Portuguese wine is part of the ancient traditions introduced to the region by ancient civilizations such as the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and mostly the Romans.
It started to export its wines to Rome during the Roman Empire. Modern exports developed with trade to England after a treaty in 1703.
Portugal has the oldest appellation system in the world, the Douro Valley. This region and Vinho Verde region, in the Northwest produces some of the world's finest, unique and highest value-added wines. Alentejo and Dão regions produces fruitful flavour wines, suitable for a casual wine drinker.
Portugal has two wine producing regions protected by UNESCO as World Heritage: the Douro Valley Wine Region (Douro Vinhateiro) and Pico Island Wine Region (Ilha do Pico Vinhateira).
Portugal has a large variety of native breeds (about 500), producing a very wide variety of different wines with distinctive personality. The Oxford Companion to Wine describes the country as having "a treasure trove of indigenous grape varieties." With the quality and uniqueness of its wines, the country is a sizable and growing player in wine production, being in the top 10, with 4% of the world market (2003). The country is considered a traditional wine grower with 8% of its continental land dedicated to vineyards. Only the highest mountain peaks are unable to support viticulture. Portugal produces some of the world's best wines, as reflected in its success in international competitions.
In Mythology, Luso was son or companion of Bacchus, the god of winery and Feast. Mythically, Lusitania gained its name from Luso. Lusitania was an ancient Roman province in the present day Portugal.
There are some theories that the Tartessians first cultivated vineyards in the Iberian Peninsula in the Tagus Valley about 2000 BC. Later in the 10th century BC, the Phoenicians introduced vineyards in the region. But it was in the 7th century BC, when the Greeks installed in the Peninsula that the wine making art developed. In Alcácer do Sal, a cratera was found, the cratera is a vase used by the Ancient Greeks to drink and dilute wine with water, showing that the Ancient Greeks also drank Portuguese wines.
During the Roman rule over Portugal, the vineyard culture greatly developed, as the region supplied Rome with its wines. The wines became popular in Rome, leading to the demand being superior to wine production.
During the Reconquista in the 12th and 13th centuries, with the populating (povoamento) of the conquered territories, areas that due to religion the Arabs reduced wine production, and planting grapevines were a priority. During this period, some new varieties were added to the ancient ones, from Burgundy came the French varieties. And during the period of discoveries, Henry the Navigator brought to the newly discovered island of Madeira the moscatel and malvasia from the Greek Island of Crete.
Due to historical reasons, England was to where Portuguese wines were most exported. Exports of Portuguese wines from Northern Portugal to England are known since the 12th century. From this commerce a wide variety of wines started to be growned in Portugal. And, in 1758, the first wine-producing region of the world, the Região Demarcada do Douro was created under the orientation of Marquis of Pombal, in the Douro Valley. The demarcated region had the aim to guarantee the production of excellent quality wines.
In the Reign of King Charles, the Região Demarcada do Vinho Verde and the Região Demarcada do Dão among Colares, Carcavelos, Setúbal, and Madeira were created. These wines were already famous before the creation of the Demarcated region. In 1979, Bairrada was added and in 1980 the Algarve region (Lagoa, Lagos, Portimão, and Tavira) was finally demarcated. In 1998, the Alentejo region was demarked by the gathering several smaller demarked regions created in 1995.
Portugal is home to one of the greatest international wine success stories of modern times. That is the production and marketing of medium sweet, lightly sparking rosés. In the late 1980s, Mateus accounted for over 40% of the country's total table wine exports and was especially popular in Europe. Lancers is better known in the United States, where it continues to be successful.
The type of grapes (castas) is as important has the type of soil and climate, creating the different Portuguese wine breeds, the Castas - grape varieties.
It produces distinctive wines from the Northern regions to Madeira Islands, passing by the Algarve and the Azores.
The particular breed of wines makes Portugal a country with distinctive personality in terms of wine growing. But this distinctiveness brings more diffulties than advantages, due that it would be easier to produce international wine varieties.
