Portugal, a small but soulful country, has so much to offer its visitors. In recent years, the nation has seen a massive influx of tourists flocking there. It seems people are appreciating the scenic surroundings, eclectic food and naturally, the premium wines. Portuguese winemakers are unique in that they use a large variety of indigenous grapes, many of which cannot be found outside of Portugal.
This is particularly beneficial for those visiting Portugal, as it means you get to explore wines that you may rarely have access to elsewhere. With over 250 indigenous grape varieties, there is a wine for every palate and a price to suit every pocket. While at first, the unfamiliar names and tastes may be intimidating for some wine drinkers, we’ve compiled a list of our top six must-try varieties to get you started on your wine voyage through this wine lovers dream destination.
Vinho Verde, from the region of Minho, is perfect for lovers of wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. This wine is made from a blend of several grape varieties yet still remains light-bodied and refreshing. Its fruity notes and undertones of acidity give it a crisp flavour, perfectly paired with salads, fish and vegetable dishes. Some skilled Vinho Verde winemakers produce single-varietal wines made from the most popular grape varieties grown in the region. If white wine is not your preference, this wine also comes in red grape varietals known as Rosado. Rosado wines are more berry-like in flavour but share the same snappy acidity as its white counterpart. Vinho Verde is best served ice-cold and young.
Antão Vaz-based blends
Another white wine, Antão Vaz-based blends are varied and complex, much like traditional Chardonnay. Depending on the time at which the grape has been harvested, these wines can range from acidic to ripe. This creates a wide variety of wines to suit every palette, whether you favour light bodied freshness or a more full bodied and luxurious finish, always with a high alcohol content. Antão Vaz grapes are grown in the hot climate of Portugal’s south central Alentejo region and produce an oaky, elegant flavour when blended with other grapes such as Arinto and Roupeiro.
Port wine, also known in Portugal as Vinho do Porto, is a fortified wine comprised of distilled grape spirits. It is typically a sweet red wine, though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. Thanks to its heady richness, Port works wonderfully as a desert wine. Although various fortified wines resembling Port have become popular in other countries (including South Africa), the original Portuguese version is by far the most authentic and flavourful. This can be attributed to the grape: Touriga Nacional, which is widely considered the most desirable Port grape, but its difficulty to cultivate and small yields make it only able to really flourish in the Douro Valley, in the northern part of Portugal, close to the coastal city of Porto.
This grape is not exclusive to Port production, though that was its original purpose for most of its history. Over the last decade, winemakers have begun to use Touriga Nacional grapes to produce a full-bodied, still red wine with a pleasant complexity that resembles Cabernet Sauvignon or red Bordeaux style wines. Though this single-varietal wine tends to be priced at the higher end of the market, its balanced yet opulent flavour makes the experience worth every penny. This is considered to be the flagship grape of Portugal and the popularity of its production makes it easy to see why.
This is one wine on the list which is not actually indigenous to Portugal. The grape used for this wine was originally modified by a French botanist and can now be found in abundance in Portugal’s Tejo region. It thrives in the warm, sunny climate of this area and when properly cultivated, produces a juicy, dark red wine much like Zinfandel. Also, because this grape is widely available, Alicante Bouschet wine is well priced and offers good value for money. The earthy, full-bodied flavours pair well with equally intense flavours like barbecued meat or flame-grilled vegetables.
Wines made from Baga grapes have gone from being underrated and overlooked to becoming one of Portugal’s most exciting blends. This is all thanks to a rise in innovative new vineyard strategies that are breathing new life into this age-old wine. This structured, elegant wine can be compared to Nebbiolo wine, though Baga is known to have a riper edge to its flavour. Baga wine often carries notes of tart red fruits and earthy dried flowers. Baga wine is often paired with pork by locals, though any rich food would complement this wine.