A short introduction to Portuguese wine and where you can find it

If you ask anyone about to visit Portugal to name the top associations they have with Portugal, chances are that wine will be one of them. As such, with the mission of providing the most authentic tours and information about traveling in Portugal, the Rootfarers’ blog couldn’t be complete without an article on Portuguese wine of course! We already wrote on food, we were missing something on Wine! We could easily spend hours and hours dissecting this subject and still, we wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the subject. As such, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep our post short and simple!

Before jumping in, let us go waaay back and ask ourselves how the hell did wine get to Portugal in the first place? Funny enough, wine wasn’t “invented” in Europe as one would suspect. Instead, most scholars trace the birthplace of winemaking to Georgia in c.6000 BC with evidence of consumption of a similar beverage also discovered in China in c.7000 BC. Eventually, with the evolution of ancient civilizations such as the Phoenicians and the Greeks, and the Carthaginians and Romans later on, wine began to spread to Europe becoming widely available in the 7th century BC.

In Portugal, wine production became a reality in the 4th century BC. Later on, when the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 2nd century BC, they put great emphasis on expanding viticulture in Lusitania (Roman province in what is now most Portugal), especially in the Southern regions, in what is now considered Alentejo in Portugal. At that point, modern wine production was still sci-fi so wine was fermented and produced using huge clay jugs (sometimes the size of a man). Quality was hard to maintain and therefore, exports were still relatively limited despite the ingenious efforts to preserve wine on long journeys.

Anyway, since then, wine production in Portugal has had its ups and downs: the barbarian invasions and the moor occupation that followed did very little of preserve or improve the still young winemaking tradition. The Middle Ages of course improved the situation, mostly due to the religious significance of the beverage, but it wasn’t until the early 18thcentury that the modern era of Portuguese wine exports began, following the signing of the Methuen Treaty with England in 1703.

While scholars debate the true benefits of this contract (as the Portuguese productive structure and institutions were fashioned only towards wine thus forgetting the remaining sectors), one can’t deny that it was from this point onwards that the modern history of Portuguese wine began. It was in the years that followed that most reputable Port Wine brands were established by British merchants with an eye for quality products: Crofts, Taylor’s and Sandeman just to name a few. Since then, wine production has evolved quite substantially to a point where Portuguese wines make up roughly 1% of Worldwide market volume, with a yearly production of 3Mi Hectoliters (Spain is the biggest with 7% market share). More than quantity, Portuguese wines are known for their outstanding quality and variety, which is mostly related with the soil quality, climate diversity, as well as the huge number of different native grapes used in our winemaking. Portuguese wine is indeed of excellent quality and the proof is the huge number of prizes and accolades given to Portuguese wines as well as the sheer price tag that some wines hold in the international auctions houses (A recent Christies’ auction led to a 1796 Madeira Wine to be sold for a mere $16.000).

MAP WITH THE PORTUGUESE WINE REGIONS (Source: Wines of Portugal)

 

Anyway, if you’re reading this article you’re probably seeking tips on where to find a Portuguese wine immersion and good quality wine-tours. Rest assured, with more than 250 grape varieties and 14 wine regions, Portugal has plenty of wine-related offerings. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve selected 5 wine regions you can visit:

Douro wine region (Roughly 1,5h driving from Porto and 4h from Lisbon)

BREATHTAKING VIEW OF THE DOURO RIVER

While the Alentejo wine region is probably older than the Douro wine region, it’s the Douro that’s usually recognized as the premium wine region of Portugal. Originally mostly a producer of Port Wine (a type of fortified wine – usually 18% alcohol level), this region also produces some of the best table wine varieties in the World, in particular, red wines known for the high presence of tannins and the ability to age well over the years. Some recommendations from Rootfarers:

 

Alentejo wine region (Roughly 1,5 driving from Lisbon and 4h from Lisbon)

VINEYARD DURING WINTER

The Alentejo region is rich in high-quality agricultural products such as olive oil, cheese, pork and of course wine! The original wine producing region of Portugal, it’s now the second biggest producer by volume (preceded by the Douro and followed by Lisbon region). The local wine is a good match for the region’s extraordinary cuisine: young, soft and fruity it’s an excellent companion to local cheeses and hams.

 

Setúbal: (Roughly 30min driving from Lisbon and 3,5h from Porto)

Just 30min South of Lisbon, the Setúbal Wine Region is a protected region ever since 1997, but wine production has been taking place ever since the influence with the Carthaginians started in the 5th century BC. It’s best known for its fortified wines (17-18% alcohol level), particularly the ones that use the Moscatel grape variety. That being said, you can always find good quality Red wines as well.

 

Minho: (30min driving from Porto and 4h from Lisbon)

WINE TOUR IN QUINTA DA AVELEDA WITH ROOTFARERS

Wine from Minho mostly comes in the form of “Vinho Verde”. It directly translates to green wine, but the intent is to classify it as a young wine since the wine is usually released just 6 months after the harvest. It’s produced mostly in white, red and Rosé varieties, and while it might not be the most international of Portuguese wines, it’s probably one of the “easiest wines” to drink.  It goes really well in the Summer with Seafood!

 

  • Island Wines (Check flights from the mainland and from the USA)

A post about Portuguese wines couldn’t be complete without mentioning wines from the two Portuguese archipelagos on the Atlantic Ocean: Azores and Madeira. Wines from the Azores are mostly from the volcanic island of Pico. They’re planted in soil that’s surrounded by volcanic rocks, giving it a unique character and body. Located to the South of the Azores, Madeira is world famous for its fortified wine, similar to Port and Moscatel from the mainland. Funny fact: Madeira wine was and still is quite famous in the US. Its qualities were widely appreciated by the American founding fathers, and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

 

Rootfarers,

Authentic tours for authentic travelers