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Somm Things I Think About: Portugal’s still wines

Portugal has built its reputation on fortified wines and for hundreds of years, Port and Portugal have been synonymous. But too often overlooked are the still, dry wines of the country. With over 250 indigenous varieties, different climates, soils and with sustainable practices, Portugal is an untapped haven for still wines. They are incredibly food friendly, and have every price range and style imaginable.

Wine making in Portugal pre-dates the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. In fact, they have been making wines for over 4,000 years. This independence and isolation has lead to indigenous grapes not found elsewhere in the world, save a couple shared with Spain (Alvarinho=albarino, and Tinto Roriz=Tempranillo).

The white wines were my first introduction to the non-Port wines and I find them to be some of the most interesting in the world.

Starting in the Northern part of Portugal near the coast. This cool hilly area produces a low alcohol, fresh, high acid wine called Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde means green wine, not because it’s green in color, but because it’s young, and meant to be consumed young. These wines can be made with a variety of grapes and can be dry, or slightly sweet, and many have a slight fizz. They go wonderfully with lighter salads, and lighter seafoods like oysters.

One of our favorites with a slight fizz is
Broadbent Vinho Verde

A more complex style, totally dry with no spritz to be found?
Casa do Valle Vinho Verde Branco Grande Escolha 2014

Bigger rich white wines are grown in most of the country out of the rainy cooler north. The generous sunlight hours and intense summer heat produce wines that are higher in alcohol and display a rich texture. These can come from the Alentejo region, which produces a soft, rich wine or the Douro region which makes an intense mineral driven white wine. One constant in the indigenous varietals is that they all retain their acidity in hot climates producing freshness in both whites and reds.

One of our favorites from the Esporao grape:
Herdade Do Esporao Reserva White 2013

Rose wine is not geographically important and made everywhere. The best will be in cooler areas to retain acid. But every red grape is used to make a rose and is considered a seaside wine or day time sipper. They are known to be easy drinkers so they are perfect for barbecues and picnics. Like the white wines they will have higher acidity, lower alcohol, and a light body, often with flavors of strawberries and bananas. Rose wines are very versatile and will go a lot of vegetable dishes, summer salads, most fish, and meatier foods like grilled chicken and salumi.

One of our favorites is: Gazela Vinho Verde Rose

Almost 40% of Vinho Verde production is actually red and is light and tangy, perfect with offal, grilled sardines and charcuterie, but sadly the wines aren’t widely available outside of the country so you should use this as an excuse to go there!

In Alentejo, the wines are rich, round and full bodied, and are starting to get the attention of some well known critics. Summers are hot so ripening is never a problem, the combination of great local grapes for blending, and modern winemaking techniques produce wines that are oak aged, long lived, full bodied and opulent. Grapes used in the blend can be familiar and unusual which makes them all the more fun. Some of the grapes that can be found in the blend can be Trincadeira, Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Syrah. These wines are perfect with beef, lamb, pork roasts or stews.

One of our favorites is:
Joao Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva Red 2012

The red wines making the biggest splash are not surprisingly from the Douro region, famous for port. It already has the infrastructure and old vines to produce some of the most exciting wines and are being rewarded with high critic scores. Serious, ageable, robust, big, and tannic are just a few words I would use to describe these beautiful wines, These are wines that age and develop for years to come. They are also elegant and complex in their youth. The uniqueness that separates itself from other regions is often the wines are blended in the field, referred to as vineyard blends, or field blends. the diversity of the grapes grown together give the wines more complexity than blending traditionally – you can’t replicate this terroir! Grapes you might expect to see on a
back label could be the same as in any port, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz, and Tinta da Barca.  These are also the more expensive wines of Portugal but compared to Napa or Bordeaux they are very affordable.

Robust meaty dishes, cheese, offal. the bigger the food the better. They like fat and salt!

One of our favorites is:
Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva 2011

These are just some of the many types of wine you can experience in Portugal and they produce much more than listed here. Have fun exploring this old world country and all these wines that seem so new to us!

4 thoughts on “Somm Things I Think About: Portugal’s still wines”

  1. It is always a joy to see foreigners promoting the Portuguese wine. Just wanted to make a small correction, the production of red wines in the “Vinho Verde” region should not exceed 20/25%

    1. Thanks for your comment, The source for the “40% of Vinho Verde is red” comes from The Wines of Portugal trade website and maybe they made a mistake and if so I am sorry, I try to be as accurate as possible.

  2. If Broadbent’s Vinho Verde is a favorite, then perhaps you should taste more examples of that sort of wine. You also mention the “Esporao grape”…really? Even the Esporao winery web site makes no mention of this varietal.

    1. I would love to try more examples of Vinho Verde, Please recommend some for me! I find the broadbent specifically to be very typical of the style and the price is low which allows for people to try it easily without much financial outlay. In addition, it is available across the country and we kept that in mind for choosing it.

      The Esporao Grape is a white grape variety of the Alentejo wine region, and don’t know why you can’t seem to find it.

      Thanks for your comment, and have a great day!

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