Discovering Portugal's Infinite Wine Variety
Portuguese wine is impressively varied for such a small country. Styles range from the cool, fresh whites of the north to the big, bold reds of the south, with everything in between.
The variety of wine styles produced is as vast as the country’s varied topography. From the lush, rainy north to the parched south, an astonishing range of grape varieties are grown, each perfectly suited to the diverse terrain.
Over the centuries, regions have specialized in specific varieties.
Beginning in the north, in Vinho Verde, rich and floral Alvarinho makes the greatest wines, recently joined in quality by intensely fruity Loureiro. In the Douro, just to the south and east, Portugal’s national grape—the perfumed, rich and tannic Touriga Nacional—is blended with Tinta Roriz, Portugal’s version of Tempranillo, in a new generation of table wines.
The Dão—a stark, granite region in the shadow of the Serra da Estrela mountains—has its distinct own varieties. It can lay claim to being the home of Touriga Nacional, which blends beautifully with the dark and aromatic Alfrocheiro in some of the country’s greatest reds. The Dão also offers Portugal’s answer to white Burgundy—the rich, oak-aged wines made from Encruzado.
The country’s oceanic climate produces some welcome surprises. The tough, tannic and impressively long-lived Baga is planted almost within sight of the sea in Bairrada. And in Lisboa, close to the country’s capital of Lisbon, the native grape Arinto makes fresh white wines.
The cork-oak and vine-covered Alentejo is the hottest region in Portugal, and to go with the heat is the red-fleshed Alicante Bouschet, which producers are increasingly turning into dense wines of great staying power.
Portugal’s strength and its dilemma is its vast diversity. Me, I’m hooked on the wonderful, sometimes wild tastes that you can find in the wines reviewed in this issue.
6 White Wines from Vinho Verde and Dão
Anselmo Mendes 2013 Curtimenta (Vinho Verde); $NA, 93 points. Unusual for Vinho Verde, this wine was aged in wood for nine months, resulting in a rich, full-bodied character. It’s ripe, full of yellow fruits and crisp pear flavors, shot through with lemon acidity. What it potentially lacks in freshness it makes up for in intensity and depth of flavor. Drink from 2016. Aidil Wines/Old World Import.
Provam 2012 Vinha Antiga Escolha (Vinho Verde); $NA, 93 points. This is no ordinary Vinho Verde. With its rich Alvarinho flavors, it is a wine that can be aged. The mouthfeel is full in green plum and ripe apricot flavors, and textured by a great swathe of fresh, tangy citrus. It can be drunk now, although it will be better from 2016. Admiral Imports.
Dão Sul 2013 Paço dos Cunhas de Santar Vinha Contador (Dão); $37, 92 points. Produced from vines in the heart of Dão, just south of Viseu, this is a rich, ripely tropical wine. It has a great perfume from the Malvasia Fina in the blend, along with fresher acidity. Generous and full in the mouth, it is delicious and ready to drink now. Aidil Wines/Old World Import.
Casa do Valle 2014 Grand Escolha (Vinho Verde); $18, 91 points. The top wine from this estate, situated in the hills of southeastern Vinho Verde, this is a rich, creamy wine, full of ripe apple and pear fruit flavors. It is dense yet fresh, perfumed with white flower aromas. The finish, like the wine, is dry. Massanois Imports. Editors’ Choice.
Quinta do Covão 2013 Encruzado (Dão); $NA, 90 points. The fragrant, delicious Encruzado is the star of this wine. Lightly toasted from wood fermentation and aging, it has great acidity that balances the fresh, bright apples and the ripe textured aftertaste. Drink from 2016. Saraiva Enterprises.
Magnum Vinhos 2014 Ribeiro Santo (Dão); $12, 89 points. Blending Encruzado and Malvasia Fina, this lightly wood-aged wine is rich, stylish and full of young fruit flavors. Green plums, apricots and a squeeze of lemon all give their bright character to the palate. There is a firm, mineral texture that promises some aging; drink from 2017. Wine In-Motion. Best Buy.
Red Wines from Douro and Alentejano
Quinta da Foz 2011 Grande Reserva (Douro); $40, 94 points. Made from a field blend of old vines, this is an impressive wine. Oak aging still shows in the toasty character, although the weight and strength of the fruit and spice flavors are coming through well. It’s complex, dark and with great richness and potential. The wine comes from the Foz Vineyard at the mouth of the Pinhão river in the heart of the Douro. Drink from 2018. Saraiva Enterprises. Cellar Selection.
Wines & Winemakers 2012 Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial (Douro); $22, 92 points. This is a super rich, dense wine. It has firm tannins and a steely, mineral edge that permeates the texture. A ripe black-plum flavor is generous while still young and full of fresh acidity. The wine needs to age, so drink from 2017. Iberia Wine & Spirits LLC. Editors’ Choice. —R.V.
Casca Wines 2012 Monte Cascas Reserva (Douro); $19, 91 points. This is a full-bodied, ripe wine that is packed with red berry and currant fruits. It is rich both in tannins and structure, giving a dry, still young character to the wine. There is a juicy element that adds freshness to the firm and concentrated aftertaste. Drink from 2017. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd. Editors’ Choice.
Herdade de São Miguel 2012 Reserva (Alentejano); $30, 92 points. This is a serious, concentrated wine. Still young, with dark tannins to go with the dark fruit, it was fermented in open tanks, a process that gives the wine extra richness. It has hints of the wood aging behind the ripe fruit and final acidity. Drink from 2017. Saraiva Enterprises.
Fitapreta Vinhos 2010 Tinto Castelão Reserva (Alentejano); $25, 89 points. More commonly found in coastal Setúbal, here, Castelão yields a fruity, soft and ready-to-drink wine. It has red berry and plum flavors and the lightest hint of tannins to give shape to the juicy core. Drink now. MoDimports.
Dão Sul 2012 Monte da Cal Reserva (Alentejano); $16, 88 points. This is a spicy, wood laden wine. It has notes of toast and burnt wood as well as a dense texture. Still young, the rich black fruits are there behind the wood flavors. It is powerful while still balanced. Drink this solid wine from 2018. Tri-Vin Imports.