Friday, April 17, 2015


Portugal Wines Minus Madeira and Port... Ok, maybe a bit of Port and Madeira

With the aforementioned decline in the sales of fortified wines, Portugal is looking to do something with all of its extra grapes.  Don't get me wrong, Portugal has made wine, and good wine at that for years like their Iberian Brothers in Spain.  They have all the makings of a world superpower in wine.  Great topography, various micro climates, wonderful soils, wine making technologies, passionate winemakers, and a food and wine oriented culture. 

What they do not have is the same history of the French getting all up in their stuff.  Remember that part of the history and reasons for Spain becoming a wine superpower stems from the phyloxera issues in Bordeaux, and the French wandering until they found a place with grapes that could make good wine.  In Portugal, they had no such luck.  Thus, Spain's neighbor is stuck being known for their fortified wines, and much less known for their still unfortified wines.  It is not good wines that Portugal is lacking, because they have plenty of that, it is good marketing.  In the face of the international palate requiring the usual suspects of grapes, Cab, Merlot, Pinot, etc, Portugal remains steadfast in its commitment to its native berries.  This may make it confusing for many who know they like Cabernet, but are less sure about Touriga Nacional as a grape.  Perhaps this will motivate you to go out and learn more about the value wines of Portugal.

The story of Portugal and wine goes WAY back in time to the Phoenicians, but the Greeks, Celts, and Romans also played a role.  Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal explored the region vastly thus claiming Madeira.  To endear themselves with the local people, they set fire to the island so that it could better be farmed.  Madeira became a great port of trade, and thus the wine was distributed throughout the region.

The reason Portugal became known for their fortified wines was this trade.  As mentioned in the last blog, fortified wines traveled better by ship, and thus alcohol was added to the wine as a preservative.  Port has the exact same history as Madeira in that regard.

Due to climate and worldly bad luck, mildew impacted Portugal  in the 1850s and phylloxera hit the Douro in 1876.  Only Colares near Lisboa was spared from the louse due to its sandy soils.  This was devastating to Portugal as it was to the rest of the world.

Cork Tree
In the wake of the Phylloxera epidemic, many of the vineyards were never replanted, and Portugal instead turned to the cork industry.  To this day, Portugal remains the number one producer of natural cork in the world.

In the 1930's Portugal instated the Junta Nacional do Vinhos again kickstarting the wine industry.  Part of this was the consolidation of small vineyards into co-ops, and in doing so, the quality suffered.  Portugal is now part of the EU, and in this transition, the co-ops have lost their power.  Government grants have lead to small estates (Quintas) popping up again and making their own wines.  They have since put in a new appellation system DOC, and since have complied with the EU transitioning to the DOP system.  Portugal's Table wines have a long history of varied quality, but I am optimistic that the unique wines being produced and the increase in quality will lead to Portugal producing wines that will be very prevalent in the US in coming years.

In order of "Quality" wines from portugal can be found from IGP, (Table wine) to VR (Regional Wine) to DOP (Best).  Many of the lesser wines are produced in the DOP regions but either do not live up to the requirements, or the wine makers chose not to follow the laws.

Portugal has 14 IGPs which include Minho, Transmontano, Duriense, Terras de Dao, Terras de Cister, Terras de Beira, Beira Atlantico, Tejo, Lisboa, Alentejano, Peninsula de setubal Algarve, Terras Madeirenses, and finally Acores.  The climate is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean in the North and the Mediterranean Sea in the south.  Temparatures are similar to much of Spain.  As a location gets closer to the Atlantic, it gets cooler, and wetter.  It is therefore dryer and hotter as you travel inland with the driest region being the Douro Valley.

