15% OFF Spain/Portugal Cases - Shop Now

Portuguese Wine - A Guide

Portuguese Wine - A Guide

franco salzillo arriaga |

Portugal is an underrated, wine-producing country. The country’s Atlantic and Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing premium grapes, which become wine of the highest quality in various wine styles and at all price points. 

Portuguese wine comes in all colours and wine styles, in all sweetness levels and alcoholic strengths. There’s a Portuguese wine for every meal and occasion, and since the country’s wine is not particularly popular right now, it comes with a convenient price tag for its quality. 

Portugal might have an enviable terroir, but it also has thousands of years of vinous tradition. The country also champions its native varietals, so don’t expect the same-old grapes planted elsewhere. 

This is our guide to Portuguese wine based on your most frequent questions and our experience working with some of the most prestigious winemakers in the country. Portugal will surely become your new favourite go-to wine source for everyday enjoyment and special occasions. 

The History of Portuguese Wine

Viticulture in Portugal goes back to the Ancient Phoenicians, skilled traders that popularised the wine all around the Mediterranean basin and beyond. Grapes have been growing in what is now Portugal for at least 4,000 years. The Ancient Romans helped spread viticulture in the Iberian Peninsula, followed by Christian monastic orders during the Middle Ages. 

The relationship between Portuguese winemakers and the thirsty English wine lovers, themselves lacking the climate for growing grapes, made Portuguese wine a valuable commodity, especially when England was not getting along with France, its leading wine supplier. 

The English were so fond of Portuguese wine, particularly with the rich, fortified Port, that several entrepreneurs established their own winemaking operations in the Lucitan country, establishing the foundation of the modern Port industry. 

Port, of course, is not the only Portuguese wine style with deep roots in history; Madeira, another fortified wine, was increasingly popular in North America’s first colonies. 

The 20th century wasn’t kind to the Portuguese wine industry because of socio-political instability, but the country is now back in full force. Since the authorities aligned Portuguese wine laws with the European Union, the wine is better than ever. 

Portuguese Wine Regions

These are the most common wine regions in Portugal, although there are many more. Every area in the country has unique varietals and wine styles, and they’re all worth exploring. 

Porto 

Port is a fortified wine made with the red Touriga Nacional and other rare grapes. The wine is partially fermented and fortified with grape spirit to get a naturally sweet, alcoholic wine with incredible richness and complexity. Port is not only one of the most extraordinary sweet wines in the world; it’s also one of the most age worthy. 

Madeira

Madeira is another Portuguese fortified wine made in the warm archipelago of Madeira. Here, the grapes Verdelho, Sercial, Bual and Malvasia are fortified and “cooked” in warm cellars or heated containers for a unique wine with no equal. 

Douro

The Douro River’s steep vineyards are better known for being the source of Port, but the region’s rich red grapes are also suitable for making dry red wine, labelled as Douro. These inky reds are of world-class quality and offer sophisticated bouquets blessed with ripe black fruit and structured palates. 

Vinho Verde

Portugal has several white wines in its repertoire, and they’re all lovely. The most refreshing Portuguese white wine is the well-known Vinho Verde, grown along the Minho River in Northern Portugal, where the Atlantic Ocean blesses the area with plenty of rainfall. These wines offer apple and pear aromas and hints of citrus and fresh herbs. 

What’s the Best Portuguese Wine?

There’s no such thing as the best Portuguese wine, since we all like different things. Still, some of the most acclaimed wines in the country come from the Douro Valley. 

For wine enthusiasts worldwide, the best Portuguese wine is Port. This is the most famous fortified wine globally, and it comes in different styles. White Port is pleasantly sweet and crowd-pleasing, but red Port is much more popular.

Not all red Port is created equal either. Ruby Port is fruit-forward, whereas Tawny Port shows signs of oak ageing. Producers only release Vintage Port in the finest vintages, and it’s an authentic collector’s item. Port offers a world of delicious possibilities at all price points and for every food pairing.

Best Portuguese Wines Other Than Port

Port might be Portugal’s most famous wine, but there are many others, and they’re all worthy of exploring. 

