The Old World wine region is home to heavyweights like France, Spain, and Italy. Portugal is no slouch in the wine department, providing some of today’s most impressive bottles of wine.
What makes Portugal such a standout region? One fan may cite its staggering variety of indigenous grapes, most of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
Another fan may stress the importance of Port wine as a dessert staple. Wherever you find yourself on the wine spectrum, Portuguese wines must be tasted to be believed.
We’re going to explore Portuguese wineries, the history that brought us here, and wines of Portugal you should try out this year.
An Overview of Portugal Winemaking
Portuguese draws its winemaking roots from the same ancient civilizations that established the Old World: ancient Greece, Phoenicians, and Roman societies. According to historians, Portuguese wine may date all the way back to the 7th century!
Of course, the Portugal we know and love today didn’t look quite the same back then. Wine was produced in very small volumes, usually saved for special occasions or consumed among family. Roman dominance in surrounding countries would later establish a culture of wine exports, eventually influenced by trade with France and Greece.
The majority of Portuguese wine regions were established in the 1970s, with some of the newest regions as young as the 1990s. Portugal wines are extremely varied, so fans of reds, whites, and rosés will be in good hands in this region.
What Kinds of Wines is Portugal Most Famous For?
It’s impossible to learn about Portuguese wines and not become familiar with their famed Port wine. This wine usually comes in red varieties, fortified with spirits and sweeter in flavor.
What is the Best Portuguese Red Wine?
Portuguese red wine is usually made with rare indigenous wine grapes that are usually not found outside the country. That said, you can still find international grapes planted in some Portuguese wine regions.
What are Portuguese Wine Terms?
Don’t rush out to buy your wine just yet! You need to know what you’re up against and which varieties will suit your palate. Portuguese wine terms you should know about include the following:
- Casa: a wine producer
- Vinho Tinto: a Portuguese red wine
- Vinho Branco: a Portuguese white wine
- Vinho Verde: a fresh, young wine produced in Northern Portugal
- Vinho Generoso: a wine that’s fortified with spirits and sweeter in flavor
Wine Regions of Portugal
Portugal is filled to the brim with compelling wine regions, many of which are major tourist destinations in themselves.
The list below has a few of the best-known examples to give you a solid start on what to look for when browsing Portuguese wines.
Much like the famed Bordeaux of France and Tuscany of Italy, Douro Valley is often considered the face of Portuguese wine regions. You’ll instantly recognize this region in the Portuguese wine labels you find, such as the bold Tinto Douro or pale Douro Blanco.
This valley is not just famous for wine production, but for the massive, winding Douro River that carves throughout the country. This river is so long that it moves through Spain and ends in the Atlantic Ocean.
Expect to find very dry or very sweet red wines produced here.
This massive Portuguese wine region is highly distinctive not just for its size, but for its scorchingly hot weather.
This dry climate is highly suitable for dark, jammy wine production, so seek out the Alentejo AOC label if you’re a fan of these flavor notes.
The majority of wine produced in Alentejo is indigenous wine grapes, with a significant preference for red and white blends. Expect to see grape varieties such as:
- Tinta Amarela
- Rabo de Ovelha
Fans of international wine grapes will also enjoy their unique spin on Syrah, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
If you’re a fan of white wines, Minho will be your new favorite origin. This Portuguese wine region is beloved for its dedication to aromatic, dry, and young white wines.
This wine region is located further up north and closer to the ocean, affording it a Mediterranean climate that’s rich in sun and salty winds. Try a Portuguese white blend or enjoy the following indigenous white wine grapes:
Dão is a wine region that has it all. This old Portuguese region’s terroir is layered with rich, complex soil, plenty of high altitudes, and a very balanced climate.
As such, Dão is frequently cited when it comes to consistently complex, high-quality wine. Red blends dominate here, though you can also find single-origin indigenous grapes. Terms to look out for when buying red wine from this region include:
- Dão Touriga Nacional
- Dão Jaen
- Dão Alfrocheiro
A wine region you’ve likely heard of is Lisboa, a popular origin that frequently makes its way into wine shops around the globe. While some Portuguese regions specialize in certain grapes or wine types, Lisboa is well-known for its diversity.
Expect to find tasty white wines here such as Torres Vedras and Colares. Likewise, you can try Alenquer, one of their unique red blends mixing Portuguese and Spanish grapes.
Wineries of Portugal
Portuguese wineries are usually family-owned businesses with very long histories of planting, cultivating, and processing indigenous wine grapes. In fact, you’ll find quite a few who specialize exclusively in Port wine!
With a history stretching back over one hundred and fifty years, Quinta da Aveleda immediately commands respect through generations of dedication. First getting their start in European wine competitions, they’ve since expanded to sell their wine into over seventy countries.
This family-owned winery was established by Manoel Pedro Guedes and passed down throughout the generations to the modern business-making waves today. Today Quinta da Aveleda rakes in gold and silver medals for their wine portfolio, right alongside famous wine tours and workshops.
