Portuguese Wine: Some Things You Should Know
As you know, the National Tasting Project this year will be focused on Portuguese wine. There is so much to say about Portuguese wine that it could fill a book, but don’t worry! For the purposes of this blog post we’re going to start a simple, comprehensive and (relatively) brief approach to summarizing this wine country.
Let’s get started. Saúde!
Jimi Hendrix enjoyed Mateus rosé.Not so long ago (Okay. It was long ago), journalist Pedro Garcia asked Jimi Hendrix if he knew that when he was photographed with a bottle of Mateus in his hands, he was in fact drinking a Portuguese rosé.
There is more to Portuguese wine than just port. While port is what put Portugal on the world wine map, today there are many winemakers producing dry wines — red, white, rose, and even sparkling wine.
A Portuguese dry wine is not port. Even if a traditional Port producer makes a dry wine. Port is a fortified wine, meaning that it’s been beefed up by adding a wine spirit, such as brandy, during the fermentation process. The dry wines are fermented dry and are not sweet. No wine spirit or brandy is added. They are made just like any other dry wine from anywhere else.
Most grape varietals for wine grown in Portugal are native, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (same as Spanish Tempranillo), Touriga Franca and Baga for reds, and Encruzado, Alvarinho (Spain’s Albarino), Maria Gomes for whites. If you’re bored with the same old Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, look to Portugal for variety. Blending is common in Portugal, although you can find single varietal wines. Each wine region in the country is known for a particular blend.
Vinho Verde is a wine region, not a grape varietal. This white is most likely the one wine, besides port, that you may have heard about. Vinho Verde translates as green wine, but they are referring to the fact that it ripens early. It is light, crisp, refreshing and low in alcohol (9%-10% abv). It is a blended wine, and by law winemakers can use 47 varietals, although the most common are Arinto (Pederna), Loureiro, Alvarinho and Trajadura. You might find Vinho Verde also has a little pétillance (fizz). Most Vinho Verde wines sell for less than $10.
Port comes only from the Douro region, and the Alto Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wine has been made in the Douro for more than 2,000 years. The Douro valley runs along the Douro River, from Spain to the port city of Oporto, on the Atlantic coast. Through the years, the wineries have carved steep terraces for grape growing along the banks of the Douro, and there is a unique soil called schist. It looks like layers of flinty rocks.
Portugal is the 11th largest wine producer in the world. In a country that’s 575 miles long and 138 miles wide, 500,000 acres are planted to grapevines, according to ViniPortugal. In comparison the US ranks fourth in total wine production. The US is Portugal’s seventh largest export market.
Portuguese wines carry an authenticity seal. Look on the back label for the seal. Each wine region issues its own version.
Quinta on the label means wine estate. This is similar to Bodega in Spain or Chateau or Domaine in France.
Tinto on a label most likely means that’s a red wine in the bottle. Tinto translates as tinted or colored, which for wine usually means red. You may also see this term on bottles of Spanish red wines.
Now that you’ve got Portuguese wines on your radar, start looking for them on restaurant wine lists and on the shelves of your local State Store. If you can’t find any, start asking for them. Get your friends to request Portuguese wines. You’ll be drinking really well for not a lot of money.
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