Portugal Wines Cheat Sheet
The wines of Portugal are like its people, whose charismatic warmth and welcoming charm woo the worldy and countrified alike. The diverse landscapes from the dramatic, schist cliffs of the Douro River Valley to the beach-like sandy vineyards of Colares—plus the cooling breezes coming from 1,115 miles of Atlantic coastline—support a wide variety of wine styles made mostly from native grapes. On one wine list (often hand-written at the back of the menu), you can find luscious reds from Douro, elegant French Oak-aged Dao reds and whites, the unique champagne-style sparkling wines of Bairrada and perfect-with-seafood whites from Vinho Verde.
Like its Old World peers, Portugal’s wines are classified by region and not by grape. And thank Bacchus for that! Portugal has more than 250 indigenous grape varieties with hard-to-remember names like alfrocheiro, fernao pires, trincadeira and viosinho.
This is your cheat sheet to the WINE REGIONS OF PORTUGAL (listed north to south) and some ideas on what to eat with them, including several classic Portuguese dishes. Saude!
Elegant, food-friendly whites made primarily from alvarinho and loureiro that I think are the best in Portugal. Ranging from light to medium-bodied, they have a citrusy freshness to break through the hearty olive oil and garlic sauces of Portuguese cuisine plus minerality and succulent orchard fruit flavors to balance the acidity.
With what? Clams in white wine and garlic (ameijoas a bulhao pato) or whole-grilled fish! Or any seafood, pork bifana (sandwich), chicken, plus delicious smoked Alheira sausages (pork/game with bread crumbs, olive oil, lard, garlic and paprika) and presuntos (acorn-fed cured pork).
Some recommended producers: Aphros • Anselmo Mendes • Deu la Deu • Muros Antigos • Nostalgia Alvarinho (Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas) • Quinta do Ameal • Quinta do Regueiro • Reguengo de Melgaco • Anthea Alvarinho • Soalheiro
Just east of the Douro Valley, these mountain reds are similar in style to Douro wines and are full-bodied with black fruits and substantial tannins, plus some oak flavors like spice. The whites also have ample body and spend a little time in oak barrels, which brings out vanilla and butter flavors and aromas.
With what? Reds with hearty mountain stews (local stew called barrosa), grilled meats and fumeiro and chouriço, the smokey sausage and cured meats the region is famous for. White with Caldo Verde soup, the Portuguese national dish of kale and chouriço in a thick broth.
Some recommended producers: Jose Preto • Quinta Valle Madruga • Valle de Passos
PORTO E DOURO
DOURO reds are bold, spicy, with ripe black fruits, cigar box (oaky) and big but rounded tannins. Whites have exotic fruit flavors, are medium-bodied and have a tangy backbone.
With what? Reds with grilled steak in the famous Portuguese mushroom cream sauce. Whites with heavier seafood dishes, less fatty pork or spicy roasted chicken Piri Piri.
PORT has the same characteristics since they are made with the same grapes but are fortified to arrest fermentation to preserve the natural sugar in the grapes. With or just AS dessert!
Some recommended producers: CARM Reserva (Familia Roboredo Madeira) • Casa Amarela • Casa Ferreirinha (Callabriga) • Cedro do Noval • Andreza Códega do Larinho • Ferreira • Poeira • Quinta da BelaVista/Afoito • Quinta dos Corvos • Quinta do Crasto • Quinta do Noval [and Maria Mansa] • Quinta de S. José • Quinta do Vallado • Thyro • Vale da Poupa
Distinctive espumante (sparkling) wines from the region's signature grape: baga. Med-to-full-bodied champagne-method wines, a little yeasty and a lot zesty, rich with green apple, herb and perfumey aromas and all the citrus flavors you can imagine. Red still wines from baga are full-bodied but with not-overly-ripe, wild dark berry fruits, firm acidity and big tannins that need time to soften. Whites are med-to-full bodied and lean more toward mineral and savory and less about fruit.
With what? The classic espumante pairing is “leitao,” or roasted suckling pig but will go with anything deliciously fatty, or an aperitif served with sausage or presuntos. Reds are a dream with beef or heavier pork and whites with chicken or pork cooked with herbs or savory braises.
