The 2011 Hot List: Portugal
Tradition keeps this country's wines interesting
Like most global wine regions, Portugal is a country in transition. With the changing times, Portugal is producing more high-quality table wine than ever before, often at very consumer-friendly prices. Wines are still changing, but we are seeing more export-friendly blends and styles suitable to pair with a variety of cuisines and palates.
This is primarily being accomplished in the vineyard, with better growing techniques, more organic and biodynamic production, winemaking with an eye to global preferences and a Portuguese consumer more accepting of these styles.
Thankfully, we see a preservation of traditional varieties in these new wines, rather than widespread plantings of international varieties such as chardonnay or cabernet. There is some experimentation with these grapes, but most are only used to supplement blends rather than serve as the core grape.
While the famous fortified wines such as port and, to a lesser extent, madeira will probably still take the centre stage of Portuguese wine for consumers in Canada, its table wines are the ones to find.
Vinho verde has changed significantly in the last decade or so, becoming drier, crisper and richer, though still intended for drinking rather than for cellaring. The relatively new rosé wines produced in the region are typically slightly sweet, but refreshing; they should be on the patios and decks of Canadians this summer. The Douro’s red table wines continue to come into their own, with pricing ranging from “everyday” to “special occasion,” and the region still produces full-bodied, age-worthy reds and a handful of whites.
Dão and Bairrada have been busy as well, but Canadians do not typically see much wine from these spots. Giving some of the Spanish reds a run for their money are the Alentejo’s red wines: spicy, dry reds that are low in tannins, food-friendly and suitable even for summer drinking.
Prominent Wine Regions in Portugal
Alentejo, Alto Douro, Vinho Verde.
Portuguese Varietals/Wine Styles on the Rise
Alvarinho, touriga nacional, tinta roriz.
Portuguese Varietals/Wine Styles on the Decline
Sweet, insipid vinho verde; thin, rustic reds.
Classic Wine Producers in Portugal
José Maria Fonseca: JMF represents 200 years of winemaking tradition.
Sogrape: One of the big guns in Portuguese table wines, with everything from Mateus to Grão Vasco.
Quinta da Aveleda (Casal Garcia): Perhaps the best-known vinho verde producer, Aveleda has a range of well-made whites and reds.
Up-and-Coming Wine Producers in Portugal
Afros: An award-winning, biodynamic producer of vinho verde; look for whites, sparkling wines, and a few reds, all of exceptional quality.
Vila Real: This award-winner at the Wine Access 2010 IVWA brings top-quality wines to the Canadian market at near-unbeatable prices.
Quinta das Arcas: Top-shelf whites and reds from both the north of Portugal and the Alentejo.
Check out more than 400 reviews of wines from Portugal.