The Wines of Portugal

by artfuldiner on July 3, 2019

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine, Wining and Dining

Portugal - WineNo other country can match Portugal’s range of indigenous wine grape varieties; an incredibly rich palette for winemakers that goes back to the Bronze Age. Tartessians, Romans, and Phoenicians introduced wine grapes here; and viticulture eventually spread across Portugal’s diverse geography.

Because Portugal’s wine culture developed in relative isolation, there are many grape varieties that do not grow anywhere else in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that winemakers usually draw from a variety of grape sources to create balanced, flavorful blends. Especially during the last decade, winemaking in Portugal has been undergoing a quiet revolution. Other than the great fortified wine from Porto, Portugal has often been seen as the home of cheap table wines of average quality. Now, however, the focus is clearly on quality, studying and experimenting with the over 250 indigenous grape varieties and working sustainably in the vineyards as much as possible. The result is that Portugal is a veritable treasure trove of unique and distinctive wines. To many wine experts, Portugal is the last frontier of wine in Western Europe; there is still so much that has yet to be tasted and explored.

Portuguese blends, with their distinctive combinations and unique character, reward wine lovers seeking diversity. These wines, at their best, often from small but distinct regions, combine ancient winemaking wisdom with the latest scientific and technical knowledge to put pleasure back in your glass.


Portugal - VineyardLight-Bodied Whites: The cool, hilly, verdant northwest of Portugal is the main source of Vinho Verde, a unique style of white wine with low alcohol and high, fresh acidity. Vinho Verde may be made from numerous grape varieties such as Alvarinho. Some wines are aromatic, others are not; styles range from dry to medium dry.

Full-Bodied Whites: Higher in alcohol and richer in texture, these wines come from sun-bathed vineyards with high summer temperatures. There are soft, rich wines from the Alentejo region, intense, minerally whites from the Douro, and full-bodied whites from Trás-os-Montes in the northeast. The oak-ageing of top-of-the-line reserve whites from the Dão and Lisboa regions, rounds them out to full-bodied status.

Rich Round Full-Bodied Reds: The hot summers of the Alentejo region make for easy ripening grapes, which yield rich fruit and full-bodied wines. Alentejo red wines are made from a variable blend of grape varieties, including Trincadeira and Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Portugal - Vineyard 2Robust Reds: Big and firmly tannic in their first few years of life, top Douro red wines exhibit their own robust style of elegance and complexity of flavor that comes from a mix of grapes where old vines of mixed varieties are planted together. Trás-os-Montes is the wine region to the north of the Douro Valley that also grows similar grape varieties that yield big red wines. Another source is Bairrada, made from the Baga grape, which has full body as well as high acid and tannin that matures into a softer, complex malty wine of great originality.

Elegant Reds: The Dão region has what is considered Portugal’s greatest concentration of elegant red wines, fine quality Touriga Nacional blended with Tinta. Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Jaen, and other grapes contribute to the intensely-flavored, perfumed reds with good acidity and excellent balance. The red wines produced from the Castelão grape in the village of Palmela on the Peninsula de Setúbal offer complexity, fruity flavors, good acidity, and balanced tannins that exhibit hints of cedar in maturity, not unlike a well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon.

Port Wine: Port is divided into three families: White, Tawney, and Ruby. White Port offers a range of colors that can vary from pale white to amber. The Ruby family exhibits red tonality that extends from light red to very dark red, almost black. The Tawny family usually extends from colors like auburn, copper, and amber.

Madeira: All Madeira has a nutty, deliberately oxidized and slightly caramelized quality from wood-aging under the influence of heat. Madeira ranges in character from just off-dry to seriously sweet. In ascending order of sweetness: Sercial, Terrantez, Verdelho, Boal, and Malvasia.


For those who may be interested in sampling two first-rate, reasonably price Portuguese wines – other than Port, that is – I would highly recommend those noted immediately below, both of which are readily available through Pennsylvania State Stores…

Portugal - Luis Duarte2014 Luís Duarte Rubrica Branco White: One of Portugal’s most recognized vignerons, Luís Duarte is the only winemaker to have been awarded Winemaker of the Year twice, in 1997 and 2007. In 2007, he initiated his own personal projects, with the Rapariga Da Quinta and Rubrica labels. Introduced to US markets in 2010, they have become an instant success, as both brands were included in the top 100 wines of the year in Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Rubrica means “signature” in Portuguese… And these wonderfully rich wines, blended with indigenous Portuguese & French grape varieties, and aged in French oak barrels, are extraordinary examples of what Luís Duarte is capable of creating. And his 2014 Rubrica Branco White – an artful blend of Antão Va, Gouveio, and Viognier – is impressive, indeed. Recently receiving 93-points (100-point scale) and an Editors’ Choice designation from the Wine Enthusiast, the 2014 offers up energizing whiffs of oak and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is beautifully balanced between opulent ripe fruit and a tight but tantalizingly juicy texture that continues to unfold as the wine opens up.

I’ve tasted this wine several times, and it just seems to become more pleasurable with each encounter. A marvelous effort… and everything you’ve heard about the amazing wine bargains from Portugal is absolutely true. The 2014 Luís Duarte Rubrica Branco White, for example, retails in PA State Stores for $26.99, around the $23.00 – $24.00 mark if purchased from sources online. When compared with the often-outrageous prices charged for French white Burgundies, this Portuguese beauty is a bargain, indeed.

Portugal - Insurgente 20152015 Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas Insurgente: Lua Cheia en Vinhas Velhas, which translates as “full moon in old vines,” is the joint project of three experienced Portuguese wine professionals, João Silva e Sousa, Francisco Baptista, and Manual Dias. After many years buying grapes to make wine in the Douro Valley, they bought their own 25-acre vineyard there in 2009. They have since expanded to other regions – Alentejano, Vinho Verde and Dão – but their true focus remains in the Douro.

The 2015 Insurgente is a 50/50 blend of Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro, two grapes that are indigenous to Portugal. The grapes are from the Dão, one of the country’s most prominent wine regions, just south of the famous Douro Valley (home to Portugal’s most well-known wine – Port). In the glass, this wine dazzles the eye with its distinctive inky purple color. The aroma is intense and complex, a combo of ripe black fruits and spice. This is a juicy full-bodied wine with plenty of acidity and velvety well-integrated tannins. It’s downright elegant on the palate and, as one reviewer noted, “it has weight without power.”

Unlike the hefty clout of many Cabernets, the Insurgente is rich, stylish, and rife with subtle nuances of taste and texture. Named as a “Best Buy” in 2017 by Wine Enthusiast magazine, its $14.99 Pennsylvania price tag (lower from sources online) is a positive steal. An incredible wine at an absolutely incredible price point.



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