Portuguese wines - a quiet revolution

The Douro Valley vineyards.

The Douro Valley vineyards. - Credit: Archant

It was brought home to me yet again whilst judging in the International Wine Challenge again this week that there has been a quiet revolution in Portugal.

Portuguese wines.

Portuguese wines. - Credit: Archant

While the Douro Valley in the north has been well known for generations due to it being the home of port production it is only recently that the port makers have finally realised that production of premium table wines can support not devalue the port industry by broadening its appeal.

Until now, other regions have been in the shadow of the Douro on the world market but now there has been significant investment in the vineyards and wineries of regions like the Dao, Alentejo, Tras-os-Montes and Lisbon to name a few.

In these areas, the inherent stars for quality winemaking are the native Portuguese grape varieties which have at last been recognised.

The view that only wines based on Chardonnay and Cabernet for example will do well in a world market has disappeared.

The wines now available are stylish and individual and really worth drinking. At the Wine Challenge the wines we tasted were worthy medal winners – watch this space!

The wines of the Alentejo region, that spreads from the Tagus River to the Algarve and has a challenging hot climate, are a great example of this new wave and make wines that are robust and spicy but less rich and big than those of the Douro.

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At Terra d’Alter winery the Aussie winemaker Peter Bright can be credited with making a difference.

He is creating really stylish wines using native grape varieties like Alfrocheiro to make a wine full of ripe cherries and spice on the nose and palate with acidity and structure and a lingering taste.

He also uses Trincadeira, Tinta Caiada and Alicante Bouschet grapes for his red reserva and Alvarinho and other native white grapes for his white wines.

Modern winemaking techniques with fermentation in stainless steel tanks and oak plus aging in new and used oak enable him to get the best out of them.

The Dao region, just south of the Douro, once best known for alcoholic ‘soupy’ wines, both red and white, is home to grapes such as Encruzado, Malvasi Fina and Cercial grapes for zesty fresh whites and Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro for deep lingering red wines.

Small growers and the large well-managed co-operative, Sociedade Boas Quintas is a great exponent of these styles with their Opta brand.

Further south in Lisbon, the home of vinho verde or literally ‘green wines’, the very dry light lemony wines with a slight spritz changes are afoot.

Mateus rose, that stalwart of dining tables in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is still made and available in its distinctive dumpy bottle; but more often now, rose and white, vinho verde with delicious crisp light flavours with an inherent fizz are on wine shop shelves.

We also tasted a red vinho verde that crept into a flight of light Portuguese reds this week, sadly I can’t recommend a wine with dry gripping tannins and little fruit - there are plenty of others to try though!