Portuguese Table Wines

Portugal possesses a large array of native varietals, producing an abundant variety of different wines. The wide array of Portuguese grape varietals contributes as significantly as the soil and climate to wine differentiation, producing distinctive wines from the Northern regions to Madeira Islands, and from Algarve to the Azores. In Portugal only some grape varietals or castas are authorized or endorsed in the Demarcated regions, such as:

]Appellation systemMain article: Denominação de Origem ControladaThe appellation system of the Douro region was created nearly two hundred years before that of France, in order to protect its superior wines from inferior ones. The quality and great variety of wines in Portugal are due to noble castas, microclimates, soils and proper technology.

Official designations:

  • Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) or VQPRD - Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Demarcada
    • These are the most protected wine and indicates a specific vineyard, such as Port Wine, Vinhos Verdes, and Alentejo Wines. These wines are labeled D.O.C. (Denominação de Origem Controlada) which secures a superior quality.
  • Wines that have more regulations placed upon them but are not in a DOC region fall under the category of Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada (IPR, Indication of Regulated Provenance)
  • Regional Wine - Vinho Regional Carries with it a specific region within Portugal.
  • Table Wines - Vinho de Mesa carries with it only the producer and the designation that it's from Portugal.
]Wine regionsSee also: List of Portuguese wine regionsWineyards in Vinho Verde Demarcated Region in MinhoPortugal
  • Vinho Verde is produced from grapes which do not reach great doses of sugar. Therefore, Vinho Verde does not require an aging process. Vinho Verde wines are now largely exported, and are the most exported Portuguese wines after the Port Wine. The most popular variety in Portugal and abroad are the white wines, but there are also red and more rarely rosé wines. A notable variety of Vinho Verde is Vinho Alvarinho which is a special variety of white Vinho Verde, the production of Alvarinho is restricted by EU law to a small sub-region of Monção, in the northern part of the Minho region in Portugal. It has more alcohol (11.5 to 13%) than the other varieties (8 to 11.5%).
  • Douro wine (Vinho do Douro) originates from the same region as port wines. In the past they were considered to be a bitter tasting wine. In order to prevent spoilage during the voyage from Portugal to England, the English decided to add a Portuguese wine brandy known as aguardente. The first documented commercial transactions appearing in registries of export date as far back as 1679. Today's Douro table wines are enjoying growing favor in the world, maintaining many traits that are reminiscent of a port wine.
  • Dão wine is from the Região Demarcada do Dão, a region demarcated in 1908, but already in 1390 there were taken some measures to protect this wine. The Dão Wine is produced in a mountainous region with temperate climate, in the area of the Mondego and Dão Rivers in the north region of central Portugal. These mountains protect the castas from maritime and continental influences.
  • Bairrada wine, is produced in the Região Demarcada da Bairrada. The name "Bairrada" is from "barros" (clay) and due to the clayey soils of the region. Although the region was classified in 1979, it is an ancient vineyard region. The vines grow exposed to the sun, favouring the further maturity of the grapes. The Baga casta is intensely used in the wines of the region. The Bairrada region produces table, white and red wines. Yet, it is notable for its sparkling natural wine: the "Conde de Cantanhede" and "Marquês de Marialva" are the official brands for this wine.
  • Alentejo wine is produced from grapes planted in vast vineyards extending over rolling plains under the sun which shines on the grapes and ripens them for the production.
  • Colares wine is type of wine produced in sandy soils outside Lisbon between the foothills of Sintra and Roca Cape. Because of Lisbon's urban sprawl, the lands available for vineyards became so small, that the demands has always been higher than the production, making it one of the most expensive Portuguese wines.

A glass of tawny port.Port wine vines need to grow in schist rich soil and require a specific micro-climate. It is produced through a unique vinification method. The red varietals are the most common. The wine is produced in the beautiful landscape of the Douro Valley in Alto Douro region, a region that is classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. The wine is exported from the city of Porto, thus acquiring the name porto (or "port" in English-speaking countries). There are several varieties of port wine: some of the most popular are the tawny, white, ruby, and Late Bottled Vintage (L.B.V.).

]Moscatel winesMoscatel is a liqueurous wine from the Setúbal Peninsula. Although the region has produced wines since the dawn of nationality, it was in 1797 that the wines of Setúbal were first mentioned. There is another variety of Moscatel wine, the "Moscatel de Favaios", in the Região Demarcada do Douro, it is made from a different casta, and the "Galego" (white), while Moscatel Roxo is made upon a casta with the same name as the wine.

]Some Portuguese wine terms
  • Adega: Winery
  • Branco: White
  • Casta: Grape variety
  • Colheita: Vintage year
  • Espumante: Sparkling wine
  • Garrafeira: A reserva red wine aged at least two years in a barrel and one year in a bottle; a white wine aged at least six months in a barrel and six months in a bottle.
  • Maduro: mature (in opposition to verde). Mature wines are Portuguese wines produced in all regions except the ones produced in Vinho Verde region, due to that, the term "maduro" rarely appears on bottles.
  • QuintaVineyard
  • Reserva: Superior quality wine of a single vintage
  • Seco: Dry
  • Tinto: Red
  • Verde: green (in opposition to maduro). Wines produced in Vinho Verde region with a distinctive method.
  • Vinho: WineExportWine has been one of the most noted Portuguese exports. The country is the seventh largest exporter of
Portuguese Wine GuidePortugal is one of the most renowned producers of wine in the world, but its reputation is based not on table wine, but on the fortified wines of Port and, less so, Madeira. But Portugal also produces a few excellent table wines, particularly in the north of the country. There is an eclectic mix of grape varieties, and undoubtedly the leader of the pack is the Touriga Nacional. This grape is the basis for fine Ports and the red wines of the Douro, as well as having an increasing presence in many other regions.

