Winemaking in Portugal comes from the traditions that were introduced by ancient civilizations. Exports of wine to Rome started during the Roman Empire and modern exports developed with trade to England in the early 1700s. Portugal boasts of over 250 indigenous grape varieties, along with some imported vines that were suited for the Portuguese climate and terrain.
Portugal has three established levels of wine quality, and these can be seen on every bottle label. Wines labeled as DOC (or DOP)—Denominação de Origem Controlada—are made in one of the 31 strictly defined geographical areas that have regulations defining which grapes are permitted to be grown and used for wines with the designation. In addition, these regulations define the quantity of grapes (yield) that can be harvested from a specific-size parcel of land.
Wines from one of the 14 broader areas, with less strict rules regarding grapes and vine yields, would be designated as Vinho Regional, or IGP. This may imply that the wines will not be as high-quality as the DOC wines, but there are many high-quality and creative producers making wine in these defined areas. Finally, the most basic classification of Portuguese table wine is known as Vinho or merely “wine,” but these wines are rarely exported and are consumed within the country, itself.
Vinho Verde DOP is one of the most important appellations in Portugal and is known for youthful white wines made from grapes such as Loureiro, which is the most-planted grape; Trajadura, and Alvarinho (known as Albariño in Spain). The most characteristic wine from the region is low-alcohol, with bright acidity and light fizziness.
Another important appellation in the country is the Douro, which is in a mountainous and remote area in Northern Portugal, along the Douro River. Port, the well-known fortified wine, is the most famous wine from this region and is made from grapes Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barrocca, and Tinto Cão. The region is also known for rich, dry, powerful red wines, known as Tinto Douro and made from the same grapes.
Wines from the Dão appellation are lighter than those from the Douro, but age well because of the tannin levels and acidity that come along with growing grapes in this region of Portugal. Red wines from Dão include Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Aragonez, and Jaen e Rufete, and white wines made from Encruzado,Bical,Cercial, Malvasia Fina, and Verdelho.
Wines from the Dão appellation are lighter than those from the Douro but age well because of the tannin levels and acidity that comes along with growing grapes in this region of Portugal. Red wines from Dão include Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Aragonez, and Jaen e Rufete and white wines made from Encruzado, Bical, Cercial, Malvasia Fina, and Verdelho.
Wines from the Vinho Verde, Douro, Dao, Peninsula de Setubal and other appellations and regions in Portugal allow the curious or adventurous wine drinker to explore new and unusual grapes cost-effectively. Pick up some Portuguese wine today!