Portuguese Wine: The Brave New World of the Old World

By Erica Nonni

Portugal is famous for an impressive legacy of New World exploration and rich global culture. Equally significant to Portugal’s heritage is the extensive tradition of producing vibrant and dynamic wines throughout the country. Since 200 BC, generations of Portuguese winemakers have dedicated their lives to refining the winemaking process, establishing expansive vineyards throughout the country, and cultivating more than 250 native Portuguese grape varieties. Portugal’s unique terroir of diverse soils and microclimates, combined with the dedication and experience of the winemakers, yields high-quality wines that are unapologetically robust, full of complex personality and rich in unique flavors. Portuguese wine sales have grown steadily in the US (and in several other countries) in recent years as wine drinkers have become more sophisticated and curious.

Often referred to as the “New World of the Old World” and with over a thousand years of winemaking heritage, Portugal produces modern wines with classic character. Here’s a quick primer on two regions to watch:

DOURO

The terraced vineyards of the Duero River.

While this region has long been known for the famous Port wine, theDourois quickly gaining notoriety for its rich, unfortified red and white wines. Vineyards here follow the course of the powerful Douro River and grow on steep slopes along the banks and tributaries, as well as through the historic, narrow, stone-walled vine terraces in the center of the region. These beautiful terraces have been collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The three sub-regions of the Douro range in climate from desert-like to very rainy, but for the most part the region is protected from the influence of the Atlantic Ocean by the Serra do Marao mountain range. The Douro is rich in local grape varieties, such as Tinta Amarela and Sousão for reds and Gouveio and Moscatel for whites. They are often grown in vineyards of gnarled old vines that offer small yields and rich complexity.

ALENTEJO

The vines of Alentejo

The Alentejo region covers one third ofPortugaland is famous for producing very drinkable, rich and fruity reds, often found in cafés and restaurants throughoutPortugal. While many are table wines, the Alentejo’s varied soil, rolling hills and expansive plains also produce many fine red and white wines. Aragonez, Borba, Evora, Rendondo and Reguengos are most typical of the Alentejo and make smooth, balanced, easy-drinking reds. The white Antão Vaz grape is the most popular in the region, while Diagalves, Manteúdo, Perrum and Rabo de Ovelha are common in blends. Many of the famous Alentejo Vinho Regional reds are now made with imported Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now that we know a bit more about these two masterful regions, I’d like to share with you the recent experiences I’ve had with two very special Portuguese wines. Erica Nonni, the author of the above piece was willing to share two gems that truly made an impression. I heavily suggest that the next time you decide to select a nice wine, venture into the Portuguese section and select something slightly above what you’d “expect” to pay. You’ll be rewarded by a full-bodied richness that is Portugal.

Here are my thoughts…

2009 Alente Premium Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alentejo (Portugal)

This was a wonderfully expressive value wine. Alluring vanilla and deep red fruit aromas transfer to creamy red fruit and Macintosh apple skin with smooth tannins and bright acid. Very even and pleasant throughout. This is a terrific find! Senel Wine – 91 pts

2008 P+S Prats & Symington Chryseia, Duero (Portugal)

Deep and powerful blackberries and dark chocolate aromas lure you in to deep, almost pungent plum and black fruit, licorice and black pepper. It’s nice acid helps to lift it up and prevent it from being brooding. Medium plus finish with woody tannins. Senel Wine – 91 pts

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