A new age of dis­cov­ery

Decanter - - PORTUGAL -

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.

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