wonderful wines are produced here.
Portugal produces some of the best red wines in Europe. The warm climate, with a reasonable amount of rainfall is perfect for many varieties of the red grape.
If you have yet to sample the red wines from Portugal a great introduction is Quinta de Roriz Douro Prazo de Roriz 2008. From the famous Douro Valley, this wine is blend with no specific grape variety, and contains 35% Tinta Roriz grape and 35% Touriga Nacional. This blend is also produced in Spain where it goes by the name of 'Temperanillo'.
Recommendation: Wines from the Dao region have a unique flavour. One of the most popular is Grao Vasco Tinto
The Alentejo region produces many good wines - look for Alentejo Borba or anything with Alentejo on the label.
A misconception with Portuguese wines is that they only come in one colour; red. While there are more reds exported due the huge harvests of red grapes, there are many white wines produced in Portugal that are quickly gaining their own reputation for excellence. There is also a good selection of sparkling white wines, not unlike Champagne in taste, but obviously unable to call itself any but sparkling white.
One of the best white wines to come out of Portugal is the crisp and refreshing Aveledo Vinho Verde Reserva Grinalda. This is a perfect summer wine as the distinctive flavours of pears and peaches seem to dance on your palate. The distinctly floral bouquet and clean lines make it perfect as an accompaniment to any seafood, as well as being light enough to drink while relaxing on the patio.
Another white wine that has created a lot of interest is Herdade do Esporão Quatro Castas 2010. The Quatro in the name indicates that there are two varieties of grape used to create the wine, and these change with each vintage. They literally use the best two grapes from the harvest to create this wine, and the blend of the two makes a stronger synergy than if they had been used separately. The varieties used in the 2010 vintage are Verdelho and Guaveio, resulting in a fruity wine with the flavour of grapefruit, nectarines, mangoes and other exotic fruits coming through.
Vinho Verde literally translates to Green Wine, and is produced in northern Portugal. Green wine is not green, it is actually a refreshing, slightly sparkling white wine.
Vinho Verde is best served chilled, and is perfect with fish dishes.
Recommendation: In Portugal, Gatao is a great low cost Vinho Verde, in the UK most of the major supermarkets now stock Vinho Verde
Whilst there are numerous different types of wines produced in mainland Portugal, the most famous by far is Porto, or Port. Essentially a fortified wine, it is produced exclusively in the Northern provinces in the Douro Valley. The traditional port is a sweet wine served with dessert, but it also comes in white, semi-dry and dry varieties. Fortified wines in the same style as port are produced across the globe, but only that produced in the Douro Valley can put Port, or Porto, on the label.
The grapes that go into Port are both grown and processed in the Douro Valley, the wine is fortified by the addition of Aguardente, a neutral grape spirit which literally stops the fermentation process. This leaves a sugar residue in the port and also gives is a higher alcohol content. The spirit that is used for the fortification process is often referred to as Brandy, yet bears little resemblance to the spirit drunk across the globe.
After fortification is complete, the wine is stored and left to age in barrels. The name Port came from the seaport of Porto, one of the most famous ports on the Portuguese coast, which also happens to sit at the end of the Douro River. It was down this river that most of the Port travelled before being taken to market or exported to the rest of Europe. The Douro Valley also had the accolade of being the oldest protected wine region in the world as it was granted its appellation status in 1756.
Everyone has heard of the rich fortified wine known as Madeira, and while it is produced solely on the island of the same name, it is officially classed as a Portuguese wine. There a wide range of Madeira's produced now, from the very dry best served as an aperitif, to the very sweet best suited as a dessert wine. There are even cheaper versions available which are intended to be used in cooking.
The Madeira that we know today came about quite by accident, as the Madeira Islands were one of the stopping off places for ships heading towards the East Indies and the New World. To preserve the wine a grape spirit was added, and when the ship continued on its way, the intense heat on the barrels and the movement of the ship completely transformed the taste of the wine.
It was only when an unsold cargo was returned to Madeira after its long round trip and they tasted it did they realise the changes that their wine had undergone. Madeira nowadays has a unique wine making process, which starts with the wine being heated up to temperatures as high as 140°F, or 60°C, and deliberately exposing it to certain levels of oxidation. This process makes for a robust wine with a long life span, even when opened.
Amongst the top selling Portuguese wines of today, blending is the name of the game. Aficionados may turn their noses up at the thought of a range of 'impure' wines that includes very few wines from a single grape variety, but these wines have a huge global following and their affordability cannot be denied. There are many wine tastings and surveys constantly happening around the world, and Portuguese wines are consistently in their top ten.
It is only relatively recently that Portuguese table wines have begun to gain the recognition globally that they richly deserve. While they have always exported to a certain extent, they did tend to keep the majority of their wines for the domestic market.
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