Portugal is best known for their fortified dessert wines from Oporto and their fun and spritzy Vinho Verdes.
Albeit, cork production there exceeds wine production. However, over the past decade the country, has become recognized for its deep, complex and rich red wines. For those who enjoy the classic great wines of Napa, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley of France, these deep reds will, too, please the palate.
The small rectangular country rests on the western edge of Spain along the Atlantic ocean and merely 300 miles long and 125 miles wide. While its history revolves around ruby and tawny port, Portugal’s recognition for dry red wines has increased steadily over the past twenty years. The best reds come from Douro, Dão and Alentejo.
In the northern part of the country lies the Denominacão de Origem of Douro, or the Douro Valley, which is best known for its port. Interestingly, the region produces just as much red wine as it does port. Port vineyards are considered the best vineyards and are mostly planted on schist soils, while grapes for table wines are planted on granitic or granite soils. Oddly enough, the grape varieties that thrive on granitic soils, syrah and gamay, are not planted in the Douro. As with all regions, quality ranges from unoaked light and juicy wines to barrel-aged deep, rich and structured wines. The Douro is by far the most reputable and as a result, the wines are slightly more expensive than the other regions. The dominant grape varieties are similar to the port varietals, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. While there are countless other varietals, these three dominate both table wines and ports.
The Dão region lies just south of the Douro and also produces excellent red wines along with white. The red wines are comprised of the same varietals as the Douro but with a couple new ones to the American consumer. They are alfrocheiro preto and baga. Wines from the Dão have been slightly more tannic and rustic as compared to their counterparts to the north and south in Alentejo. With modernization though, the wines are beginning to show more refinement than those of the past.
Alentejo is in the south of Portugal and is the least populated region. There, cork plantations and cereal farms dominate the landscape, though with increasingly alongside viticulture. This is where we are beginning to see plantings of international varieties, including chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and carignan. While the blends that tipify Dão and Douro still dominate the wines of the south, occasionally one will see the addition of these international varietals. Because of the regions hot summer days, exceeding 100 degrees, its wines are often riper, fuller and fruitier.
The red wines of Portugal are flexible in that they make for excellent food wines in addition to being great cocktail wines. Fortunately for us, the wines of Portugal are subsidized by the European Union. For U.S. consumers that means outstanding values compared to most New World wine producing countries.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.