Portuguese wine regions

Portugal has at least 250 indigenous varieties, and that is only one of the elements that make Portuguese wines so wonderfully different and interesting! Confusingly, many varieties go by different names in different regions, and some are terribly difficult to pronounce – but we’ll demystify the process! Let’s explore this intriguing wine country.

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PORTUGAL AND WINE, TWO INSEPARABLE WORLDS

If Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world defined in 1754, Portugal with a size that is a 18% of Spain’s territory, is the 11th largest wine producer. Far from mainland, the breathtaking islands of Madeira and Azores are intrinsically linked to winemaking tradition too; the noble Madeira wines and the volcanic Azorean compete only in the beauty of their sceneries. 

14 main wine regions draw Portugal’s Bacchus delusion, and not without reason, with scarcely 10 million inhabitants, Portuguese are among the biggest wine-consumers in the world.

Let’s satisfy our winelust and transport our minds to Portugal with this personal guide to Portuguese winesm

NORTHERN PORTUGAL

While Douro remains king, northern Portugal makes world-class reds in Dão and Bairrada, where baga grape reigns and sparklings are attracting fine palates the world over. The elegant whites in Vinho Verde deserve special mention and the north also hides undiscovered gems such as the wines from Trás-os-Montes, the remonte north east region set in granite mountains where growing anything is hard. Who have ever heard before about Tavora Varosa wines? Get to know some of the lesser known landscapes and wines in Portugal.

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✧ Vinho Verde

The Vinho Verde wines set on the verdant north west of Portugal and are nowadays living an interesting come back thanks to the whites thrilling quality potential. There are nine sub-regions to the DOC and we have to admit we love the loureiro from Ponte de Lima, and the alvarinho from Monção and Melgaço. Thanks to their good acidity and freshness, and very good quality for aging, they are enjoying a wide market recognition. The DOC Vinho Verde also allows sparkling wines and reds, mainly made with Vinhão grape.

✧ Trás-Os-Montes

Literally “behind the mountains”, the region is in high altitude and extreme climate with long hot summers followed by long-icy winters. With a winemaking tradition dating back to Roman times, the small productions were mainly for local consumption. They are defined as wines of altitude, freshness and character.

✧ Bairrada

Situaded in Beira Atlântico region, a sort of surrounding Coimbra – the former capital of Portugal until the 13th century – Bairrada wines have an historical king grape: Baga. The name “Bairrada” comes from “Barros” (clay) and identifies the soils of the region. Dense, deeply colored and well structured, Bairrada reds can age extraordinary well. Whites are dominated by two grapes, Bical and Fernado Pires -the latter called Maria Gomez, it’s the most extended white grape in Portugal. Bairrada is well known for its delicious sparkling wines, and for being attracting wine geeks in the last years who see the great potential of this wine area.

✧ Douro

The oldest designation of origin in the world is also one of the most beautiful wine destinations set in the Douro Valley (the sub-region Alto Douro was listed UNESCO World Heritage in 2001). The threesub-regions count with more than 80 grape varieties and it is the indigenous grapes that confer a distinct personality to the area with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão being king among reds (declared the top choice for port) and Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho and Malvasia Fina dominating the white range.

✧ Vinho do Porto

Port wines deserve special mention due to their prestige and history. In the 16th century England and Portugal were routinely exchanging bacalhau (dried salt cod fish), wool and other goods for red wine from northern Portugal, those were the beginnings of a golden age. Port wine’s characteristics distinguish it from the rest of wines; they are fortified (alcohol is added), they have residual sugar (the level of sweetness varies with the type of port wine), alcohol is usually between 19% and 22% vol. and there are 8 different categories: vintage, tawny, colheita, branco, rosé, ruby, LBV and crusted. Today, Port wine can be aged in Vilanova de Gaia as historically done or in the Douro region, which is roughly 100 km (60 miles) from Porto. Why? Because the new technologies allow to reproduce the perfect humidity and temperature conditions from Vilanova de Gaia (the city on front of Porto, on the other side of the ricer).

✧ Dão

reds from Dão are some of the most prestigious Portuguese wines. Longtime dominated by co-ops, Dão has reinvented itself in a hub of small and dynamic wine producers. The high altitude that reaches 1,000 meters in the Serra da Estrela plus the low-density surface planted (5%) all coupled with granitic soils gives subtle and elegant wines with high acidity oriented to aging. Touriga Nacional is the grape dominating but the tradition in Dão are blended wines with native varieties. They also make interesting whites from Encruzado, Malvasia Fina and Bical mainly, but reds are definitely the big players.

✧ Távora e Varosa

this remote and very unknown region is in northeastern Portugal between Douro in the North and Dão in the South; it was the first appellation for sparkling Portuguese wines (1989). There was a good reason indeed; the Cister Monks started making sparkling in the 17th century. Even if half of the oldest vineyards are planted with Malvasia Fina, there is a significant range of local grapes, but for a century the French Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – two major grapes in Champagne – have gained presence. Red wines are also produced under DOC Tavora Varosa.

CENTRAL PORTUGAL

Central Portugal is region rich of monuments and a great cultural heritage. In terms of wine it’s not less interesting. Lisboa are is Portugal’s largest producer of wine by volume, yes, the city of the 7 Hills is surrounded by vineyards and historical quintas easily accessible. On the eastern side of Lisbon is Tejo, formerly designated as Ribatejo, where some new entrepreneurs are exploring top of the range wines. Lesser known is Beira Interior that sets besides the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal, Serra d’Estrela, and longs the Spanish border dotted with ancient villages and fortified town. Wines benefit from an exceptional good acidity and remarkable freshness. And Setúbal hides real gems, like the world known moscatel de Setúbal.

