Everywhere Else


  • Portugal is a very diverse wine-growing region, producing the classic Port wines of the Douro as well as a large variety of table wines. The laws governing wine production are similar to those in other countries, with Denominação de Origem Controlada at the top, followed by Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada (IPR) for those wines about to be promoted, Vinho Regional, which is similar to a Vin de Pays in France, and Vinho de Mesa or table wine as the lowest level.

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  • The northern part of the country is mountainous, and the coastal regions are cool, wet, and rainy. Further inland, the climate is hotter and drier. The southern half of the country is flatter, hotter terrain, dominated by large companies.

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  • Wine in Portugal is produced from a wide variety of indigenous grapes. Port is the classic example. The long-standing tradition in the region was the planting of a field blend (many varieties all planted together). According to some authorities, well over a hundred different and very obscure varieties have been used to make Port. The vast majority, however, is made from five main grapes.

    Touriga Nacional is considered the finest among them, and it is also used to produce table wine in the Douro and Dão. It gives deeply colored and tannic wines with good berry fruit character on the nose. Tinta Roriz is used for structure and length. It is the same as the Tempranillo grape of Spain, and is sometimes called Aragonez. Touriga Francesa is useful because it gives body and roundness to the blend.

    Other Port grapes include Tinta Amarela, (AKA Trincadeira), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao and several white grapes including Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Codega, Viosinho.

    In Bairrada, the Baga grape is used. This grape has a thick skin, giving wines with a rustic style, deep color and firm tannin. Another traditional variety is the Castelao Frances, also known as Periquita, widely grown in the southern region of Alentejo and gives wines with a silky texture that are softer and more aromatic than some traditional wines.

    Traditional white grapes in Portugal include Alvarinho (called Albarino in Spanish), used in Vinho Verde to produce what many see as the region’s best wines. Other Vinho Verde grapes include Gouveio and Loueiro. White grapes in other regions include Arinto, Bical and Fernao Pires (AKA Maria Gomes).

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  • Port
    Port is a fortified wine produced in the Douro valley. This is a hot, dry region that is divided into three parts from west to east: Baixa Corgo, Cima Corgo and the Douro Superior.

    The best vineyards are planted on schist-based soils on terraces cut into the banks of the Douro river. The vineyards are ranked A to F according to points awarded for altitude, yield, soil, location, vine variety and age, and slope. This affects the amount that can be produced as Port, with the higher rankings allowed a higher production. This limit (the beneficio) is set by the authorities each year.

    Port was traditionally produced by treading the grapes by foot in a stone vessel called a lagare. This helped extract color and tannin quickly before the fortification. Although the top wines are still made in this fashion, alternatives are being developed. Large houses sometimes use machines that mimic the human foot, while less expensive wines are made in autovinifiers, or machines that rely on the pressure of the CO2 created during the fermentation itself to ensure extraction.

    Stopping the Fermentation
    Once the extraction is completed, the fermenting must is run into barrels called pipes that contain distilled neutral spirit in an amount equivalent to about 20% of the volume of the fermenting must.

    Wood-aged Port
    The two main categories of Port are wood-aged and bottle-aged. Wood-aged styles include:
    - Ruby (a blend of vintages aged in bulk),
    - Tawny with no age claim (often a blend of red and white wine)
    - Aged Tawny (a blend of vintages that can be very good quality)
    - Colheita (Port of very good quality matured in wood for between 8–50 years and labeled with the date of the harvest)
    - Vintage Character (blended from different vintages and aged in bulk for 5–7 years)
    - White port is aged in wood between 1.5-3 years

    Bottle-aged Port
    Bottle-aged Ports include
    - Single Quinta (Port from a single vintage and a single vineyard)
    - Crusted Port ("vintage style" but a blend of vintages aged in bottle)
    - Vintage (a very small percentage of all Port, this is the best wine from the best estates produced in the best years.)
    - Late Bottled Vintage or LBV (Port from a single vintage and bottle-matured for 4–6 years)

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  • Wine
    Table wine from the Douro is often produced from the grapes from the Port vineyards that exceed the beneficio. Once very rustic in style, this region is now starting to produce very attractive wines at very attractive prices.

    Vinho Verde
    Vinho Verde is produced in the northwest in a humid, cool climate. The whites are light bodied, almost thin. Some have a more or less pronounced sparkle that comes from injected CO2. Red Vinho Verde, while popular in Portugal, is almost never seen in export markets.

    The Dão is a mountainous region south of the Douro Valley, with a more moderate climate. The best of the red wines are made from Touriga Nacional.

    Bairrada is the coastal region west of Dão, where dark, tannic wines are made from the Baga grape. These wines can often be very rustic in nature, tannic and woody with pronounced earthy and barnyard aromas, although the style is slowly becoming lighter and more international. Other grape regions along the Atlantic coast include Bucelas and Colares.

    Vinho da Mesa
    Table wine in Portugal is often produced in the IPR category, and the main IPRs include Beiras and Estremadura in the center and Palmela and Alentejo in the south of Portugal, producing reds from a blend of grapes, often including Periquita. The Rosé that our parents drank (Mateus and Lancers) is technically a Vinho da Mesa produced from grapes grown throughout the country.

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  • Madeira is another important Portuguese dessert wine. It is produced on the island of Madeira which lies 1000 K southwest of Lisbon. Colonized by the Portuguese in 1425, the island exported its first wines to the U.S. in 1658. It was remarked at the time that the wine that had spent a long sea voyage enduring the sweltering heat of the ships hold was superior in quality.

    Madeira grapes
    The best wines are produced from several noble varieties:
    - Sercial (the driest wines produced from high-altitude vineyards)
    - Verdelho (off-dry or medium dry)
    - Bual or Boal (fairly sweet)
    - Malvasia or Malmsey (the sweetest, grown on the lowest-altitude slopes

    These are the names of the best grapes and also the names of the wine style. Two grapes important up to the end of the 19th century were Terrantez and Bastardo, but these are very rare today. There is also wine produced from Tinta Negra Mole. This is a cross between Pinot Noir and Grenache, and is usually used today where no other noble variety is listed on the label. A large proportion of Madeira’s vineyards are planted to hybrids, planted after phylloxera. These grapes are not allowed for quality wine production and are not used in Madeira.

    Production of Madeira
    The wine is pressed and fermented in tanks. The fermentation is stopped by the addition of distilled neutral spirit. This is done about halfway through fermentation for Malmsey, but toward the end of fermentation for the other styles. To mimic the effect of the sea voyage, most Madeira is heated today. This can be done either by three methods: steam heat run directly through the wine, wine in cask stored in heated rooms, or casks of wine stored on racks in the upper stories of the wineries, or cantiero. It is this last method that is used to produce the best wines.

    Styles of Madeira
    In previous centuries, Madeira was labeled with the market for which it was destined: London Market, Indian Market, and American Market, later called Rainwater. Today it is labeled with an age designation such as reserve or old (5 years), old reserve or very old (10 years), and extra reserve (15 years). Wines labeled finest, choice, selected or superior must use a description of style or a brand name and be aged a minimum of three years. Vintage Madeira must be labeled with the name of the grape and be aged a minimum of 20 years in cask and two in bottle.

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