Some definitions to know before we go on include Garrafeira (Private wine cellar) which requires reds or (Tinto) wines to be aged 30 months including at least 12 in a bottle.  White wines must be aged a minimum of 12 months with at least 6 in bottle.  Vintage Garrafeira Port is aged for 8 years in glass, and finally Portugese Riserva wines must have higher Abv (.5% higher than standard wines) .  Sparkling wines must be aged 12 months on lees to gain reserva status.  Colheita Seleccionada must be 1% higher abv or more and all of this may be more strict than national laws depending on the region.

There are over 200 local grapes (Castas) grown in Portugal (I will not cover them all, don't worry).  The most prevalent grape grown is a red grape called Castelao (or Periquita) which is a red grape that produces meaty, full bodied red wines with tannins, and red fruit.   While Periquita is the most popular, the best grape in the region is Touriga Nacional.  Touriga Nacional is used in port, but also can be made into table wines.  It is a dark, inky full bodied grape that makes great structured, ageable wines.  Most of the countries best wines are a blend of Touriga Nacional that have been aged in French Oak.  Other names for the grape include Bical Tinto and Mortagua Preto.

Other reds of note are Alfrocheiro, Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela), Baga and Aragonez (Tinta Roriz or in Spain, known as Tempranillo).

White wines are also produced.  Fernao Pires (Maria Gomes) is the most planted white in the country.  It is an early-ripening aromatic grape that is largely produced in Bairrada and Tejo.  It produces honeyed wines that are prone to oxidation and low acidity.  Encruzado is a grape from the Dao that produces much more elegant wines with floral and citrus notes that gain a nuttiness when aged.  Oak is sometimes used with Encruzado benefiting the wine's complexity.

Arinto is an old grape variatal native to Portugal.  It produces mineral driven wines and is grown everwhere, with the best examples coming from Bucelas.  Antao Vaz is important in Alentejano and Alvarinho (Same as albarino in Spain) is also beautiful as its Spanish sister.  Sercial is a high acidic grape used in the making of Madeira and is known as Esgana Cao (THE DOG STRANGLER) on the mainland.  It is NOT Cercial which is used in the Dao in its white blends.  These two grapes despite being homophones are genetically distinct.

In Portugal, all wines must be at least 85% from the region stated on the bottle to claim that region.  In other words, if a wine contains 85% of its grapes from the Douro, they can claim the appellation.  If it is 80 percent, they cannot. 

So with that, lets start going through the DOPs of Portugal.  The first DOP that we will look at is in the tip of the Northwestern corner of the country.  Minho and Vinho Verde .  The two Appellations share the same geographic boundries.  It is cool and rainy, and influenced heavily by the Atlantic ocean.  This is the area of Rot, so the vines grow and are trellised high off the ground in a Enforcado system.  They grow high and create a canopy, under which grow other crops, thus limiting the risk of disease.  Vinho Verde means GREEN WINE.  This is not toxic waste, it is green in that it is young.  There is red and white made in this region as well as rosado, but no green colored wine anywhere to be found.  The region borders the Minho river and actually meet up with Spains vineyards of the Rias Baixas.  The soils are granite in the best vineyards.

Loureiro is the most prevelant grape in Vinhno Verde but they also grow Trajadura (Treixadura, Avesso, Pederna (Arinto), and Alvarinho (Albarino).  Red wines are made from Vinhao (Teinturier), Espadeiro, Borracal and Alvarelhao but are rarely exported.  

The white wines of the region are often light and floral with high acidity and low levels of alcohol.  Additionally the wine is a bit fizzy quite often do to CO2 which is injected just before bottling.  Teh reds also sparkle a bit due to Malolactic bacteria that does its thing in the bottle.  All of these wines should be drunk in the year of their release.

Vinho Verde can be broken into 9 subregions including Moncao e Melgaco, Lima, Cavado, Ave, Basto, Sousa, amarante, Paiva, and Baiao.

East of Transmontano IGP (Tras-as-Montes DOP) is located just east of Minho on the spanish border.  There are 3 sub-regions here  that are disconnected.  These are Chaves, Valpacos and Planalto Mirandes.  Here it is dry, hot and full of mountains.  As a result the wines are ripe, full bodied and in high mountain vineyards, you still get ripeness but the acid is better maintained.

