A new age of discovery
Portugal is steeped in wine culture. Vines have flourished in this long, slim country’s hospitable climes for at least four thousand years. And, since the 15th century, on the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, which the Portuguese settled during the Age of Discovery.
Planted from head to toe – from Vinho Verde to the Algarve - Portugal is renowned for world class wines with an unmistakable thumbprint. Born of an enviable diversity of terroir and native grape varieties, Portuguese wines offer a unique kaleidoscope of flavours, textures and aromas.
After all, this Atlantic-facing country is home to Europe’s western-most vineyards (on the sand dunes of Colares) and the world’s largest mountain vineyard (the Douro, whose rock-hewn terraces rise to over 800m above sea level). Portugal is a land of dramatic contrast. From breezy, temperate coastal regions and islands, expect fresh, aromatic wines with a salty tang of the sea; whites excel, while fashionable classics Baga from the Bairrada region and Ramisco from Colares give Pinot Noir a run for its money. With a continental climate, the interior produces fuller-bodied, masterfully balanced, gastronomic wines. Here, Portugal’s rugged mountain slopes produce structured, age-worthy red wines and Ports or, from the higher reaches, firm, mineral whites. In the sunny south, where the mountains give way to more fertile rolling hills, then plains, wines are smooth and generous.
Exciting points of difference abound, reflecting this rich diversity of climate, topography and soils (which include granite, schist, limestone, clay, sand, quartz and volcanic basalt). Above all, Portugal is distinguished by a glittering array of native grapes – the jewels in her crown. The country has over 250 native varieties - a higher density per kilometre than either Spain, France or Italy. Wellversed in the centuries-old mastery of the art of blending, Portuguese winemakers skilfully orchestrate this exceptional range of flavour dimensions to craft wines of great personality, balance and finesse.
Since the 1980s, field trials have identified innovative single varietal wines which sing of site - new strings to Portugal’s bow. The first wave included Encruzado in Dão and, most famously, Touriga Nacional in the Douro and Dão. Since then, other grapes have been singled out for attention, such as Loureiro, now Avesso in the Vinho Verde sub-regions of Lima and Baião, Sousão and Rufete in the Douro and Alicante Bouschet in Alentejo. Long hidden gems are surfacing too, like Tinta Grossa in Alentejo, Samarrinho in the Douro and Jampal in Lisboa.
Just as near extinct grapes like Jampal are enjoying a renaissance, so too are ancient viticultural and winemaking techniques, such as the use of currais (Azorean dry-stoned walled vineyards) and fermenting and ageing red and white wines on skins in talha (clay amphora). Truly the New World of the Old World, Portugal offers wine lovers unparalleled choice, from wines rooted in tradition with rusticity, warmth and charm to slick, modern, sophisticated wines with great international appeal. An exciting synthesis of the two, which honours tradition without being afraid of innovation, heralds an exciting new ‘Age of Discovery’ for Portuguese wines and for you.