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.
 
 
 
 
Average of 70 years old vines, mixed blacks from a vineyard first planted in 1914, aged in 100% French oak for 19 months
 
Floral and earthy and very mineral on the nose with faint notes of cigar wrapper, black tea, white pepper and violets. Rich, deep and bright on entry with fine tension in the mouth, this shows  lovely depth on the palate with deep burnished black cherry and plummy fruit with a fine bitter edge framed with hints of cinnamon, bitter chocolate, and licorice. This is packed with dry extract, and with 15% alcohol with a ph of 3.5 this shows remarkably well balanced, finishing  with dried cherry and dried cranberry notes, hint of pomegranate and persistent minerality. 94pts
 
 
Aged in very light toast wood,100% new French,
 
A bit spicy on the nose with a fair base of new French oak showing some  toastiness in a nutty coffee bean kind of way along with , a bit of something herbal and smoky adding a bit of a wild note to the bouquet.  Rich and smooth on entry with excellent supporting acidity, there's some marzipan here early on the palate with dry, slightly earthy dark berry fruits and some vague umami notes on the backend. This is powerful in the mouth with stony minerality, almost a bit rusty even, but today it is quite structured so even though one can sense the savory and deep fruit and lovely structural integration, it remains a bit matte and opaque on the palate no doubt destined to improve in the cellar. 93pts
 
 
100% Baga, indigenous yeast, fermented for five to eight days in lagar, then drained into tank where fermentation continues for an additional ten to fifteen days before the wine is aged for 14 to 16 months in 2000 to 4000 liter casks
 
75 year old plus vines
 
Tight and youthful on the nose with just a hint of wild cherry fruit layered under aromas of tar, tree bark, green medicinal herbs, green peppercorn, and almost dried green chile. Fairly spicy, chalky, bright and rich on the palate, with immediate obvious bright acids and tannins that are both sweet and yet astringent. There is huge depth of fruit here, savory, beet root, rhubarb and juniper spiced with candied blackberry fruit and beautiful wild cherry fruit layered underneath all wrapped up in firm minerality. With a lovely stemmy note this turns finely aromatic on the long finish revealing a red currant note with hints of Dr. Pepper soda. 92pts
 
 
65% new 85% French
 
Average of 70 years old vines, unspecified  mixed blacks aged in 65% new oak, 85% of which is French
 
Toasty French oak on the nose, light though allowing the  dusty,  gentle soft fruit and a very flora base note of, blue flowers to rise from the glass. The  super fine tannins and  great integration here immediately become obvious as this shows of it’s silky, smooth and polished texture in the mouth with just the faintest  chewy quality to the young fruit. Really quite elegant with a faint rustic edge this develops awesome textural complexity as the tannins and fine acidity grows in the mouth,along with fairly palate staining intensity of fruit on the palate. The finish is long, soft yet juicy finish, rich with wild cherry fruit, astringent red fruit, a hint of pomegranate and a very faint chocolate notion the finale. This is really lovely. 92pts
 
 
100% Touriga nacional The wine underwent malolactic fermentation in their original storage stainless steel tanks and was then racked into French Oak barriques, 35% of which were new,  where it stayed for 16 months. 
 
Tight on the nose and quite sweet with  toasty oak, spiced plum fruit and a bit of balsam and mint with a strong sweet licorice top note. Air brings out lots of candied violets as this turns very intense and perfumed with a meaty base note, jerkyesque even. Tight with a little vanilla and bay leaf on entry, this is very clear on the palate, with finely polished tannins making for an elegant and refined mouthfeel but this is youthfully  reticent and a bit grapy in fact, though it’s showing great minerality and black cherry fruit on the palate and on the long floral, plum skin, and oak spiced finish. 92pts 
 
 
100% Sousão. Malolactic fermentation and ageing in 100% new French oak for 20 months 
 
A bit gamy and animal on the nose with lots of fennel seed and beet root accents to the core of blue fruit. with air this turns into a mulberry, minty, eucalyptus bomb! Rich with dry extract density and accompanying high acid and slightly rough tannins this feels rather dry with an old school texture and flavor profile. Dark, long and rich in the mouth it’s beautiful with its unique profile and  chewy long finish. Superbly savory and deep, this is structured, chewy, inky and aromatic in the mouth, but not terribly fruity so it may appeal to a limited audience. Serve it with game meats or goat. 92pts
 
 
 
Second picking of 100% baga, 30 year old vines in clay soils matured in new oak for 30 months
 
Floral on the nose with a rose petal and eucalyptus overlay to the  red fruit and very finely integrated oak which shows as just a little nutmeg and toast. Soft and a little broad on the palate yet with excellent acidity, there's lots of depth to the fruit here and while this is almost weighty it’s not chewy at all. Deep black cherry and earth flavors with a great mineral base note fills the mouth supported by plenty of ripe tannins. A touch of menthol along with a hint of heat shows up on the beet root tinged finish, which is cut just a touch short as the tannins close in. The fruit continues to fight with those tannins though and shows fine persistence and power. 91pts 
 