Red grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Bastardo (Trousseau, Toriga Francesa, and Trincadeira.  White grapes include Fernao Pires, Siria, Viosinho, Fouveio, Malvasia Fina, and Rabigato (All household names of course).  Interestingly Douro and Porto were once included in this region prior to the creation of the Duriense IGP.

As mentioned above the Tras-os-Montes DOP is made up of the sub-zones Chaves, Valpacos and Planalto Mirandes.  They require min abv as follows:

Branco and Rosado 11%
Tinto:  11.5%
Vinho Espumante:  10%
Vinho Licoroso (Fortified): 16.5%

Sparkling wine must be aged for 12-24 months for Riserva, 24-36 months for extra reserva, and a min of 3 years for Grande Riserva/Reserva Velha.

Duriense contains both Douro and Porto.  Duriense IGP is a thin IGP in the Eastern mountains of the Douro River Valley and sits just south of the Transmontano.  This was the first protected wine region in Portugal.  The vineyards here hug the river and are situated up the sloping clifs.  Here there is a continental climate with severe hot summers and cold winters.  It is also dry and gets drier as you approach Spain.

There are 3 subzones in the Duriense.  The Baixo Corgo has the hghiest density of plantings, the Cima Corgo with the highest vineyard acreage, and the Douro Superior which stretches to the Spanish border.  Table wines and some Licoroso Moscatel do Douro are produced in the Douro DOP as well as Porto under Porto DOP.  50% of the wine released in the region is port.

The Douro produces red, white and rosado wines and the list of grapes are mostly the same as those for port.  Reds include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao, and Tinta Barroca.  whites include Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Rabigato, and Gouveio.  These wines range from fruity and fresh to big and  and bruting.  Moscatel Galego is used for fortified wines which may be aged like a tawny port.

Douro Riserva wines must have at least 11.5% or 12% for white and rosado wines or red wines respectively.White riserva must be aged 6 months and red must be aged a year,  They must also achieve through the IVDP exceptional reviews in blind tastings to use the term Riserva.  Colheita Tardia (Sweet wines) may be produced as Douro DOP. 

Beiras is South of Duriense and Minho spanning the whole width of the country.  This region used to be one IGP, but it has since been divided into 4 new regions.  These include Terras do Dac, Terras de Cister, Terras da Beira and finally Beira Atlantico.  Dao DOP and Lafoes DOP lie within the newly unveiled Terras do Dao IGP wich borders Minho IGP to the north and claims a huge portion of the former Beiras inland area.  Bairrada DOP is located on the Atlantic coast with a sub-zone called Terras do Sico.  Tavora-Carosa DOP  produces sparkling wine in a small appellation.  Finally Beira Interior DOP is a larger appelation that shares a border with Spain.  Here most of the wine is bottled by co-ops.  It too contains three sub-zones Beira Castelo Rodrigo, Cova da Beira and Pinhel.

The wines produced here must have 11% abv for whites, Branco Seleccao 12%, Tinto 12%, Tinto Seleccao 13%, Tinto Palhete 11.5% and Espumante 11%.  Whites must be aged for 6 months, reds 12 months and espumante 9 months on lees.

In Dao DOP some of Portugal's best dry reds are produced.  Criticized by many for their lack of fruit, they now emphasize freshness. Touriga Nacional is a major component of these wines, which are usually more elegant than their bruiting Douro counterparts.  Dao is between three mountains which shield it from the Atlantic climate and from rain.  Granite soils are everwhere do to the mountains, and thus the fines struggle and maintain their acidity for balance.  Dao producers may label their wines Farrafeira according to the standard aging but min ABV must  be 11.5% from the 11 typically required.  Reserva wines must be aged 2 years for red and 6 months for whites.