Some recommended producers: Campolargo • Colinas São Lourenço (& Principal) • Marques de Marialva • Filipa Pato • Luis Pato • Quinta das Bageiras • Tiago Teles • Sidonio de Sousa
Reds are loaded with red ripe berry fruit aromas and flavors and juicy tannins. The best Dão wines have a "sense of place," meaning they have herbal notes (lots of pine & eucalyptus here) plus some minerality from the granite soils and brightness (acidity) from the upper elevations. The whites are more “Burgundy-style,” med-to-full bodied with orchard fruits and structure from citrus flavors and oak aging. Check out the encruzado white grape, which like chardonnay can be made in a lighter, fruity style or a fuller-bodied wine that can handle some barrel time.
With what? Reds with grilled pork in a chesnut cream sauce! Smokey sausage, and steak. Whites with Alentejo’s classic pork ribs with clams, charcoal-grilled fish or creamy seafood.
Some recommended producers: Bella • Casa de Darei • Casa de Mouraz • Casa da Passarella • Casa de Santar • Julia Kemper • Magnum Carlos Lucas Ribeiro Santo • Quinta de Cabriz • Quinta da Fata • Quinta de Lemos • Quinta da Pellada
Under-rated region for reds that are medium-bodied with just ripe red and black berry fruits, a little spicy and not too much oak. Look for the crisp, fruity whites made from the arinto grape from the Bucelos subregion.
With what? Reds with wood-grilled steak, pork or bacalhau (dried cod). And whites with the abundant seafood from the nearby coast.
Some recommended producers: Jose Maria Fonseca • Fernão Zinho • Ghão Rijo • Quinta da Chocapalha • Quinta do Monte D'Oiro • Quinta da Murta • Quinta da Pancas • Quinta de S. Sebastião • Villa Oeiras Carcavelos • Casa Manoel Boullosa Quinta dos Pesos
Lisboa - Colares Subregion
These are some of the coolest wines ever. Very old vines (some 100+) planted in sand near the sea and thus not susceptible to phylloxera. The whites made from malvasia are crisp and savory and saline and in the same vein as palo cortado or fino jerez. The reds made from ramisco are very unusual and must be aged to tame the tannins. Like smelling and tasting wet gravel, underripe strawberries and red currants in a pine box.
With what? Whites with oysters and shellfish! Red with roasted fatty meat and lots of herbs.
Some recommended producers: Arenae Colares • Casal Sta. Maria • Adega Viúva Gomes
Alentejo Is the “wild east” of Portugal’s wine regions. Its sun-scorched rolling hills of dusty beauty generally give way to big, ripe and juicy wines, which are made from traditional Portuguese grapes and also international varieties. Since the Alentejo is hot, grapes that like warmth can make some cool wines here and one of those is alicante bouschet. Try to find producers that are working the terroir and finding cooler pockets on hillsides where the grapes can find some balance by preserving acidity or blending native and nonnative grapes to overcome the issues with the climate.
With what? White with the Alentejo regional dishes açorda (bread soaked/mashed up with olive oil, cilantro, garlic, eggs and shrimp) or porco à Alentejana (fried pork and clams) and red with the amazing Iberian black pork (porco preto), pigs fed only acorns (from the cork oaks!).
Some recommended producers: Adega Mayor • Esporao • Fita Preta/Antonio Macanita Mouchao • Monte da Ravasqueira • Herdade das Servas • Quinta do Carmo/Bacalhoa
Volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic where producers are reviving the wine-making past using native grapes. Complex, crisp, super interesting white wines always with a hint of the sea (salinity), crazy acidity, honey, yeasty, tropical, chalky and even nutty. Reds are light, with red fruits and kind of dusty in a good way.
With what? White with any grilled seafood, oysters, seafood platter. Reds with bacalhau.
Some recommended producers: Açores Wine Company/Antonio Macanita/Paolo Machado • Magma Verdelho (Anselmo Mendes) • Pico Wines CRL
COOL / ORGANIC
Some recommended producers: Acores Wine Company • Adega Viúva Gomes • Aphros • Arenae Colares • Carcavelhos Villa Oeiras • Casa de Darei • Casa de Mouraz • Casal Sta. Maria • Fernão Zinho • Filipa Pato • Fita Preta Isabelle a Proibida • Fita Preta Branco de Talha • Julia Kemper • Magma • Quinta da Boavista • Quinta da Pellada • Quinta do Ameal • Soalheiro • Tiago Teles