What do you know about Portugal? You might be surprised
What do you know about Portugal? Sure you know the Douro Valley, where they make Port and a variety of table wines from a plethora of grapes, but that can’t be all Portugal is known for. After all, it’s a pretty big place, with a huge historical significance.
But instead of going through all 14 regions, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent ones you are likely to see on bottles these days.
Dão is high country, located in north-central Portugal. It lies 200 to 1000 metres above sea level, giving grapes the benefit of cooler nights, slower ripening times and delivering great acidity-laden wines. The area grows the usual suspects: Touriga Nacional, a staple within Portugal; Tinta Roriz (also known Tempranillo in Spain); Jaen; Baga; Tinta Pinheira; and one of my personal favourite grape names ever, Bastardo.
Bairrada is also located in the north-central area, but is more coastal, lying between the Dão and the sea. It is known for sparkling wines — which rarely see the light of day on Canadian shores. However, we do see other wines from the region, which is known traditionally for wines made from the Baga grape. In 2003, Bairrada began allowing more grapes into its wines, like Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro, plus international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot. Doing so created a greater interest in Barraida wines, both nationally and internationally.
Alentejo is one of three major wine-growing regions in Portugal. Because of its southern locale within the country and the heat units it gets, Alentejo is known mainly for its red wines. Tempranillo — or, as the locals call it, “Aragonez” (yes, yet another name for the grape) — is the most planted variety, plus there is an assortment of other unpronounceable indigenous red varieties planted. Alfrocheiro, Tinta Caiada and Castelao are common, although you are starting to see more international grapes rearing their heads within the region, namely Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Of course, there is more to explore within Portugal. With 14 official wine regions, that means there are another 11 regions that you can delve deeper into, each more fascinating and rich in history than the next. So let’s look at some of the wines that are made outside the Douro; let’s discover the alternative Portugal.
Alianca Reserve 2011, Bairrada ($9)
From another part of Portugal so there’s more than the Douro’s lush, plush fruit; here dark red cherries meet leather and wood smoke.
Album Reserva Red 2013, Alentejano ($14.95)
Petit Verdot and Syrah make up 60% of this wine with Alicante Bouchet and Aragonez. You get liquorice, leather and red fruit. There’s a nice peppery finish that seems a little short — which just means you have to sip quicker.
Beyra 2014 Vinhos de Altitude Red 2014, Beira Interior ($12.95)
I had a friend tell me this was the best bargain from Portugal he’s had in a long time. With its red fruit flavours and touch of spice, you can see why it’s such an excellent value.
Lagrar de Darei Red 2012, Dão ($13.95)
A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrochiero, so you’re hitting all the big guns of the region in one bottle. There’s a real leanness to this wine, but enough dark fruit and minerality to keep you interested.
Principium Merlot/Touriga Nacional 2012, Lisboa ($13.95)
Merlot meets Touriga Nacional may not be the greatest marriage of grapes you’ve ever had but it intrigues the palate with its interesting herbal, cherry and earthy notes.
Niepoort Dão Rótulo Red 2013, Dão ($18.95)
Notes of rhubarb and cherry mix with acidity and firm tannins; not a wine rich in fruit but one that will pair nicely with food.
Quinta das Setencostas Alenquer 2012, Alenquer ($13.95)
Chalky and minerally but still with pleasant plum, cherry, vanilla and cinnamon flavours.
Quinta do Quetzal Guadalupe Winemaker’s Selection Red 2012, Alentejano ($15.95)
Herbal and spice lead things off with cherry, plum, vanilla flavours and an elegant leanness that makes it truly inviting as a sipper or with food.
Herdade Peso Trinca Bolotas Tinto 2014, Alentejo ($15.95)
Juicy and sweet-ish notes with black cherry, black raspberry and balsamic strawberry on the finish.
Quinta do Mondego 2010, Dão ($19.95)
Comes across a little lean at first due to the more mineral nature of this wine, but then the dark fruit and balancing acidity help to bring it back to life.
Quinta de Camarate Red 2014, Setubal ($15.95)
16% Cabernet Sauvignon stages a sit-in here among the indigenous grapes. Fresh, ripe red and black fruit, a touch of cedar and some spicy nuances.
Herdade do Rocim 2012, Alentejano ($17.95)
A blend of indigenous grapes that includes Syrah in their midst. Plum, cherry, gentle cedar, spice and nicely lingering acidity on the finish.
Vadio Tinto 2012, Bairrada ($22.95)
Proving that simple can be truly flavourful, this one is gentle vanilla, black cherry and white pepper.
Quinta do Quetzal Guadalupe Red 2013, Alentejano ($11.95)
It’s got lots of red cherry and plum for not a lot of dough. Another wine that shows simplicity can still be exciting.
Marquês de Marialva Reserva Baga 2011, Bairrada ($15.95)
Coffee aromas with earthy-blackberry, plus raspberry and balsamic strawberries. Baga can be an acquired taste and a tough place to start your Portuguese exploration, so be careful with this grape; it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Quinta do Encontro Preto Branco Reserva Red 2013, Bairrada ($18.95)
Smoky blackberry, black cherry, plum and black tea from beginning to end.
Casa da Passarella Somontes Red 2011, Dão ($13.95)
Elements of spice intermingle with minerality, plum and liquorice flavours.
*Top photo features the three winemakers at Principium: Manuel Vieira, Maria Godinho and Manuel Pires da Silva