Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on March 12, 2017 1 Comment When it comes to European wines, some countries seem to hog the limelight. Every wine store in the world stocks French wine, and like it or not, this is unlikely to change. The French have long held something of a monopoly on our understanding of sophistication, and their wine is part and parcel of this. Italy, too, is featured on the shelves of shops and supermarkets the world over, as is Spain, with their fiery, passionate red wines bursting with deep, earthy complexities. One country which is often overlooked is Portugal. This relatively small region, on the Atlantic coast and sharing a long land border with Spain, has a wine history which is just as old as its neighbor, and has been producing quality wines for centuries. However, today, most of us only know about Portugal’s wine production through their great gift to the world of viticulture: Port, a sweet and deeply interesting fortified wine which is rightly adored across the globe. Portugal’s wine industry has mainly been domestic, with seemingly few wines crossing the border or heading out for export to other countries. Perhaps this is because they are dominated culturally by Spain, the famous giant next door, perhaps they’ve never been interested in building much of a worldwide reputation. Things are changing, though, and as more and more people are looking for alternatives to the big names, Portuguese wines are popping up in wine shops more frequently. Once tried, they are rarely forgotten – Portugal has its own native grape varietals which easily rival more well-known vines for quality and flavor, and many Portuguese wines serve as a fascinating and delicious alternative for big-name wines such as Chardonnay, Malbec and Riesling, often at a fraction of the price. The great thing about Portuguese wines is that they reflect the country they are produced in beautifully. Ask anyone who has wandered through the ramshackle streets of Lisbon what the city is like, and they’ll reel off adjectives like ‘laid-back’, ‘carefree’, ‘rustic’ and ‘charming’ without a moment’s hesitation. The same can be said for their wines. These are wines to enjoyed with friends, drank alongside great homemade dishes, outside in the sun. Here are a few tips to get you started on your Portuguese wine collection today. Key Words Portugal’s wine producing lands are divided into fourteen distinct regions, listed on labels as ‘Vinho Regional’. Within these regions, as with many European wine producing countries, we find several DOCs – Denominação de Origem Controlada – each of which is governed by a strict set of rules dictated the types of grapes which can be grown, and various regulations regarding production techniques, blending and ageing. Generally speaking, DOC wines from Portugal are of a higher quality than those without these letters on the label, but this isn’t gospel; occasionally you’ll find a real gem of a wine which comes from an unregistered appellation. On Portuguese wine labels, you’ll often see the word ‘quinta’. This translates as ‘farm’ in Portuguese, and in wine terms, is the equivalent of an estate. The other key word to be aware of is ‘garrafeira’ – similar to ‘reserva’ in Spanish, this means that the winemaker has aged their wine in oak. Vinho Verde In the wild and windy north of the country, we find the wines which are increasingly becoming Portugal’s most famous and celebrated numbers. Vinho Verde wines are a real joy, and it is delightful to see them popping up more and more commonly in quality wine stores around the world. Vinho Verde is a spritely, lively, fresh and enormously refreshing white wine, made to be served chilled on a hot day. Bursting with zingy lime flavors, and with a sharp minerality that make them a fantastic choice for anything from a dinner party to a picnic with friends. Vinho Verde wines are usually blended, but most commonly have a large quantity of Alvarinho grapes, which give them their fresh and springy fruit flavors and subtle grassiness. Douro The Douro is one of the major rivers in Portugal, and the winding river valley, with its steep hillsides and silty soils has been a center of wine production for centuries. This is the home of Port wine, and the capital city of Oporto can be found near the mouth of the river, where enormously-sailed ships used to head out into the Atlantic, stocked with fortified wine to see the sailors through their long trade voyages to the Americas. However, in recent years, there has been increased attention on the other, non-fortified wines of the Douro valley. Wine production here is fervent and wide-ranging, with many different grape varietals thriving in the fertile soils. As such, we see lots of red, white and rose wines coming out of Douro, most of them very dry, aged and complex. The red wines, such as Tinta Roriz, are a great and very affordable alternative to Rioja – full of the same depth and earthiness, but with their own unique characteristics, too. For lovers of minerally, bone-dry and sharp white wines, try the Malvasia Fina varietal – it’s like a white Burgundy, but (possibly) even more refined. Lisboa The region around the city of Lisbon has a proud wine heritage which is only just being discovered by the wider world. The people of Lisbon love their wine, and the streets of this beautiful city are littered with terraces where locals drink from slender glasses until the early hours. Lisboa wines are produced from coastal vines, which are grown behind the Atlantic sand dunes which protect them from the ocean winds, and this imparts a set of flavors which is truly remarkable. The salt air brings a touch of the sea to the white wines of Lisboa, especially those made with the Arinto grapes. If you like Gruner Veltliner and other aromatic, crisp whites, these are definitely bottles to look out for. The red wines of this region are commonly compared to Italian Nebbiolo wines – again, the harsh environment they are grown in brings a lot of character to the low-yielding vines, and enhances their body and acidity. This means they are perfect for ageing, and reveal a softness and subtlety after a couple of years in a cellar which is a real delight.