Taking time for Portugal

The last bastion of undiscovered indigenous gems?

Moving down the coastline, as you approach Lisbon from Beiras, you come across Estremadura. This small province is tightly packed with 10 distinct appellations, each unique in its own way. Most intriguing are probably the fast-disappearing coastal vineyards of Colares. The sandy soil here has kept these vineyards free of the root louse Phylloxera, making these vines among the oldest in Portugal.

To the east is the Ribatejo, one giant (for Portugal) appellation. Recently renamed Tejo (from the river Tejo that dominates this appellation), this region is in a state of flux. It is one of the most dynamic regions of Portugal, but one that is still finding its footing as producers continue to experiment with international varieties, all the while exploring the depth of their own genetic material. Time is needed to see how everything shakes out here, but there is no doubt that some great wine will be made here from both the new and the old.

Further to east is the vast Alentejo, which sports the smallest percentage of land under vine of any of the Portuguese provinces.  Estates here are large for Portugal, and the warm, dry climate makes farming rather easy, allowing for very reasonable prices and rich, well-fruited wines. There has been significant experimentation here with some of the international varieties, but almost always as blending grapes and almost always in a supporting role.

Between Lisbon and the Alentejo one finds the Terras do Sado with its two appellations, Palmela and Setubal. Palmela is made from one of Portugal’s great indigenous varieties known as Perquita. These are rich, distinctive wines, but they have to share the province with one of Portugal’s other treasures: Setubal. When one thinks of Portugal, one likely thinks of dessert wines, Port in particular, but that is not the only game in town. Setubal de Muscatel is another of Portugal’s sweet delights. Somewhat akin to a sherry, Setubal is complex, age-worthy and rare, making it ideal for the most adventurous wine lovers.

Completing the round-up of mainland provinces is the Algarve, Portugal’s playground that occupies its entire southern shore.  Not many wines from the Algarve make they way to our shores, and truth be known, most are best consumed in the resorts along the coast.  These are not particularly noteworthy wines but rather are the perfect accompaniment to the local cuisine, much like the wines from the Azores, whose wines I must admit I have never tried.

The final appellation in Portugal is Madeira. An island some 600 miles off the coast of Africa, Madeira is windblown and raw. The wines made in Madiera share that character, though centuries ago it was discovered that if left as the ballast in a ship making a trans-atlantic journey (or two), the wines mellowed and would become sublimely aromatic and complex. The current production methods for Madeira mimic that procedure by heating the wine. The results are indeed unusual, but are immensely compelling and worthy of being the last stop on our tour.

After all this exploring, it sounds like it’s time for tasting. That will have to wait. but I can tell you I am certainly looking forward to exploring all that Portugal has to offer. It’s going to have to be a big tasting!

Uniquely Português!

Ancient wines of Madeira
Madeira is but one of Portugal's unique, iconic wines. These wines, sweet and dry, undergo a very unusual process whereby they actually get cooked! The end results are remarkably complex wines that are wonderfully aromatic and almost impervious to age or abuse.

Vinho Verde
The Portuguese must have a penchant for acidic wines. Madeira balances their high acids with some residual sugar, but Vinho Verde highlights the electric acid of the grapes (both red and white) used in their production! These are slightly rustic yet remarkably refreshing wines.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Periquita is a brand created by Jose Maria Fonseca and not a grape. The grape they use to create Periquita is Castelão. Hope that helps.

    Mar 10, 2010 at 12:37 PM

  • Snooth User: fgm1064
    253909 28

    Great article and education. You could have recommended some wines though.

    Mar 10, 2010 at 5:53 PM

  • We have a large Portuguese-American community in this part of the country (Southern New England). Consequently, a lot of Portuguese wine is available. Casal Garcia Vinho Verde is a great wine, and among the reds my fave is Toutalga. The unbelievable thing about these is the pricing, less that $5.00-7.00 a bottle!

    Mar 10, 2010 at 6:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,283

    Thanks Chris.

    Wine recommendations are coming. the topic is too vast to cover in only one email.

    Porca de Murca is my current favorite. A fantastic red that is inexpensive but doesn't drink that way!

    Mar 10, 2010 at 6:27 PM

  • Snooth User: JCruz
    121669 4

    Portugal has many wine regions and many great wines. My favorite regions though, are Palmela (I recommend Dona Ermelinda, from Casa Ermelinda Freitas, a great wine with a very good price/quality relation, to begin with) and the wines from Alentejo (a bit expensive, but you have to try Tapada de Coelheiros!, from the same winery, you may also want to try Vinha da Tapada).

    If you want some more recommendations, I'd be more than glad to provide you some.

    Mar 11, 2010 at 6:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Gaelchef
    Hand of Snooth
    286292 36

    Hi Chris,
    Periquita is a grape variety and is a nickname used in S. Portugal for Castelao. Castelao is also called Joao de Santarem in areas. The JM da Fonseca's Periquita Classico label is of more recent origin.


    Mar 11, 2010 at 8:33 AM

  • I´m sorry, but Periquita is also a grape. The main name is Castelão.

    Mar 11, 2010 at 9:15 AM

  • Snooth User: Gaelchef
    Hand of Snooth
    286292 36

    Hi Marcello,

    I agree with you that Periquita is a grape. I hope Chris reads our comments.


    Mar 11, 2010 at 9:31 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,283

    It has been my understanding as well.

    Thanks for both of your comments.

    Mar 11, 2010 at 11:04 AM

  • Snooth User: tking535
    364227 3

    I am really enjoying your work!!! I thought I knew a lot about wine. BS. You are educating me!!! -- Tom King, Knoxville, TN

    Mar 12, 2010 at 7:08 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,283

    Thanks Tom.

    I only know so much. It's constant research and reading. I tell everyone who will listen that, as a percentage of what was available to be known, I knew a lot more 20 years ago than I do today. The number or grapes, regions, producers, techniques, etc. is just exploding and it's pretty much impossible to keep track of more than a fraction of them.

    Thanks for the kind words though. They are much appreciated!

    Mar 12, 2010 at 8:25 PM

  • Snooth User: lakatosc
    359355 2

    I love these articles on lesser-known (at least in the US) wines. Keep them coming!

    Mar 13, 2010 at 12:52 PM

  • Hi Wine Fellows
    If you want Portuguese wines or any information about it, please contact us. We are pleased to help you.
    Our adress: arcodovinho@gmail.com
    Visit our store in Lisbon, Belém

    Mar 13, 2010 at 8:19 PM

  • am from manila, and import wines from Portugal, I would say that these wines are fantastic, very different and lots of character... I hope you guys can recommend more wines from Portugal

    Mar 15, 2010 at 4:18 AM

  • Snooth User: wriskit
    160011 77

    Greg, Thanks for the heads up on Porca de Murca. It is an excellent red wine and an unbelievable bargain in my local Forest Hills, NY wine store at $7.99, 2 for $15. I give it 4.5 stars.

    Apr 06, 2010 at 8:07 AM

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