Portugal wine production is inextricably linked to its two most popular wines, the fortified Port and Madeira, which made the country famous worldwide. Furthermore, in recent years, this country has demonstrated its undisputed value also as a producer of still wines and established itself as one of the most important European wine-producing countries.
The cultivation of grapes in Portugal is certainly not among the easiest: the torrid summer weather and the critical soil conditions in certain areas make it rather difficult. As if this climate was not enough, in the north of the country, particularly in the Douro, as well as in some areas of Madeira, the terrain is characterized by steep slopes, where the cultivation of the vine can easily be described as extreme, and only manual work is allowed.
Portuguese viticulture is strongly connected to tradition, both in the techniques used and in terms of grapes; a fact that has helped the country to preserve a strong wine peculiarity.
Beginning in 2,000 BC the Tartessians introduced grape vine plantings in both the Sado and Tagus valleys. However, the true varieties and techniques of viticulture did not fully develop in areas other than the southern coastal regions until the Phoenicians arrived in the area. Northern Portugal wines and viticulture developed in later times with the arrival of the Greeks, Celts and Romans.
During the rule of the Moors, grape cultivation suffered a recession, but in 1703, Portuguese wines started to experience a period of splendor. This renaissance of sorts was mainly thanks to the Methuen Treaty, a commercial agreement, which allowed the import of Portuguese wines in England at lower cost to the detriment of all other European wines, especially France. Unfortunately this phase didn’t last that long as in the late 1800s the pest phylloxera devastated the vineyards of the country.
In the last century, Salazar’s dictatorship strongly affected Portugal wine production. His program of cooperativization set the country’s development of viticulture and vinification techniques behind from the rest of Europe. It wasn’t until the 90’s when a bunch of audacious producers started a quality revolution with remarkable results.
This revival of the Portuguese wine tradition flooded the country with new European Union finance capital to bolster the stagnant production volumes. This influx of financing shifted winemakers to a higher premium portfolio of dry white and red wines to market worldwide.
Douro is certainly the most famous wine region of the country; located in the north, it occupies the valley of the homonymous river. This is the region where, thanks to the particular climatic and geological conditions, grapes are particularly suited to the production of the famous Port. But Douro also produces interesting table wines, mainly reds, generally robust and full-bodied made with the same grapes used for Port.
Madeira wine production is predominantly linked to its homonymous fortified wine. Similarly to Douro, on this island located 850 kilometers south of Portugal, vineyards are located on steep slopes. The grapes used for the production of Madeira are white and include Boal, Malmsey, Sercial and Verdelho.
Among the other regions of interest are Dão, considered one of the most promising of the country and producing mainly red wines from the local Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Alfrocheiro Preto;
Additional Portuguese Wine Regions
Other important regions in Portuguese winemaking include Bairrada, located in central Portugal and known for the production of red, still and sparkling wines; Alentejo, to the south, where the production is focused on red wines based on Periquita and Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), and Minho, on the border with Spain, famous for its Vinhos Verde. In fact, the simple and light wines of Vinhos Verde are generally low in alcohol and slightly fizzy, produced from up to twenty-five grape varieties including Alvarinho, Trajadura, Loureiro and Pedernã.
Look through our selection of Portuguese wines below to find your next favorite vintage for dinner or parties.