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✧ Lisboa

Let’s go into this peculiar coastal wine region that stretches around Lisbon. Here wines can be classified as Vinho Regional de Lisboa – the biggest geographical classification in Portugal – or under any of the 9 subregions with DOC: Carcavelos, Colares – well renowned for their oxidative style whites, at risk of extinction -, Bucelas, Alenquer, Arruda, Lourinhã, Óbidos, Torres Vedras and last of all, the Encostas d'Aire designation. Very different one from each other, we will soon discover the most singular ones.

✧ Peninsula de Setúbal

South of Lisbon and linked to it by two bridges, the Setubal Peninsula lies at the Tagus River mouth. Viticulture in the region was introduced by the Tartessos, the first western civilization, around 2000 BC. and has two designations of origin: DOC Setúbal and DOC Palmela. The rich, deep gold-colored sweet fortified wine made from Moscatel de Setubal grape is glorious, with an impressive good acidity. And the rare Moscatel Roxo - the Moscatel grape in its purple version – allows very limited productions of sweet delicacy. DOC Palmela produces mainly well-structured reds based on the late-ripening Castelão grape.

✧ Tejo

Lying on boths banks of the Tejo river, the easily accessible from Lisbon Tejo wine region offers a rich history, cultural traditions, it is home of one of the most impressive Templars monasteries and homeland of the pure bred Lusitano Horse, all combined with a strong winemaking tradition dating back Roman times and formally named as Ribatejo (former designation) already in the 12th century. Actually, Tejo wines are popular for being well done, well balanced, and capable to suit all palates and budgets. They use natural cork closures, did you know the region has 30,000 acres of cork trees? The old and the new is matching is Tejo wines.

✧ Beira Interior

Less known that its northern neighbor Douro, the southern and huge Alentejo and the western voisin Dão, Beira Interior extends along the eastern side of Portugal bordering with Spain. In the most mountainous territory of Continental Portugal, the climate has a strong continental influence, with large variations in temperature, resulting in short, hot and dry summers and long, very cold winters, sometimes with snow. The rough climate and the presence of very old vineyards – with low yields and bigger concentration - give birth to very fresh and aromatic white wines and fresh reds, with aromas of red fruits and spices. This region also produces rosé and sparkling wines of great quality and complexity of flavors.

SOUTH OF PORTUGAL

One third of the Portuguese territory is occupied by the Alentejo, a hot and dry land dotted with fortress-castles and white walled towns because the Alentejo resounds with history. Discover olling landscape of bull-breeding ranches, olive orchards, cork forests and vineyards.

Beach lovers will easily associate the names of the Algarvian appellations: Portimão, Lagoa, Lagos and Tavira are some of the most famous sun-baked cities in South Portugal. The Algarve has a well-rooted wine history, let us guide you.

 

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✧ Alentejo

The Alentejo covers a third of Continental Portugal but it the least populated, it is a natural paradise for slow-pace addicts. Considered the farm of Portugal, for wine lover it is definitely the Portugal’s go-to southerly region. For us native Spaniards the Alentejo is like an extension of Andalusia in terms of landscape, with whitewashed villages, vast fields, olive groves and cork oaks extending to the infinite, hot temperatures and unforgettable hearty tables. In terms of wine, the Mediterranean climate offers the perfect conditions for winegrowing. Between 1995 and 2010 the number of producers exploded from 45 to 260, so the Alentejo should be at your top 3 wine destinations in Portugal.

✧ Algarve

The preferred summer destination enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and benefits from a mild climate; it’s never too cold, neither too hot. Splendid beaches with crystal waters and reddish cliffs, charming towns, natural protected resources and remote spots lesser known inland make from the Algarve a hotspot, but remember there is wine too. The region is already considered to be producing some of the country’s most intriguing wines, particularly its vibrant reds made from Castelão and Touriga Nacional — this is one to watch. The region has four wine DOCs: DOP Lagos, DOP Portimão, DOP Lagoa and DOP Tavira, being thee red varieties Castelão, Touriga Nacional and Negra Mole and the white varieties Arinto and Síria the main indigenous grapes.

THE ISLANDS

In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Portuguese island of Madeira is a secret to discover, hidden between lush mountains. Beautiful towns with a tropical touch and its capital, Funchal, vital and cheerful. And Madeira wines are a gem to discover. Follow the same currents that whales, sailors and travelers who want to feel nature and you will reach stunning Azores, and its stunning volcanic wines.

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✧ Madeira

1,000 km far from mainland Portugal and on the same latitude as Casablanca, it is known as The Pearl of the Atlantic, and its internationally acclaimed wines from DOP Madeira are pure poetry and timekeepers; bottles of Madeira can keep forever. Briefly, Madeira wines are fortified, heated and aged, the perfect combination of alcohol, temperature and time gives to Madeira its unique character. In a very small proportion (around 5%) Madeira produces unfortfied still wines too under the DOP Madeirense.

✧ Azores

Nine volcanic islands compose the Azores archipelago, known for its exceptional natural beauty that make winegrowing a tedious task. Once a prosperous wine region, it’s living a revival not without difficulties to recover the native grape varieties and requires killed craftsmanship to rebuild the volcanic stone structures that have historically allowed vines to grow. But consumers are appreciating Azores wines, based on high quality versus quantity, with an intense salinity and minerality. Azores has three DOCs. Graciosa, Biscoitos (in Terceira Island) and Pico. The main grapes are: Arinto dos Açores, Verdelho and Terrantez do Pico. We will soon come with detailed specificities of the region, definitely here's a new energy in winemaking in the Azores.

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