Sunday, February 11, 2007

World Wine Tour: Welcome to Portugal

Boa vinda a Portugal...Welcome to Portugal! This has been one leg of the world wine tour that I've really been looking forward to.

Depending on where you get your info, Portugal is the sixth or seventh largest wine producing country in the world. However, unlike most of the world's wine producing countries, Portugal's wine reputation has been built around its own indigenous grape varieties, and of course, its classic fortified wines - Port and Madeira. Rarely seen are the big 'noble' grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the Portuguese preferring to reflect the character of their wines in grapes best suited to the terrain, topography and climatic variations. It is a country of contrasting climatic conditions from the cooler regions of the 'Vinho Verde' in the North with its Atlantic influence to the parched climate of the Alentejo in the South.

In looking at Portugal’s wine regions, it’s helpful to split the country in two, by drawing a line about a third of the way down. This separates the northern regions of the Minho, Douro, Dão and Bairrada, and the central and southern regions of the Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremadura. Ok, so let's take a look at some of these regions, and briefly touch on what to expect from them.

Minho or Vinho Verde
Portugal's largest DOC region stretches from the hills south of the river Douro to the River Minho in the North. The region is best known for one of my all time favorite types of wines - Vinho Verde. The white wines are crisp, refreshing dry wines, naturally low in alcohol and bottled with a slight sparkle. Vinho Verde wines are largely exported, and are the most exported Portuguese wines after the Port Wine. In the extreme north of the region around the town of Mono the Alvarinho grape produces delicate, dry white wines with slightly higher levels of alcohol.

Both red and white wines are produced here and, of course, the famous Vinho do Porto (Port Wine). The grape varieties used to make table wines are similar to those in Port, with more than 90 different grapes being permitted. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are the most widely accepted grapes and accepted as the best for table wines. Some of the used castas or grape varietals, such has the Touriga Nacional, are unique to the country and do not exist anywhere else. The red wines are deep and dark with ripe aromas and full berry-fruit flavors, which are both intense and concentrated. The white wines are crisp, fresh and fragrant with great flavor. There has been a major influx of red table wines from this region into the US, and the quality seems to improve year over year.

This region is in north central Portugal, with the reputation of producing some of the country’s best table wines. Over two-thirds of Dão wines are red. Red Dão tends to be firm and tannic, with fruity flavors.

The Bairrada region produces table, white and red wines. The whites are generally dry but fruity.

Located in southern Portugal, with a pretty harsh climate, Alentejo produces some unique, high quality wines. Red and white wines made from healthy grapes share ripe fruity aromas and flavours. White wines are crisp and fresh.

The region produces two very different styles of wine. Vineyards on the fertile river flood plain produce large amounts of light fruity red and white wine for drinking young. White wines still predominate in the Ribatejo, but it is the reds that are gaining reputation. With so many different soil types and grape varieties, wines from the Ribatejo region vary greatly from lighter red and white wines nearer the river to full flavoured reds capable of long ageing in bottle.

That's all for now. We'll post a review later today.

1 comment:

Sergeant-At-Arms said...

The one thing I want to know before the end of the week and your tour of you parent's homeland is which wine they prefer and love to drink on a consistent basis.

That is the one I definitely want to try.