Portugal is surrounded by over 1,100 miles of coastline to the south and west, while the Spanish border covers the entire eastern and northern edges of the country. This unique combination of factors has resulted in a nation of varied terrain, rich maritime history, and over 200 indigenous varieties with which wine is made today.
Long revered for the fortified wines of Port and Madeira, recent years have seen quality table wines emerging from many of Portugal’s 14 broad appellations, or IGPs.
Remember, sulfites are in every wine. One stir of our StiQit and you can say goodbye to all the sulfites in your glass of wine. Even the Portuguese ones.
The Minho (Pronounced Meen-Yo) appellation is the most northerly in Portugal. Just to the south of Green Spain, Minho is known for its vibrant growth and the lightly effervescent, crisp whites grown in the Vinho Verde DOP, or sub-appellation. Vinho Verde is unique in that it takes up the entire Minho region.
The wines of Vinho Verde are generally blends meant to be consumed in their youth. They are made up of a combination of Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto, Avesso, and Alvarinho. Common flavor profiles include green apple with delicate florals over a driving mineral core. The salinity in the glass gives a quality of sea breeze.
Generally speaking, look for younger, fresher options when purchasing a bottle of Vinho Verde. Single varietal Loureiro bottles may age gracefully, though they are not terribly common in the States. Try the 2016 Quinta de Aveleda Loureiro Alvarinho blend for a great representation of the style, and a steal at only $8.99.
Just to the south of Minho we find the region of Beira Atlântico (Pronounced Bye-Ra At-Lan-Tee-Co), an appellation characterized by ancient plantings of Baga. The grape is able to thrive in the clay rich soils found in the Bairrada DOP, though early rot is always a worry.
Baga is a beast, producing wines of intense acidity that can often benefit from a decade or more of time in the bottle. The thick-skinned grapes produce massively tannic wines which also soften with time.
The flavor profile lends itself to bright red fruit notes with a balance of dried plums, leather, and coffee. Baga is a great food wine, pairing well with Crispy Pork Belly, Sautéed Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms, or a good old-fashioned Cheeseburger.
If you are looking for a good example of this incredible wine, pick up a bottle of the 2012 Vinhas Velhas Beiras by Luis Pato. Known as “Mister Baga” his ability to create expressive wines from the grape is impeccable.
Terras Do Dão
To the east of Beira Atlântico is the region of Terras Do Dão (Pronounced Tare-Us Doe Dah-oh). Landlocked on all sides, Terras Do Dão is protected from three directions by mountain ranges. These mountains shield the region, creating a rain shadow and generating a greater diurnal shift. Cool nighttime temperatures preserve acidity in the wine.
The vineyard plantings of Terras Do Dão are still relatively minuscule, with only 5% of the region planted to viticulture. New-age winemaking has brought much acclaim to the region in recent years.
The wines are classically blended using a number of native varieties. Touriga Nacional, along with Alfrocheiro, Trincadeira, and Jaen are all common in the red wines of the region. Whites are generally also blended and utilize a combination of Encruzado, Verdelho, Bical, and Cercial.
Red wines of the Terras Do Dão are known for their concentrated red and black fruit notes and herbaceous undertones. The whites often have brilliant florals with nuanced tropical and citrus fruit notes.
The white wines, with their balanced acidity and bright fruit, can stand up to something with a bit of richness to it. A nice Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Arugula and Peaches, or Creamy Guacamole would pair wonderfully. For the reds, make sure to have something that is fairly bold. Touriga Nacional is often the primary grape of Terras Do Dão wines and is structured with a pretty solid tannic core.
For a great example, grab a bottle of the 2013 Casa Américo Dao – a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and Jaen displays all of the vibrant character that this region has to offer.
The Douro Valley lies just to the east of the Terras Do Dão and is the ancient home of Port production. It is found within the Duriense (Pronounced Der-Ee-Ens) IGT. Split up into 3 different sections, the Cima Cargo, Baixo Corgo, and Douro Superior, the Douro Valley has a continental climate perfect for growing the thick skinned Touriga Nacional.
This grape acts as a powerhouse in the region, making up the base for most blends. The wines are a bit richer than in Terras Do Dão, displaying deeper fruit tones over a slatey core and slightly less green quality. Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Roriz accompany Touriga Nacional in many blends.
The blends of the Douro Valley are great partners with rich red meat. Items such as Skillet Garlic Butter Herb Steak and Potatoes, Pasta Bolognese, or a Pork Loin Roast are all beautiful options with this style of wine.
The 2014 Quinta Vale Do Meao “Meandro” is a great example of Douro Valley table wine. Characterized by its fresh, floral nuance, it is a bottle worth exploring.
Portugal is a region which is at times forgotten about. Its history in winemaking and dedication to quality production makes it a country worth taking a second look at for viable bottles. Enjoy exploring this unique and vibrant growing region.