Portugal, the promised land for dry wines
Portugal and its relationship with wine stretches back several centuries to the native Lusitanians, Visigoths who controlled the entire Iberian Peninsula, as well as the Romans who occupied the area.
Port is the country’s most famous dessert wine and its best known spirit export. It was the British who first imported it in the mid-17th century, adding a little bit of brandy to the barrels before shipment. The brandy was later added during fermentation, helping to preserve the fruity red wine flavors distinctive to Portugal’s Douro Valley region.
Douro is the most significant and oldest official wine appellation in the world and the heart of Portugal’s eleven major wine regions. The Douro river actually starts in Spain and crosses into Portugal on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, stretching across hot, dry valleys with clay soils marked by vines from “quintas” (vineyards) along its banks.
Some of those quintas are producing great dry wine, both red and whites that come from native over 500 Portuguese grape varieties.
Portuguese dry wines were mostly unknown outside the country until the 1990s, but those who try them will discover their distinctive characteristics and deliciousness, as well as deep flavors and acidity.
Sweet rose table wines sold under Mateus and Lancers brand names have also gained ground worldwide and along with Port account for some 70% of Portuguese wine exports.
But there are more dry wines coming from this Iberian nation worthy of note.
Said to be a favorite of retired UK’s Premier League legendary manager Alex Ferguson, Barca Velha is unquestionably the most well known red dry wine from Portugal. The wine’s history began in 1952 in the Douro region and less than 20 editions have been released, making it extremely rare and sought after.
The wine has a deep ruby color, intense aroma with hints of red fruits and spices like pepper and cloves, as well as notes of lavender, violets and orange. Its flavor is marked by its lively acidity and intense tannins.
Another dry red Douro wine is Ramos Pinto, particularly its Porto Ruby, which has a dense, red color. Hints of blackberry, cherry, plum, and raspberry aromas assault the nose while its fresh, vibrant and fruity taste attacks the mouth.
Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Cotto, and Quinta de la Rosa—all of them in the Douro region—also produce outstanding dry red wine.
Dry red wines can also be found in the Alentejo region, Portuguese largest area, which extends from the Tagus River in the north to the Algarve in the south and is marked by the hot, Mediterranean climate. And some of those wines are made with Alicante Bouschet, among the few grape varieties bearing red skins and red flesh.
Portuguese Alicante Bouschet has some of the highest levels of antioxidants found in grapes. Wines made from this variety include aromas of blueberries and blackberries, peppery black fruit, cocoa, and olives. The flavors are marked by peppery black fruit, spices and cacao.
Two wineries producing wines from Alicante Bouschet include Herdade do Mouchao Tonel 3-4 and Julio Bastos Alicante Bouschet.
The Portuguese were renowned for their voyages of exploration and trade, and the Madeira islands, off the African coast, where an ideal stoppage along the way. That led to the development of the islands and wine production.
After Porto, Madeira wine is the country’s most well-known export. It comes varieties that range from dry (seco), medium dry (meio seco), medium sweet (meio doce), and sweet (doce).
Some 85% of Madeira wine is made with red grape, Negra mole. But it is also made with white grape varieties Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho, and Sercial. While it may be labeled red or white, the wine color often ends up being a kind of amber or tawny.
The wine is commonly made by placing it in stainless steel vats heated to some 113-122 degrees Fahrenheit for at least three months, before being left to rest another three months. The wines are then left in barrels placed under the sun to heat naturally for up to 100 years.
The end result is wines with hints of roasted nuts, caramel and toffee, along with peach, hazelnut, orange peel and burnt sugar.
Produced in Mino, Portugal’s largest wine region in the verdant, rain soaked northwest corner of the country, Vinho Verde is one of the standouts in white dry wines.
Slightly effervescent due to a dose of carbon dioxide added before bottling, Vinho Verdes carry a crip and citrusy taste perfect for hot, summer days. The wine can be made from a half-dozen different grape varieties, though the most expensive tend to come from Alvarihno, Loureiro, or Trajadura grapes.
Also available in rosé and red styles, the Vinho Verde’s white variety is bar far most well known. It has a dry, light body with high acidity marked by hints of lemonade, grapefruit, lime zest, yellow apple and white blossom.
Arinto, Encruzado and Antão Vaz are three other dry white wines to note.
They share some similarities in aroma, which ranges from honeycomb and beeswax. The flavors encompass high acidity, lemon, grapefruit and honeycomb.
Azores Wine Company and Quinta do Pinto produce wines made from Arinto grapes, which give out gentle hints off apple, lime and lemon.
Known as the “queen of whites,” Encruzado is planted in the granite hills of Dão, in the center of Portugal, where it grows at higher altitudes, protected by mountain ranges. The temperate climate preserves the acidity, where it leads to wines with aromas of lemon, woody herbs, stone fruit, and melon.
The wines are considered Portugal’s finest white grape varieties, though not as famous as others in the category. The wines carry a flavor with notes of grapefruit, lemon, hazelnut, ginger rand resin.
Casa da Passarella and Tabodella are two quintas producing Encruzado wines.
Antão Vaz is grown mostly in the Alentejo area and the wines it produces are full-bodied with hints of tropical fruit, citrus and honey flavors and aromas.
If you’re searching for dry wines that will open your mind, and taste buds, to new worlds, Portuguese varieties won’t disappoint. They are sure to leave you with a pleasant aftertaste.