 
100% Baga
 
Earthy and astringent on the nose this shows hints of old wood and chlorine under lots of autumnal underbrush and smoky red fruit. Smooth on entry and rather bright and sinewy in the mouth with finely ripe tannins and fine acidity supporting tart, grapey blueberry tinged red fruit. There’s really nice balance here and a lovely clear and fresh palate impression leading to a long, juicy and fresh fresh finish. I love these tannins,like traditional Barolo thirty years ago. This is really vibrant and clear. 90pts
 
 
Old and young vines of Baga, two and a half hectares, fermented in open lagar with no destemming five to eight days in lagar, then drained into tank where fermentation continues for an additional ten to fifteen days before the wine is aged for 14 to 16 months in 2000 to 4000 liter casks
 
Musky and  animal on the nose with aromas of dark oily stems, briary sandalwood, and a little funky natural yeast quality topped with a fine floral tone A touch of co2 greet the palate yielding to a deep and slightly opaque and ripely tannic mouthfeel. There’s attractive wild berry fruit, blackberry toned and with a bit of a pie filling edge to it topped with spicy dark minerality. This is powerful and chewy with lots of dry extract but the tannins are huge today so the fruit is struggling to get out. Finishing with impressive length to the mineral, briar and sandalwood flavors there is a lot to like here but today this is more impressive than friendly. I would like to have a few bottles of this in my cellar to see where it goes. 90pts
 
 
A blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz
 
Lovely spicy baking spices over briary blueberry fruit greets the nose here joined by some slightly inky fruit aromas topped with some smoky, burnt sugar notes. The oak on the nose may not be overpowering but this is some very perfumed wood. High acid on entry, and showing some very soft, fine grained tannins, this is both bright and inviting it the mouth with flavors that are a bit earthy with lots of high toned blue and wild cherry fruits that are framed by an assertive mineral edge. This shows lovely depth of flavor on the palate without much weight, and great clarity to the rather precise and very clear an edgy of wild cherry on the backend and through the bright fruity finish. This is really lovely  90pts
 
 
A blend of Castelão, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet that spends nine months in new French Oak
 
Coffee bean, ivy, smoky marzipan,and plummy fruit come together on the nose. In the mouth this is very fresh on entry with fine depth to the gorgeous wild berry fruit. Fine grained tannins and a little early wood contribute to the medium bodied mouthfeel here, adding some peppery spice on the backend and  noticeable baking spice on the moderately long, plummy finish. This is a touch soft with fuzzy tannins and more dry extract than the  Falcoaria Classico bottling. 89pts
 
 
Thirty four hectares in a single block aged in barrique, 25% of which are new. 
 
Very smoky on the nose, almost roasting meats over a bed of tarry, dark fruits,showing a little raisin and date along with sage and rosemary notes touched with violets. Bright acids and  fine tannins are well integrated in the mouth allowing this to show a nice softness with lovely balsamic notes appearing early on the palate followed by fine cut plum and tart wild strawberry jam flavors. This shows nice small yet angular tannins and has a long, slightly austere finish full of clear  blue fruits.  Medium bodied buy this drink some and cellar the rest for the next several years Already delicious I bet this will be even better in a year or two. 89pts
 
 
 
A blend of Touriga Franca (30%), Touriga Nacional (25%), Tinta Roriz (20%), Sousão (5%) and Mixed Old Vine Blacks (20%), 80% aged for 14 months in stainless steel tanks. The remaining 20% aged in 225 litres used French Oak barrique for 14 months until final blending. 
 
just bottled the day before the tasting
 
Sweet and spicy on the nose with cut plum and black cherry fruit aromas along with lots of dusty mineral notes with  pine, balsamic and violet accents. A bit raw and simple in the mouth this shows a touch of plump sweetness on the palate with  soft tannins and  good acids making this an easy going table wine. Friendly and with a touch of savory complexity for a simple, fairly fruity wine this is quite enjoyable and should improve in the bottle. 88pts
 
 
Aged in 100% new French oak
 
Tight, cocoa, cafe au lait and nutty almost almond toned aromas greet the nose along with deep, violet laced plummy fruit. Rather broad shouldered and structured in the mouth with slightly angular tannins and good acidity, this is a bit tight and blocky in the mouth,turning tough and a bit chewy on the modest finish. Inky and a bit anonymous today, this is obviously well made and long but without much detail or nuance. 88pts
 
 
A blend of Castelão, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Petit Verdot and Alicante Bouschet that spends 13 months in new French oak.
 