Another designation is Nobre wines which require a minimum of 15% Touriga Nacional and a max of 85% Jaen Rufete, Alfrocheiro and Aragonex.  They must age for a min of three years and be at least 12 percent abv.  White Nobre wines must contain a min of 15%Encruzado and a max of 85% cercial bical, malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  They undergo one year of aging and must have 11.5% Abv.  Due to the ging and alcohol, Nobre wines may be labled as either Reserva or Garrafeira.  Nobre reserva reds are aged 42 months while whites are aged for a year.  Red nobre Garrafeira require 48 months aging including 18 in bottle and whites require 18 months total aging with nine spend snug in a bottle.

West of Dao is Bairrada DOP.  Bairrada experiences a colder damper climate.  Bairrada produces mostly reds although both whites and Rosado wines are allowed.  The main grape of the region is Baga which is very astringent and thrives in clay soil.  Whites iunclude Maria Gomes and Arinto which are planted in sandier soils..

50% of reds must be the Baga grape but it may be blended with Touriga Nacional, Camarate, Castelao, Jean or Alfrocheiro.    Reds must have a minimum of 11 percent abv, but those that have 12.5% can be called Barrada Classico.  The most famous Bairrada wines are made by Luis Pato.  Look for the duck on the label.

So that concludes the trip through Northern portugal, we will now take far less time on the south.  Coastal Lisboa IGP runs south from Beiras to the capital where the Tagus River meats the Atlantic Ocean.  There are 9 DOPs here.  Bucellas, Colares, Carcavelos, arrunda, rtorres Vedras, Alenquer, Obidos, Lournha, and Encostas de Aire.  Most of the southern wines have a reputation for low quality high yield.

Alenquer and Encostas de aire in the nrth show primise, and regions nearest the capital produce wines that are frequently good.

Bucelas produces dry whites from Arinto (Min 75%), Colares produces reds and whites from ungrafted Ramisco (Red)and Malvasia (white), and Carcacelos has minimal vineyards remaining due to urban sprawl.  These are fortified wines that are aged for at least 2.5 years.

Peninsula de Setubal IGP includes the DOPs of Palmela and Setubal.  This is a Mediterranean climate.  Wines made here are made from Castelao (Reds) msut contain at least 66.7 percent of this grape.  White wines are blended with Fernao Pires and Arinto.  Rosado, espumante and Licoroso wines are also allowed.  International varieties may also be found in this region.

Tejo and Alentejano get their names form the Tagus or Tejo river.  This is a landlocked IGP with Lisboa to the west and Beiras to the North.  It is a geography like most of the south with high yealds and lower quality.  Red, white and rosado is produced from many local grapes.  Most frequent reds are made with Castelao and whites with Fernao Pires.  This is largely a white wine region.

There are 6 subregions that you are welcome to look up on wikipedia if you would like.  I am not covering them here.

Alentejano IGP covers 30 percent of Portugal's landmass.  many of the cork trees are located here. It has 8 subzones and produces largely red wines.  Traditional wine making is done in large clay pots, grapes are still trod by foot, and aging occurs in chestnut or oak barrels.  Marques de Borba reserva is the best known wine from the region with rave reviews from critics.

Algarve VR is located on the southern coast of Portugal  You won't find their wines unless you travel there as almost none is exported.  Here there are 4 DOPs.  The hot climate is not well suited for fine wines, and thus resorts have displaced vineyards in the region.

Acores make wines similar in style to Madeira.  Pico DOP are the most highly regarded of these wines, however again, few are exported.  They must have a min of 165 Abv and be aged for at least 3 years.Terras Madeirenses IGP is where Madeira and Madeirense are.  madeira is made on one side, and dry wines on the other.  These may be red, white or rosado.

If you would like to know more about the wines of the south, please feel free to comment.  I will tell you where to go.  HAHAHAHA.  Kidding of course.  One can only retain so much.


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