Portuguese wine

Portugal is now an internationally recognized centre of vinicultural excellence, and the output from some of its regions – notably Alentejo, Bairrada, Dão, Estremadura, Ribatejo and the Douro – has garnered a strong following. Most wines are made in small cooperatives with local grape varieties, many peculiar to Portugal. The only disadvantage is that smaller farmers are not always well trained in using pesticides correctly, so overspraying can lead to residues.

Portuguese wine lists (ask for the lista de vinhos) don’t just distinguish between tinto (red), branco (white) and rosé, but between verde (“green”, meaning young, acidic and slightly sparkling) and maduro (“mature”, meaning the wines you’re probably accustomed to). You’ll find a decent selection from around the country in even the most basic of restaurants, and often in half-bottles, too. In humbler places, the house wine is served in jugs – and can be surprisingly easy to knock back.

Some of the best-known maduros are from the Douro region: Planalto is an excellent crisp white, while reds are always good if expensive. Red wines from the Dão region (a roughly triangular area between Coimbra, Viseu and Guarda, around the River Dão) taste a little like burgundy, and they’re available throughout the country. Quinta de Cabriz from Carregal do Sal (near Viseu) is an excellent mid-range Dão red. The Alentejo is another area with a growing reputation – Reguengos and Monte Velho wines have the strength and full body typical of that region. Among other smaller regions offering interesting wines are Colares (near Sintra), Bucelas in the Estremadura (crisp, dry whites) and Alenquer from Ribatejo.

The light, slightly sparkling vinhos verdes – “green wines”, in age not colour – are produced in quantity in the Minho. They’re drunk early as most don’t mature or improve with age, but are great with meals, especially shellfish. There are red and rosé vinhos verdes, though the whites are the most successful. Casal Garcia and Gato are the two labels you see everywhere; far better is Ponte de Lima and Ponte da Barca. For real quality, try the fuller strength Alvarinho from Monção and Melgaço, along the River Minho. Also worth seeking out are vinhos verdes de quinta, which are produced solely with grapes from one property (quinta), along the lines of the French chateaux wines: look for labels saying “Engarrafado pelo Viticultor (or Produtor)” and “Engarrafado na Propriedade (or Quinta)”.

Otherwise, Portuguese rosé wines are known abroad mainly through the spectacularly successful export of Mateus Rosé, Saddam Hussein’s favourite tipple before he was toppled. This is too sweet and aerated for most tastes, but other rosés – the best is Tavel – are definitely worth sampling.

avel – are definitely worth sampling. Portugal also produces an interesting range of sparkling, champagne-method wines, known as espumantes naturais. They are designated bruto (extra dry), seco (fairly dry), meio seco (quite sweet) or doce (very sweet). The best of these come from the Bairrada region, north of Coimbra, though Raposeira wines – a little further north from near Lamego – are more commonly available.