Do you refrain from ordering some wines because you’re unfamiliar with the grape variety or the name? Turns out most people stick to what they know. I for one, choose my wines based on flavour profiles and tasting notes associated with specific grape varieties. It’s taken me a while to learn what I like, and for that reason, for reds, I usually stick to Malbec, Cabernet, Sangiovese and Pinotage (not very well-known but oh so good!). And for whites, my go-to choices are Chardonnay or Pouilly-Fumé. Marketing plays a significant role in a wine’s popularity, and this is becoming more evident the more I travel and discover different wines around the world. Pinotage became a new favourite while visiting vineyards in Stellenbosch and I hadn’t heard of it before. Assyrtiko was another great find on our recent trip to Santorini and is now on my radar. The newest addition to my favourites list are the wines of Portugal.
On our recent trip to Portugal, I found myself struggling on what wines to order since none of the names were familiar. In fact, the lists of Portuguese wines did not include any of the better-known varieties. So instead of avoiding these wines, I decided to taste several. Sometimes it is necessary to indulge a little, all for the sake of research, of course. And it helped me get familiar with these underrated wines because that’s what they are, hugely underrated.
Portugal Wine Guide
So why aren’t Portuguese wines more popular? The answer is distribution, availability and marketing. Well, let’s change that! It is all about supply and demand, if you don’t ask for something stores have no reason to carry the inventory. But before you can ask for something, it is essential to know what you are asking for. And in this case, that would be what Portuguese wine to buy.
The easiest way to familiarise yourself with Portuguese wines is to drink lots (most effective), or you can compare them to popular varieties. Although the first option is more appealing, the latter may prove more beneficial when ordering a bottle in a restaurant. For that reason, I’ve put together a Portuguese wine guide for reds and whites based on comparables. Example: Portuguese wine like Malbec. But first let’s take a look at a few basics.
Portuguese Wine Regions
There are 14 Portuguese wine regions: Minho (Vinho Verde), Transmontano, Dão, Douro Valley, Terras de Cister, Beira Atlantico, Beira Interior, Lisboa, Alentejo, Tejo, Setúbal, Algarve, Madeira and Açores. These regions produce 250 native grape varieties, and some aren’t grown anywhere else in the world. It’s also interesting to note that Portugal has more indigenous wine varieties than any other country in the world.
The A-Listers Vs. The Who’s That?
Before we dive into the different types of Portuguese wine, let’s take a look at those that have proper distribution, availability and are well marketed all over the world. The A-listers of the wine world. Some well-known reds, include Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sangiovese and more. The more well-known whites include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and more. But wouldn’t it be nice to know more about other wines that don’t get the same love or attention as the usual suspects?
Why not try a nice Douro red, Alicante Bouschet, Jaen or Arinto,? Would you know any of the flavour profiles that make up these wines? I know the first thing I would do if I saw any of these names on a menu is pull out my phone and ask Google. Luckily, I am going to save you from embarrassing yourself and help you pretend you’re a wine connoisseur. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?
Wines of Portugal Like Other Well-Known Reds
Like Sangiovese or Tempranillo
Tinta Roriz found in the Dão, Ribatejo/Tejo and Lisboa regions, also known as Aragonez in Alentejo, is the same grape as Spain’s Tempranillo and the closest to Sangiovese. If you are looking for a medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavours or fruit and floral notes, this is your best choice.
Grenache contains a higher level of alcohol which results in a medium-bodied taste. Depending on where Grenache is grown it can have aromas of oranges and grapefruits or notes of dried oregano and tobacco. If you like wines like Carignan, Grenache or Dolcetto, you will enjoy Trincadeira from the Alentejo region.
Like Malbec or Merlot Blends
A nice Argentian Malbec usually has flavours like raspberry, red berry, mulberry, cocoa powder, leather and sometimes a tobacco finish. Touriga Franca from the Douro Valley and also found in Alentejo, the Tejo, the Beiras, and the areas around Lisbon.
Like Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir’s wine profile consists of cranberry, raspberry and cherry fruit flavours. It also has notes of vanilla, caramel, licorice, tobacco and mushroom For some of the best Portuguese wines like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, look for Baga from the region of Barraida.
Like Cabernet Franc
With aromas like forest floor, green pepper and flowers, Cabernet Franc is light in colour, has rich fruit flavours, and is high in tannins. Castelão, also known as Periquita, from the Sétubal Peninsula is your Portuguese wine alternative to Cabernet Franc.
Like Cabernet Sauvignon Blends, Petite Sirah or Fuller-Bodied Shiraz
Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied dry red wine with a deep red colour. Some of its flavour characteristics include black cherry, black pepper, tobacco, blackberry, licorice and vanilla. The Portuguese wine that is most like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah or fuller-bodied Shiraz is the Touriga Nacional of the Douro region.
Wines of Portugal Like Other Well-Known Whites
Chardonnay is one of the most famous wines in its category and the most similar to Alentejo whites like Arinto, Encruzado, and Antão Vaz. Like Chardonnay, Arinto, Encruzado and Antão Vaz can vary in taste depending on the climate where the grape is grown. They can be light and citrusy or full-bodied and buttery.
Like Viognier, Roussanne or Torrontés
Viognier is typically a full-bodied white wine with aromas of peach, tangerine and honeysuckle with a creamy taste and hints of vanilla. Fernão Pires is closest to Viognier and is found in almost all Portuguese wine regions. It is also known as Maria Gomes in the Ribatejo and Bairrada regions, where it is considered the best.
Like Pinot Grigio
Like Riesling (dry), Pinot Blanc or Chenin Blanc (dry)
Like Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is known for its green and herbaceous flavours like green pepper and grass, hence the similarity to Vinho Verde from Minho. Other fruit flavours that make-up Sauvignon Blanc are lime, green apple, passion fruit and white peach.
I hope ‘Wines of Portugal: A Guide for Dummies’ comes in handy and helps you pick the perfect bottle of wine. I know I will do my part in creating a demand for the underrated wine of Portugal, but I expect a little help! So get out there and start asking for Portuguese wine.
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Disclosure: I am one of the dummies this article was written for. I am not a wine connoisseur, I just really like to drink the grape juice. The research on the topic was done for selfish reasons. And after realizing that there are other people like myself that don't know much about the wines of Portugal, I thought I'd share my findings. You're welcome.
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