Wine and Drink in Portugal

Find out about the different wine regions and the different wines available such as Minho wine, Douro and Port wines as well as information about the history of Madeira wine...

Portugal is the seventh largest wine producer in the world and has a variety of wines including the famous Port and Madeira. Wine was introduced into Portugal by the Greeks, the Romans, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, and the Portuguese began exporting their wine to Rome during the Roman Empire.

Wine Regions

Portugal has two wine regions protected by UNESCO as World Heritage: the Douro Valley wine region (Douro Vinhateiro) and the Pico Island wine region (Ilha do Pico Vinhateira).

The Douro Valley has the oldest appellation system in the world, created nearly two hundred years ago. Other wine-making regions include the Alentejo and the Dão region. Each region has its own wine commission (Comissão Vitivinícola) supervising the quality of the wines.

Minho

The Minho region in northwest Portugal is famous for its Vinho Verde, or green wine. These wines can be either red or white and are produced from grapes that do not reach a high level of sugar. Its short fermentation period gives the wine a low alcohol content (eight to eleven percent). Known for their diuretic and digestible properties, these wines are very light and naturally gassy. Among the most well known brands are the Soalheiro, Palácio da Brejoeira and Vinho Alvarinho.

Douro and Port Wines (Vinho do Douro)

The Douro region is best known for its Port wine, but in this region about half the wine now produced is for table wines. The wine is produced in the Douro Valley and exported from the city of Porto, thus the name Porto (or Port in English-speaking countries). The production of Port is subject to very strict regulations. It is classified according to the grape crops, sugar content, the amount of alcohol added, age and type of wood of the barrels that are used in the aging process.

More than 40 varieties of grapes are used for making Port, and there are essentially two categories: red and wood-aged. The red Ports develop after bottling and are deeper in colour, whereas the wood-aged Ports, which include tawny ports, are ready for consumption once bottled. White Port is in a category of its own and may be sweet or not so sweet and can have a lower alcohol content than the normal 20 percent for Port.

Dão

Dão wine is produced in a mountainous area in the north, where the mountains protect the grapes (castas) from maritime and continental influences. Both red and white wines are produced here including fruity reds for younger drinking and dry white wines. It is often said that the Dão region produces some of the best wines in Portugal including the Grão Vasco and the Aliança.

Bairrada

In this region the Baga grape dominates, producing wine that has a smoky or pine needle taste that needs time to soften. The name Bairrada comes from Barros (clay) due to the region's soil. Wines produced include red, white and table wine but the most well known is its sparkling wine, the Conde de Cantanhede and also the Marquês de Marialva.

Setúbal

The Serra da Arrábida to the south of Lisbon is best known for its sweet fortified Muscat wine, known as Moscatel de Setúbal. The region also produces red table wine and the most well known wine is the Moscatel Roxo, a wine that is only sold after twenty years aging in a cellar.

Alentejo

Probably the preferred wine of consumers in Portugal, the Alentejo region in southern Portugal produces 12 percent of the nation's wine. Wines produced include a slightly acidic red, and fruity white wines. Wines from this region are widely exported, notably to China.

Madeira wine

The cultivation of vineyards began in the fifteenth century with vines that came from Crete. This unfortified Madeira brought by ships stopping at Funchal was often spoiled during the voyage so shippers started adding spirits to make it better. The wine improved after a long, hot voyage and at one time barrels of Madeira were used as ballast in ships making long journeys, thus giving the wine ample time to heat. This method was replaced by the estufa method, which consists of heating the wine to between 30°C and 60°C for three months to a year in order to speed up the ageing process. Furthermore, the wine is exposed to the air causing it to oxidise.

There are four major types of Madeira wine: Malvasia (also known as Malmsey), Bual (or Boal), Verdelho and Sercial. Most Madeira is made from the Tinta Negra Mole grape, which is often blended with one of these four noble varieties. Madeira can be sold as a vintage wine with a specific age when it is aged in casks for more than fifteen years or as a blended wine with a minimum age of three or ten years. Vintage Madeira from as far back as the 1850s is still available for sale and the oldest surviving bottle of Madeira dates from 1722.

Further Information

  • Vini Portugal - Portuguese association for the promotion of Portuguese wines
  • Information on Madeira wine from Wikipedia