WINES OF PORTUGAL
In a world of increased standardization, Portugal shines like a beacon of individuality and independence.
Portuguese wineries and winemakers always resisted a world-wide trend to plant “international” grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah, but a few young, experiment-happy individuals are gradually planting a few hectares with these grapes.
This writer finds indigenous Portuguese grapes, or at least well acclimatized, to be outstanding with unmistakable taste profiles.
This sunny country adjacent to Spain and facing the Atlantic Ocean has been producing wine since time immemorial. Even when the Moors occupied Portugal, the population continued to grow grapes – the Moors ate the fruit, the Portuguese made wine and enjoyed a sophisticated thirst quencher.
The most famous wine of Portugal is Port, which was popularised by English merchants starting in the 18th century, and after the Methuen Treaty between Portugal and England. At the time, England was once again at war with France and the treaty was supposed to help fill the “ wine gap” for English wine consumers. When the merchants arrived in Portugal looking for wine, they discovered port, which at the time was a rough and tumble table wine unable to please the English palates that were used to lighter and more sophisticated Bordeaux wines, they used to call claret.
Soon, however, English merchants discovered that adding brandy to strong red wines achieves two important qualities – longevity, and much improved taste. Thus, modern port as we know it, was born. Since then port wine quality improved constantly and today port wine in all its guises enjoys an excellent, much deserved reputation. So important was port once that many countries including South Africa, Australia, the U S A and even Canada tried to imitate this venerable wine, but, as always failed.
There is only one authentic port wine originating in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. Anything else is a mere imitation. Today Portugal has 13 well delimited wine producing regions, the most famous of which are: Port, Rios do Minho, Dao, Bairrada, Estremadure, Ribatejo, Alentejo, Madeira and Setubal.
All wine production is well controlled by law, which distinguishes four categories: Vinho de Mesa (table wine), Vinho regional (regional wine), Indicacao de provenienca Reglamentada (PPR = wine of controlled origin) and Denominacao de Origem Controlada (D O C = appellation controllee). The last category is considered to be the best. Garrafeira wines belong to the D O C category but are selected from the best vintages and aged longer than all other red wines prior to bottling. The important red grapes of Portugal are: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Pinheira, Alfrocheiro, Preto Jaen, Perriquita, Aaragonez, Trincadeira and Preta. There are few hectares of cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Frranc, Merlot and Syrah for experimental pruporses.
For white wines, Alvarinho, Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso, Pederna, Muscatel, Arinto, Antao vaz, Rouperio, Vital, Malvasia, Sercial, Verdelho and Bual.
Well-made Portuguese wines always display bright, ripe fruitiness, true varietal and deep colour, and moderate alcohol, finishing with a long aftertaste.
More importantly, Portuguese wines are reasonably priced although prices started increasing ever since the country the EU.
Vinho verde produced in the northwest corner is a crackling white wine with refreshing acidity. Meant to be enjoyed while young, it goes best with grilled sardines, cheeses, and olive oil marinated grilled vegetables.
While most wine enthusiasts associate Portugal with port and Madeira wines, it is important to point out that wineries make special and successful efforts to vint extraordinary table wines.
Sogrape better known for its Mateus rose brand pettilant rose, produces outstanding red wines, and owns Finca Flichman in Argentina, Fonseca
and Sandeman in Portugal and 50 percent of Colio in Ontario. It is by far the biggest wine enterprise in the country.
Port shippers are still by and large British, such as Taylor’s, Graham, and Cockburn’s just to name a few, although Portuguese companies are now increasing their exports.
Quinta (estate) wineries tend to produce more individualistic and characteristic wines due to their size and structure of the enterprise – they grow their own grapes and make the wine on the premises.
Here are some of the best wineries of Portugal;
Sogrape, Quinta de Fojo, Esporao,J.Portugal Ramos Vinhos, Quinta de Parrotes, Quinta de Pancas, Quinta de Cabriz, Quinta de Cotto, Marques de Borba, Fonseca, Taylor, Graham, Churchill, Casa dos Vinhos de Madeira,
L C B O general list offers some fine Port wines, but the can be obtained from specialized agents by means of special orders and consignment.
L C B O’s Vintages division offers often fine Port and table wines
Vintages catalogues can be obtained from the L C B O free of charge or by logging on www.lcbo.com
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu