Column: Don’t settle for any Port in a storm...
- Credit: Archant
Portugal, a land of sadly very underrated wines although the British love affair with port, its acclaimed fortified wine continues, albeit at a reduced rate of consumption.
Port is very distinctive as it is sweet and powerfully fortified creating a heady, stylish drink and it is only made in one region by law – the Douro Valley. Vine growing and wine making is not limited to the Douro nor is this region solely dependent on port production as some of its delicious table wines will testify.
One of the most exciting facts about Portuguese wine production is the successful use of great indigenous grape varieties that make a lovely alternative to the ubiquitous Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet. Look out for Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Baga or Aragonez that offer wild herbed, spicy robust blackfruit character integrated with oaky vanilla notes that go so well with full-flavoured meat dishes.
In the north in the rocky terraced mountainous Douro region companies such as Quinta Nova near Pinhao on the northern banks of the Douro river have vineyards here in this wonderful landsacpe. It is owned by the Amorim family who are famous for making cork and boasts views across the river – one of the must see wineries of the world. Also, the new winery and 160-hectare vineyard area of Dourom on the steep banks of the upper Douro around Vila Nova de Foz Coa and Castelo Melhor, producing stylish wines such as Tons de Dourom from classic Portuguese varieties.
Heading south from the Douro Valley the regions of Bairrada and the Dao also produce quality red wines. In Bairrada the wines are very traditional well structured wines with much tannin and fruit whereas those made by Boas Vinhas in the Dao have a more contemporary style with appealing fruit notes.
The red is rich and elegant and made from Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz with berry fruits, herb and spice flavours. Many of the white and rose wines made in Portugal are simply uninteresting but every now and then one with style and pzazz pops up and the Boas Vinhas Branco is one of these! It is made from the native Sercial and Encruzado grapes and has great minerality and freshness. It is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Viognier.
One of the other notable white wine producing areas is the Minho, a cool Atlantic influenced region in the north east of Portugal where Vinho Verde is made. Here, Alvarinho grapes blended with Loureiro and Trajadure are making zingy elegant white wines worth seeking out and better value than the more expensive Albarinos in Spain over the border. The wines have a reputation for a light spritzy taste that results from being bottled very young.
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Further south wines are made near Lisbon and also in the interior in the Alentejo near the Tagus River there are many modern wineries making delicious wines many of which offer a light alternative to the blockbuster wines of the Douro though still retaining their robust appealing dark fruit and berry notes from the local grape varieties such as Aragonez, Trincadeira and Castelão. Herdade de Sobroso and Joao Portugal Ramos are worth looking out for from the Alentejo.
There is much diversity of skilful wine making in Portugal, only a small proportion of which is available in the UK and one of the best surprises is that they still offer great value for money. Why not seek out your favourite style from the plethora available and try a new wine from this wine-rich country? And it doesn’t have to be port!