Their wine portfolio comes from the Vinho Verde wine region, separated into different subregions defined by unique terroir or the production process.
Just how old can a winery get? Taylor’s Port has a history stretching back to the 1600s, famed for starting the wave of iconic Port wine. As such, this winery specializes in fortified wine varieties to honor its history.
To reiterate: Port wine is a term referring to fortified Portuguese wine that blends brandy into the winemaking process. Since the fermentation process is interrupted, most of the sugar in the wine doesn’t get turned into alcohol. The result is a rich, sweet wine that frequently gets paired with dessert or special occasions.
Just about every kind of Port wine you can hope for is sold at Taylor’s Port. They have fresh bottles, aged bottles, reserves, classic recipes, and white blend varieties for your enjoyment.
Quinta do Sanguinhal is highly distinctive for being the first ‘extreme’ winery planted in Portugal. While most wineries will also grow additional crops such as olives, this family-owned establishment is exclusively dedicated to the art of wine.
Each plot of land has been carefully protected and tended to since 1926, cultivating a wide variety of reds, whites, rosés, brandies, and liqueurs.
If you’re curious to learn more about how Portuguese winemakers tackle international wine varieties, you’ll be happy to see plenty of syrah, chardonnay, and petit verdot here.
The Best Wines of Portugal
The wines of Portugal are just as varied as any other European origin you can think of. The selection we’ve chosen below is most representative of what makes Portuguese stand out, with an emphasis on indigenous grapes and Port wines.
Quinta da Aveleda Manoel Pedro Guedes
We’re starting off the list with a blend that’s withstood the test of time. Named after the founder of the winery, this recipe has followed the original closely by aging indigenous Portuguese white wine grapes: Alvarinho and Loureiro.
The result is one of the most carefully crafted white blends you’ll ever taste. Expect dominant tropical fruit notes balanced by baking spices and a high mineral aroma.
We recommend pairing this bottle with seafood, chicken, or a crunchy salad.
Quinta da Aveleda Fonte White
This wine bottle is grown in one of the best-known regions of Portugal, Vinho Verde, and also has a few awards to back it up. First impressions are not lost on Quinta da Aveleda!
If you prefer brighter and lighter white wines, this slightly fizzy bottle will go wonderfully with your next casual sipping session.
Citrus fruit and a long, mineral finish characterize this vintage, so consider pairing it with barbecue or a plate of white cheese.
Taylor’s Port 10-Year-Old Tawny
It’s time to see just how good Port wine can get! Taylor’s Port has specialized in the craft for hundreds of years, so you know you’re in for a treat with their 10 Year Old Tawny.
The wine is dubbed tawny for the darker color it takes after being aged in oak barrels. Even better, there’s no need to decant this wine before drinking! Complement this bottle’s earthy, jammy fruit flavor with a charcuterie, or sip it solo.
Taylor’s Port Fine White
Contrary to popular belief, Port wine isn’t just for red grape varieties. Taylor’s Port has a decadent white blend Port wine crafted with a medley of white Portuguese grapes.
This wine has a rummy, honeyed flavor, and a fantastically full body. Save this bottle for a special occasion and sip it after a hearty meal.
Quinta do Sanguinhal Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional/Syrah
Are you a fan of international grapes like Syrah? Portugal may favor indigenous grapes (and for good reason), but they still explore Spanish and French grapes for variety.
This bottle blends the Portuguese grape Touriga Nacional with the French Syrah for a truly romantic result. Expect a floral bouquet matched with baking spices like vanilla and cloves.
If there was ever a bottle to save for a celebration or spending time with someone special, it’s this one!
Quinta do Sanguinhal Blood Arinto & Chardonnay
If you want another look at blending the best of both worlds, check out this white blend. Native Portuguese white wine grape Arinto is mixed with the French chardonnay, a combination you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere.
This wine is quite tangy and acidic, leaning toward ripe yellow fruit with a faint vanilla finish. Alfredo pasta, pizza, or white fish are our top pairing suggestions for this approachable blend.
Silk & Spice Red Blend
Want an easy-drinking Portuguese wine that you can pop open at any time? Silk & Spice has an affordable bottle that still gives you a glimpse into what makes this region so special.
Fans of Syrah and Merlot will fall in love with this mellow, jammy red blend. Dominant flavor notes are black fruit, dark chocolate, and vanilla.
This wine will go wonderfully with a beef-based dish or a simple platter of cheese and crackers.
Why You Should Drink Wines of Portugal
Portuguese wine is one of the most fascinating routes you can take on your wine journey. With a rich winemaking history and land overflowing with prime wine-growing features, it’s not hard to find a stunning vintage.
Portuguese is well known for having dozens of indigenous wine grapes that are carefully protected and rarely found outside the country’s borders. The most famous example of wine from this country is Port wine, a fortified wine variety that blends wine grapes with brandy. Port wine is very sweet and is usually treated as a dessert in its own right.
We highly recommend trying Portuguese wine to expose yourself to rare wine grapes, succulent dessert wines, and some of the most meticulously crafted blends in the world.