Portuguese Wine

Portuguese wine is the result of traditions introduced to the region by ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians, but mainly the Romans. Portugal started to export its wines to Rome during the Roman Empire. Modern exports developed with English trading after the Methuen Treaty in 1703. From this commerce a wide variety of wines started to be made in Portugal and in 1758, one of the first official wine-producing regions of the world, the Região Demarcada do Douro was created under the auspices of the Marquis of Pombal, in the Douro Valley. Portugal has two wine producing regions protected by UNESCO as World Heritage sites: the Douro Valley Wine Region (Douro Vinhateiro) and Pico Island Wine Region (Ilha do Pico Vinhateira).

Portugal possesses a wide range of native varietals, producing an abundant variety of different wines. This range of grape varietals contributes as significantly as the soil and climate to wine differentiation, producing distinctive wines from the Northern regions to the Madeira Islands, and from the Algarve to the Azores. In Portugal only some grape varieties or ‘castas’ are authorised or endorsed in the Demarcated regions.

The major Portuguese wine varieties and regions are:

Vinho VerdeDuoro ValleyDãoBairradaAlentejoColares
Produced from grapes which do not contain very high levels of residual sugar and does not therefore benefit from the ageing process. Vinho Verde wines are now largely exported, and are the most exported Portuguese wines after Port. The most popular style both in Portugal and abroad are the white wines, but red and some rosé wine is also made. A notable variety of Vinho Verde is Vinho Alvarinho, a special variety of white Vinho Verde. The production of Alvarinho is restricted by EU law to a small sub-region of Monção in the northern part of the Minho region. It has more alcohol (11.5 to 13%) than the other varieties (8 to 11.5%).
Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Port originally came about as the table wines of the region were considered to be a bitter tasting wine and in order to prevent spoilage during the voyage from Portugal to England, the English decided to add a wine brandy known as aguardente. The first documented commercial transactions appearing in registries of exports date from as far back as 1679. Famous Port houses include the likes of Graham’s, Taylor, Fonseca, Warre, Dow, Barros and Krohn.

Over a hundred different grape varieties are sanctioned for the production of port, although only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are widely cultivated and used.

Douro table wines originate from the same region as port wines. The style of these (mostly red) wines range from a light, Bordeaux style to rich Burgundian style wines aged in new oak.
From the Região Demarcada do Dão, a region demarcated in 1908, although some measures were put in place to protect this wine as early as 1390. Dão wine is produced in a mountainous region with a temperate climate in the area of the Mondego and Dão Rivers in the northern region of central Portugal. These mountains protect the vineyards from maritime and continental influences.
Bairrada is produced in the Região Demarcada da Bairrada. The name comes from “barros” (clay) after the heavy clay soils of the region. Although the region was classified in 1979, it is an ancient vineyard area. The vines grow exposed to the sun, favouring long ripening of the grapes. The Baga variety is commonly used in the wines of the region. Bairrada produces white and red wines and is also notable for its sparkling natural wine.
The Alentejo is located in the southern half of Portugal, covering about a third of the country and is quite sparsely populated. The region is noted for its extensive cork forests but in recent years has also attracted considerable attention for its table wine production.
Colares wines are produced in the sandy vineyards outside Lisbon, between the foothills of Sintra and Cape Roca. Due to Lisbon’s urban sprawl, the land available for new vineyards has become so small that demand always outstrips production, making it one of the most expensive Portuguese wines.

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