The Red Wines of Portugal

Values abound where tradition meets progress


I’ve already written up my thoughts on some white wines tasted while in Portugal this past summer. I wanted to get that information out in front of you while it was still most pertinent, hot, and sunny. Now as we transition to Autumn I want to give you the rundown on the red wines I enjoyed while in Portugal, wines that are well suited to the cooling days and richer food they bring with them. As with the whites, what I found here was a relatively broad set of production values, that seemed to included fairly modern techniques used to produce mostly high quality wines often from indigenous varieties. There were certainly some duds here, and some wines that came off as a bit too polished and perhaps anonymous, but there were also plenty of wines that struck a chord with me.

There were plenty of wines that were rich with savory character as well as fruit. Wines with more than enough tannin and acidity to remain fresh and vibrant in the mouth, and offer great food pairing opportunities. And plenty of wines that were just plain different, not easily pigeon holed into categories we are familiar and comfortable with though if I had to I would say that these wines, in general, seem to fit well within the classic European red blend paradigm that includes Bordeaux, Rioja, and Chianti. In fact I would go so far as to say that these wines should absolutely be considered as on pair with those European standards, though they do offer a bit of a different flavor profile and mouthfeel.
I’m not sure anyone will be happy with my comparison, but the truth is that this group of classic European wines all started out as blends based on indigenous varieties with each having seen their share of changes over the past few decades. Experiments were made, certain varieties have become dominant, but the essence of the wines have remained the same. These wines are produced with a purpose, they in fact remain closely tied to their historic purpose, and that was, and for the most part continues to be drinkability and utility at the table. 

There are plenty of examples of wines that have become collectables, in Bordeaux in particular, though even in Portugal where it’s becoming less rare to find wines priced at $50 a bottle or more, today’s arbitrary floor for collectable wine. These wines receive a grossly disproportionate share of the medias attention, which is after all their purpose. We tend to forget that the vast majority of producers are making wines at much more attractive price points and rest assured those in the business of bottling collectable wine almost always produce wines that are much more affordable.
This is where Portugal is today. Still stretching her legs and finding her way. A handful of producers are making wines, often from very old plots and typically from blends of indigenous varieties, that are challenging the greatest wines from other, more highly considered regions, but the bulk of the Portuguese wine industry remains focused on producing affordable table wines. The interesting thing here is that that a large chunk of these table wines are  being produced with those self same indigenous varieties that Portugal is using to challenge the Goliaths of the wine world with.
Yes, production styles differ across price points, and there is an awful lot of the so-called international varieties being planted and blended in with the local production, but I think we’ll find that to be an aberration with time. The local varieties are just so good, producing wines with such character and attractive qualities that I can’t imagine they can be much improved, if improved at all by being blended with Syrah or Cabernet. Of course the name recognition afforded by the use of Syrah or Cabernet on the label can’t be understated. Who after all but the inveterate wine geek is drawn to that bottle of Baga, Sousão, or blend of Tinto Franca, Tinta Cão, and Tinto Barroca? Hopefully the current generation of nascent wine buyer, that's who. One who is less concerned with what's on the bottle than what's in the bottle.
Simply put these wines are both exciting and eminently drinkable; it would be a shame to see their character diluted to the lowest common denominator. Fortunately for us there seems to be enough passion in Portugal for the preservation of these wines that as long as they receive the support the need, producers will continue to bottle these sometimes slightly rustic, often quite distinctive and well priced wines that constitute a real choice for the wine buyer. We’re not talking about choosing between a California Cabernet, a Chilean Cabernet and an Australian Cabernet here. We are instead saying, in the famous words of Monty Python: “and now for something completely different.” 
Vive la difference, or more appropriately Viva a diferença!
The top wines on this list are tending to be the more expensive example so I just wanted to call your attention to the great values among them.

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Top Portuguese Reds 8/13

Quinta Do Crasto Vinha da Ponte Douro (2010)
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Quinta Do Crasto Touriga Nacional Douro (2010)
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Quinta Das Bageiras Garrafeira (2008)
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Quinta Do Crasto Douro Reserva Vinhas Velhas (2010)
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Quinta Do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro (2011)
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Sousão Douro DOC (2011)
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Luis Pato Bairrada Vinha Pan (2010)
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Sidonio de Sousa Reserva Bairrada (2008)
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Quinta da Vacarica Bairrada (2008)
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Casa de Santar Tinto (2010)
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Quinta Do Casal Branco Falcoaria Reserva Tejo (2011)
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Quinto Do Aveleda Follies Touriga Nacional Beiras (2010)
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