Let it be known that Portugal is no poser. She stays true to her land, producing almost all native grapes. They are little known in the US (unless you’re a wine nerd and go all Sherlock Holmes to find weird-ass grapes like we do). The wines of this region are made in a very traditional, authentic way and will completely change both your palate and perspective.
You are probably inclined to think that Portugal is only famous for its sweet Ports, or even it’s less popular (but still well-known) island wine, Madeira. Yeah those wines are chill and all, but nowhere as cool as the hidden gems that Portugal’s still table wine has to offer. Portugal gets a bad rap, and it’s viewed sometimes as a less-than-attractive growth on Spain’s gloriously chiseled body. This is simply a lie told to you by some Cava-drinking, Rioja-obsessed individual (most likely over a plate of tapas after one too many glasses of bubbly).
The varied landscape of Portugal has a vast range of soils, from sandy in the northern and coastal regions, to rough and rugged in the middle and clay-like in the south. Large and small rivers and bodies of water cover Portugal, helping to hydrate the land in the different climates from blazing hot desert to the tropical paradises that line the coasts.
Vinho Verde, an Endless Summer Love
Known for its porch-pounding whites and high acid dream reds. The soils here are very sandy and border the Rias Bias of Spain. This climate is what most Americans try to experience during their winter vacations. Think of tropical Club Med vibes with lots of rain. Don’t be fooled if someone tries to tell you the reason why this region is called ‘Vinho Verde’ is because the grapes are green and they only make white wine. It’s a trap.
Their whites are made most typically from Alvarinho grapes. Although you may find some wines made from others, this is most popular. These wines are extremely chuggable, pair nicely with fish and usually have about 8 percent ABV, so it’s totally grandma-tested and approved. The reds are a bit harder to find but can be like tiny tart cherry slaps to the face, leaving you with a light tannin and a green note to savor. The reds are made from a variety of grapes but most popular are Espadeiro and Padeiro.
Port’s home, but he’s asleep by 7 pm!
The Douro gets its name from the Douro River, which runs through this region. It’s a mountainous region with a hot and bone-dry climate. This area is home to Oporto, the sub-region that makes Port, but also home to Portugal’s dry wine king Touriga Nacional. TN is one of many grapes that are produced in this region, but by far the most popular.
It is big bold red that can be found in the US for as little as $10 a bottle and would rival any California Cab I have tasted in the past year. This wine deserve age, anywhere between 4 years on the low end to 10-15 years on the high end. Expect big, meaty, juicy, dark, fruit-laced with fresh wet green notes. Prepare to be amazed.
Home to the lady Baga
This area of Portugal is in the center of the country with a touch of coastal land. Baga rules the land here and is a big ass, thick-skinned rustic grape. The wines that are produced from Baga are usually huge tannin bombs that tote an electric acidity and are good for big rich meats and cheeses. The region’s specialties are their reds, but it also produces a sparkling white here and there.
Burgundy’s Portuguese brother
This is an inland region that has a moderate climate and granite soils that are reminiscent of Burgundy. The wines here are boldly elegant, clad with a finesse that is in its minerality. The two whites with the most star power are Malvasia and Encruzado. They both have characteristics akin to a creamy Chardonnay; a nose like peaches and yellow pears. The best red to look for from this region is Jaen, which also goes by Mencia. These reds have an earthy-pepper-like aroma, medium-body with raspberry and blueberry notes on the palate.
These four regions are just scratching the surface, but allow you to have an idea of what Portugal can do… like setting you up for a blind date. We assure you, as your tastemakers, that you will find something within this region that is well worth your time. These wines are not expensive, yet pack a mighty punch. There is something for everyone within Portugal. Don’t worry… you can thank us later.
What, no Alentejo love?