This week I am focusing on Portugal, one of the most underrated wine regions in Europe and one that you should focus on for value and flavour. With our criminally high wine taxes (the highest in the EU) importers are increasingly looking to Portugal to cover their wines in the €16 and under bracket.
There was a time when a wine from Portugal would be covered with a wax top and be a dried out dusty old thing, but that hasn’t been the case for a few decades. As with Spain, Portugal invested heavily in its wine industry once it joined the EU and these days the wines are clean and bright and packed with fruit. You will have to learn some new grape varieties as less than 10% of the wines here are made with international varieties.
The Douro is the best known region and, thanks to a few centuries of perfecting grapes for port, it has most of the oldest vineyards. The best port houses usually have a wine or two in their portfolio and many are excellent — watch for the wines of Quinta do Noval and Niepoort in particular. Grapes in the Douro are numerous but the best are probably touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo) and tinta francesa but there are a few dozen others I have no room to mention. Because of the restrictions on who can make port, the younger generation of wine makers here have begun to question the practice of simply selling all their grapes to big port shippers, so expect to see lots of new interesting wines from here. North of the Douro is Vinho Verde which was a common site on Irish wine shelves in the ’80s and early ’90s. The wines these days are still good value but are cleaner and fresher but often have that beguiling spritz. Watch for fragrant ripe alvarhino here too (the Portuguese name for albariño).
In the centre is Bairrada and Dao which are often a little more rustic but can be excellent from the right producer. Further south is Alentejo and Lisboa and both reds and whites are worth seeking out (often under €10) — watch for white grapes such as arinto, antão vaz and roupeiro and for reds watch for aragonez (tempranillo), alfrocheiro, trincadeira and castelão.