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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slowly, Ibiza is recovering a tradition established by the Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C. There are only three wineries making scarcely 30,000 bottles a year from the autochthonous varieties: Monastrel (mourverde) and Garnacha for reds, while in whites the Malvasía variety stands out. They all practice organic viticulture.
It is found in the heart of the island of Mallorca, protected by the Serra de Tramuntana, where the characteristics of soil and climate are ideal for growing native grape varieties such as Manto Negro, Callet, Moll Gargollassa, Giró Ros. There are indigenous grapes with personality, good plantations of foreign varieties, and dedicated winegrowers, in addition to excellent climatic conditions. The limited production makes them hard to find.
With most of the wine growing area around 3,280 feet above sea level in terraces, they rank amongst the highest in Europe. Grapes reach their maturation by Halloween and, in some cases, with the first snowflakes. Reds are of exceptional quality based on the native grape vigiriega can be white or red, it allows wines with low alcohol content and high acidity, and it’s very interesting to make sparkling.
In future articles we will get into details for some of the most popular Spanish wine regions. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to uncork any bottle and enjoy it, wine is one of the world’s most ancient pleasures and you set your own rules. Cheers!
The lovely town is divided in two by an impressive gorge; Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles fascination for this remote corner was internationally known, to the point that Orson Welles asked his ashes to be buried here. And what about Ronda wines? They’re of excellent quality, most of them are organic, at an average 2,300 feet altitude. Something to keep in mind, the pinot noir from Bodega Cortijo de los Aguilares is spectacular and was awarded the gold medal for the best pinot noir at the Swiss competition Mondial des Pinots in 2019.
Malaga is well known and respected for its moscatel de Alejandría, producing both sweet and dry spectacular wines. And we want to drive your attention to the wines from the Axarquia -the region to the East of Malaga – that retains all the charm of lovely whitewashed villages and a sub-tropical climate. Inland, among idyllic towns and exceptional vineyards, exceptional wines are made.
In Cordoba, this historical appellation is making finos like in the sherry region but here the sole grape is pedro ximénez and there is not addition of alcohol because due to the super high temperatures in the summer, the grape reaches an alcohol level of around 15 percent without the need of neutral spirits. The same aging process for sherries applies to Montilla-Moriles, we’ll get into full details in a new post. Wines are too good to be true, several have been awarded 100 Parker points: Bodegas Toro Albalá Don Px Convento Selección, Amontillado 1905 Solera Fundacional from Pérez Barquero and Convento Selección 1946 from Toro Albalá.
Cádiz is one of those scarce places you should visit before you die, as it’s the earthly heaven for any foodie or wine lover. Here, the magic wine appellation Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is centered on three towns of Cadiz county: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera. In our Love letter to Sherry we expressed in 2014 our passion for this territory, and would love to share a glass of sherry with you at some edition of our Catalonia & Andalusia trip.
It is the only DO consisting of a single municipality. Nothing to envy the Beaujolais nouveau: Yecla’s Black Night is presented as a celebration at the height of its French cousin. Wines. Monastrell is king. And yes, the legendary Robert Parker chose a wine from Yecla in 2015 among the three best on the planet for its value for money (Solanera, viñas viejas 2013).
The extreme climate of Jumilla forces the native monastrell – known internationally as mourvèdre – variety to give the best of itself. The red wines, emblematic and with great personality, prove it. The area includes around 40 wineries and more than 4,000 winegrowers, most of them in the town of Jumilla, at the foot of a legendary 15th-century castle. Wines are colorful and well bodied, and even in high in alcohol they present a fresh-tasting, preserving the grape variety’s characteristics.
Making wine from Phoenician times, one of its treasures is the Fondillón. Consumed by great figures in history, sailed around the world and is mentioned in European literature from the 15th and 16th centuries, from Shakespeare to Alexander Dumas, with an extraordinary and singular personality, Fondillón is a unique wine, one of the few that exists in the world with its own name. It is a noble red wine, non fortified wine, in an rusty style from overripe monastrell grapes. Extraordinary good. And fantastic place to discover.