Portugal - think of this amazing wine country and two images pop-up into minds of us older wine drinkers straightaway - the quaint frizzante-sweet Mateus Rose - it's bottle destined for a million table lamps, and rich, heavy, sweetly- fortified Port wine made in the heat of the Douro Valley.Some may argue that you could throw in Madeira...and also Vinho Verde..and perhaps even the reds of Dao So, there you have it, Portugal has a number of wines, styles, grapes, and commercially successful wines known around the World.
In essence, Portugal is of such importance to the world of wine, that it is often hard to understand how the likes of France, Spain and Italy have seemingly eclipsed this small mountainous country in worldwide importance and appreciation of quality wine. Yet to all intents and purposes, people(i.e. consumers) are only now waking up to the breadth, richness and depth of this fabulous country's wine range. Vineyards are spread in swathes throughout Portugal. From the light crisp tingly-fresh and semi-sparkling Vinho Verde in the far north (as well as making white, there is also a rasping and disturbingly acidic red version - beware!), this Minho region is neighbour to the complete opposite Douro region, where thick, heady, fortified Port is made, alongside elegant, world class table wines. Moving down through Portugal, the Serra da Estrela region, mountainous, often remote is home to the wines of Bairrada and Dao, making more robust, spicy reds and floral whites using local grapes such as Bastardo, Touriga Nacional and Baga. The southern regions of Portugal are a mixture of idiosyncratic styles such as Setubal and Colares near Lisbon, tiny regions with a loyal following, with larger, more fertile regions such as Estremadura, home to huge local co-operatives which churn out large quantities of everyday red , whites and rose, most drunk locally, but even here the native grapes are in the ascendancy, sometimes blended with international varieties. The large region of the Alentejo, on the east side near Spain’s border includes quality regions such as Borba, Redondo and Reguengos all making ripe, fruit-driven and quality reds, and floral, interesting dry whites made by winemakers who are constantly looking at what the world likes to drink, rather than the purely local wine market. Grape varieties are a mix of native and international, and with fewer rules regarding what can and can't be planted these estates blend successfully, often using oak ageing to soften the tannins of the reds, and cool steel tanks to retain freshness in the whites. Throughout Portugal, investment by the EU has raised overall quality year on year, with the reliance on the local market diminishing in favour of exports, and this drive to export has caused an increase in quality, the bulk of which is now bottled by individual family estates, run by a younger generation of forward thinking, much travelled winemakers. Hurrah to that!