Portugal’s best dry red wine comes from the same place as Port, the terraced vineyards along the Douro River. The stunning success of a few dry red wines released by several major Port houses pioneered by Ferreira’s famous Barca Velha, released in 1952, made the authorities create an appellation for still wines in the region in 1979, Douro DOC

Still, red wines from the Douro gained international acclaim in the late 20th century and are now considered amongst the best in the world. These reds can age!

It's worth mentioning that central and southern Portugal are also home to talented winemakers, although their wine regions are not nearly as popular as the featured in this guide. Red, white and rosé coming from Beiras, Dao, Alentejo, Azores and Algarve have an extraordinary quality-price ratio. When it comes to Portugal, it’s true what they say, the best wine is the one you still haven’t tried!

Portuguese wine is more varied than ever. With centuries of vinous history, local varieties and international investment, the wine scene in the country is changing fast. There’s no doubt we’ll be hearing more about lesser-known Portuguese grape varieties and wine regions in the future. You can’t say the same thing about most well-established wine-producing countries. 

Portuguese Rose Wine

Perhaps the most famous rosé in Portugal comes from the Douro Valley as well, Rosé Port. This is a relatively new Port style developed by Croft in 2008. Many wineries soon followed, and there are now dozens of pink renditions of the sweet, fortified wine.

Rosé Port is made with a combination of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), and others. This style rarely sees extended ageing; instead, Rosé Port is all about bright fruit flavours, attractive acidity and a sweet palate. 

Vinho Verde, although meaning green wine, and known for its white renditions, can also be pink. 8% of the region’s production is rosé, and the style is climbing the popularity ranks. Like its red and white counterparts, Portuguese rosé wine is of the highest quality, on par with the finest on the market. This wine style is also often very well priced. 

How to Pair Portuguese Wine with Food?

Portuguese wine always has a place at the table. All wine styles have an affinity with food, and with such a diverse wine catalogue, there’s a Portuguese wine for every dish.

Douro red wines and several others produced in the country are bold and structured, so they’re best enjoyed with beef cuts, hearty stews, meaty casseroles, sausages, hard cheese, lamb, goat and game.

Portuguese white wine, mainly Vinho Verde, is refreshing, and it’s the perfect partner for seafood, primarily white fish and shellfish. The country’s kale soup, known worldwide, also pairs well with the thirst-quenching wine.

Even the sweet Port is food compatible. Although Port is a dessert in its own right, it’s also one of the few wines that pairs well with chocolate and chocolate desserts. For chocolate cakes or brownies, chocolate mousse or ganache, Port has you covered. 

Portuguese Wine to Try 

Quinta do Vale Meão ‘Meandro’ Douro Tinto 2018

This robust dry red wine comes from the same vineyards that give life to Port. The fruit’s ripeness is clear on the nose, with ripe blackberries and cherries brimming from the glass, followed by chocolate and oak spices. This is a robust red wine best enjoyed with a thick rib-eye.

Quinta do Vallado 10-Year-Old Tawny Port

This extraordinary, aged Port offers hints of dried black fruit, dates, cocoa powder and roasted coffee beans over a full-bodied palate blessed by a pleasant alcoholic warmth and an underlying sweetness. 

Henriques & Henriques Finest Medium Rich 5Yo NV

This rich Madeira is elegant and fragrant. This one’s made with Bual grapes and aged for five years, during which it developed aromas of candied fruit, spices and flowers. This dessert wine pairs well with custards, fruit tarts and chocolate. 

What is your favourite Portuguese wine?

Whether you’re looking for a sweet, fortified wine to pair with dessert, a refreshing white wine to sip this summer or a robust dry red wine to serve with steak, Portuguese wine has your back. 

Portuguese wine estates are often family owned and go back for generations, meaning every bottle of wine is a story, and that’s the type of wine you want to serve to friends and family, wine with a meaning – with a distinct personality that makes it different from every other bottle of wine. Portuguese’s wine quality is guaranteed, but it also guarantees uniqueness, and that’s much appreciated in today’s homogeneous wine market.