The regions are classified, as they are in many other European wine-producing nations, so that appropriate regulations may be laid down. The main regions are referred to asDenominaçâo de Origem Controlada (DOC).

Northern Portugal
In the north is the Douro DOC, situated around the river of the same name. The Douro enters Portugal from Spain, where it is known as the Duero, and is home to the vineyards of the Ribera del Duero. Full bodied, meaty, complex reds can be produced here.
My top wines: Quinta do Crasto (especially the Touriga Nacional and Reserva), Redoma, Barca Velha, Quinta do Côtto.

Nearby is Dâo, very much an up and coming region for good value, full bodied reds, and even a few white wines. Wines from single quinta estates are, as always, likely to be of higher quality.
My top wines: Quinta Fonte do Ouro, Quinta dos Roques, Quinta de Saes, Quinta das Maias, Porta dos Cavalheiros.

Also nearby is Bairrada, another DOC producing a few good value red wines, although they are of less significance than those coming from the Douro and Dão. Bairrada has the dubious honour of being one of the main sources of grapes for Mateus Rosé, a medium sweet carbonated wine which graces supermarket shelves the world over.
My top wines: Quinta do Riberinho is the only estate that has ever impressed.

Also in the north is Vinho Verde, a region producing red and white wines which can offer some pleasant drinking from quality minded producers. Most offerings, however, are dire, so choose carefully. The wine has a slight spritz which was once due to a slight secondary refermentation, but unfortunately in modern times this is much more likely to be carbon dioxide added just before bottling.
My top wines: Quinta do Azevedo.

Getting Serious - PortThe table wines of Portugal are frequently very good value, with a smattering of producers that are turning out excellent wines. The fortified wines of the Douro are, however, unrivalled. They are much imitated, with similar styles emanating from the southern vineyards of France, California and Australia, but they are never equalled, and certainly not bettered.

Port is basically wine fortified with brandy spirit. This is added prior to the natural cessation of fermentation, so the wine is always sweet, as the addition of the strong alcohol kills the yeast converting the sugar into alcohol (the process of fermentation). The eventual alcohol content is still high, however (typically 20%), thanks to the brandy that has been added. Most Port is red, although some firms also produce a small amount of white Port.

Since the 18th century there has been a strong British presence in the Douro, as this was where British drinkers sourced their wines following the deterioration in relations between Britain and France at this time. The firm red wines of the region were bolstered up and protected with brandy before the sea journey north, and thus Port as a wine style was born. Or so the story goes.

Styles of PortVintage Port: Port vintages are declared depending on the quality of the vintage, some houses declaring much more frequently than others. In general, though, a vintage is declared about three times each decade. A declared vintage means that the Port house feels the wine is of the necessary quality to age well in bottle. The wines see up to two years in oak, but then do the rest of their ageing in the bottle. They may need upwards of fifteen years before they are ready, and may last for decades more. This is the finest quality level of Port.

Single Quinta Port: Most houses have quintas (vineyards) where they source their best fruit. In non-declared years they will release the wine from the quinta as a single quinta wine. These wines can be excellent value, frequently close to vintage quality.

Late Bottled Vintage Port: Good Port houses still produce good LBV wines. Such wines have been aged in wood for longer than Vintage Port, four years in total, or five years for a Traditional LBV. This prolonged ageing results in a wine ready to drink at a younger age.

Tawny Port: Wine aged in oak for a long time, resulting in a tawny colour. The age will be stated on the label, frequently ten or twenty years, less often thirty or even forty years.

White Port: A heavy aperitif wine, varying in style, often with a hint of oxidation.

Other styles: Ruby is a young and simple style. Vintage Character is a Port blended to resemble a vintage wine (often unsuccessfully in my opinion), and Crusted Port is a blend of several Vintage Character Ports.

Port - my top wines: FonsecaTaylorsQuinta do NovalWarresDowsGrahams, Niepoort. Good value comes from the single quinta wines of these companies, but also from Quinta do Vesuvio, Gould Campbell, Smith Woodhouse, Sandeman, and others

Getting Serious Again - MadeiraThe island of Madeira is a small outpost of Portugal off the west coast of Africa, which produces a fortified wine based on the Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey grapes. It is made in a similar style to Port, with the addition of grape spirit causing cessation of fermentation. An additional feature, however, is the heating of the wine, at perhaps 50ºC, for about six months. This practice apparently stems from (another wine fable coming up) the improvement in the wine noted when it was transported on long sea journeys through hot climates in the 17th century. Heating the wine, together with exposure to oxygen, oxidises and stabilises it. As a result, Madeira is a long lived wine, with vintages from the early 20th and late 19th centuries drinking well at present. 
My top wines: Henriques & Henriques, Madeira Wine Company, Blandy.

VintagesThe most recently declared Port vintage was 2000, a vintage of excellent quality. Other Port vintages of note include 1997, 1994, 1991, 1987 (generally not declared but there are some excellent single quinta wines), 1985, 1983, 1977, 1975, 1970, 1967, 1966, 1963, 1960, 1955, 1948, 1947, 1945.