In Portugal only some varieties of castas are authorized in the Demarcated regions:
- Vinhos Verdes - white and red castas
- Porto - white and red castas
- Douro - white and red castas
- Dão - white and red castas
- Bairrada - white and red castas
- Bucelas - white castas
- Colares - white and red castas
- Carcavelos - generous castas
- Setúbal - generous castas
- Alentejo - white and red castas
- Algarve - white, red, and Liqueurous castas
- Madeira - generous castas
Each region has its own Comissão Vitivinícola to supervise the quality of the wines in various aspects of the cultivation and preparation of vineyards, but also in assuring the quality of the wine, for instance, in its flavour and scent.
The Appellation System
The 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.
- Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) or VQPRD - Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada
- 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 Indicacao de Proveniencia 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.
Vinho Verde is produced from grapes which do not reach great doses of sugar. Therefore, Vinho Verde does not require an aging process.
These wines are produced in the Northwest of Portugal in the historical regions of Minho and Douro Litoral. The region produces wines from very Ancient times; only in 1908 the region was demarcated. Vinho Verde is influenced by the nearby ocean and high humidity, typical aspects of the region that can be observed in the wine's refreshing taste. Thus, Vinho Verde always requires low temperatures before serving. It is known for having diuretic and digestible properties. And, are a category of wines that are unique and typical of Portugal. These are very light wines and naturally gassy.
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%).
Port Wine and Douro Wines
The port wine vines need to grow on soil that is rich in schist and require a specific climate. Made using a unique vinification method, this wine is very special and known worldwide. The red varieties are the most common. The wine is produced in the beautiful landscape of the Douro Valley in Alto Douro region, a region that is now classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, and 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.).
Douro wine (Vinho do Douro), from the same region of port wines, originally were bitter wines, but the relation between Portugal and England led the English to enhance this wine with a kind of Portuguese brandy known as aguardente for it to support a voyage from Portugal to England. And since then, the wine only got better, and it appears by the first time in the registries of exports in 1679. Today's Douro wines are favourite table wines with some traits that are reminiscent of a port wine.
The "Barca Velha" is a widely notable wine, which is not only seen as, perhaps, the best Portuguese wine, but also as one of the best wines of the world.
Dão wine (Vinho do Dão)
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.
The Dão wines, both red and white have fruitful flavour. Some of the used castas, such has the Touriga Nacional, are unique to the country and do not exist anywhere else. It has a minimum alcohol by volume of 11%. Many vintners consider these wines to be the best Portuguese table wines, the most notable are the "Grão Vasco" and the "Aliança".
- Red Castas: Alfrocheiro, Jaen, Rufete, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Nacional;
- White Castas: Bical, Cerceal Branco, Encruzado, and Malvasia-Fina.
Bairrada Wine (Vinho da Bairrada)
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.
In Portugal, Bairrada Wine is especially notable to drink in restaurants along with a typical roasted piglet, the Leitão da Bairrada.
Moscatel 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. Since 1870, most of the Setúbal Moscatels have been grown with special care. And the most known is "Moscatel Roxo", a wine that only becomes commercialized after aging 20 years in a cellar.
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 has the wine.
Located in southern Portugal, Alentejo is ideal for the production of high quality wines suitable for the occasional consumer which makes it one of the most popular Portuguese wines. The grapes are planted in vast vineyards extending over rolling plains under the scorching sun which shines on the grapes and ripens them for the production of Alentejo Wines.
Alentejo produces white wines with an intense original nose which are fruity. The red wines are slightly acidic with a bouquet of very ripe fruits yet soft and balanced on the palate.
Alentejo Wines are, with Vinho Verde, the preferred wine for the Portuguese consumer, as they represent 47% of the quality wine market's quota with only 12% of the national wine production. This is largely due to excellent nationwide marketing as well as the appeal of Alentejo wines to the occasional consumer. This preference is also reflected in the export market, as Alentejo wines are also sold in the far east, namely China, a nation without a wine-drinking tradition.
Colares sand Wine
Colares 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. The Colares sand wine tastes has a soft blend of nuts and red fruits. Preferred temperature for consumption is 18 degrees Celsius for red wines and 12 for white wines.