Spicy with blueberry, juniper, and floral aromas that are framed with inky, smoky, soil tones and a bit of toasted almond. Medium bodied and fresh on the palate with spicy blue fruit and floral inner mouth perfumes, this shows, very finely managed tannins with integrated acids, supporting rather clear blueberry and wild raspberry fruit. Rather elegant and supple in the mouth with good brightness and clarity on the palate and a fresh, fruit driven finish. 88pts
 
 
A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão and mixed old vines
 
From a property purchased in 2002 with  vines planted from 2002 to 2009 but this is made with an additional 30% of mixed blacks from old vines on  a nearby property they also purchased. This spends 12 months in oak, 20% new 80% used.
 
Pretty perfumed nose that's inky, floral and plummy with, a touch of integrated oak and a hint of layex VA that yields to some earthy and sour cherry aromas. Round and open if bright on entry, with nice dusty tannins that helps this broaden on the palate. Retaining good transparency and a lot of late palate intensity to the fruit, this gains a stony note on the backend as the fruit turns  bright with pithy accents to the sour plum flavors. there’s a little sweetness here accompanying the pretty fruit on the moderately long finish. 88pts
 
 
A blend of Alicante Bouschet (80%), Aragonez (10%) and Touriga Nacional (10%). that spends 16 months in new 500-litre Allier oak barrels
 
Floral and balsamic in the nose with spicy paprika and tart red fruit over a base of sandalwood and walnutty oxidation. Big, opulent and broad in the mouth with nice early balsamic tones which are followed by an attractive core of red berry, raspberry tinged fruit. Fairly big and powerful and intense on the palate if a bit low on the backend, this shows fine structure and balance and good length though some dry tannins show up on the slightly astringent finish. A lot of wine showing early complexity. 88pts
 
 
Cask sample
 
95% new oak
 
Oldest vines, over 80 years old, thirty different grape varieties. The wines from the old vineyards are stored in stainless steel for malolactic fermentation and then racked to new French Allier Oak barriques for 20 months. 
 
Smoky, toasty sweet oak with tons of fall spice and nutmeg on the nose. There’s too much oak here today even if one can sense the elegant wine that remains under it all.  A little tight and dry on entry then dry on the  tight palate with it’s rather refined feel and with lots of dark chocolate and earthy fruit flavors. Finishes with blue fruit and some chewy dried fruit on the finish along with dry dusty tannins. This is simply too oaky today. We’ll have to revist this as a finished wine to see what happens to all the oak here. 85-88pts
 

 
 
A blend of Castelão (38%), Touriga Nacional (34%), Touriga Francesa (28%)
 
Smells a bit like Syrah, peppery, inky a bit olivy, and filled with briary blue and black fruit, spice notes and a late hint of vanilla. Pretty rich on entry with an attractive stemmy accent to the rich core of blueberry and raspberry fruit. Medium light body with supple if slightly astringent tannins keeping this nicely tense in the mouth, this remains a touch Inky on the palate though there is a nice innate sweetness to the wine. This offers a friendly blend of easy drinking and lightly earthy complexity. 87pts
 
 
A blend of Touriga Nacional (59%) and Syrah (41%)
 
Oaky on the nose and rather toasty with very earthy, clay like soil tones, hints of tobacco and a sweet almond top note.  Rich and round on entry and a bit dense on the palate, this shows some sweetness behind the flavors of blackberries, dried thyme and chocolate. There are some dry tannins on the palate and they clip the finish a bit though a touch of heat does also show on the finish. nose. A bit new world styled, chunky and a bit anonymous. 87pts
 
 
A blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz
 
A bit sweet on the nose and showing a bit of reduction underneath the herb, briar flecked blackberry fruit, and dry soil aromas. Air cleans things up nicely revealing some blueberry fruit and a little brushy, dried herb, chaparral-like tone. Thi is super fresh in the mouth and packed with berry fruit that is taut and tight and a little youthfully harsh with high acid and angular little tannins in the mouth. There is so much fresh fruit here that you can ignore the edginess and appreciate this for what it is a tense, fruity, mouth-cleansing wine with good length. 87pts
 
 
A blend of Castelão (74%), Trincadeira (14%), Aragonez (12%)
 
A little smoky, earthy and vaguely mushroomy under briary almost black currant aromas with a little  black spice on top.  Lightweight on the palate but not without some tannin making for a lovely, easy drinking traditional table wine. There’s some nice raspberry fruit, a little spice, a little mineral, nothing out of place with an attractive edge of minerality and a slight astringency to the fairly long finish.  86pts
 
 
Lagar fermented, aged in 300 liters barrels, 80% new
 
A blend of Baga and Touriga Nacional 50/50, Bairrada and Dao
 
Savory on the nose with rich aromas of fatty prosciutto, green anise seed, middle eastern spice, a lightly toasty nutty character and lots of rusty, wiry red fruit. Soft and opulent on entry, this is definitely rustic and chewy with lots of ripe tannins and fine acids supporting earthy, bitter cherry fruit, There’s something vaguely unripe here contributing to the astringent finish, which has a tarry, smoky character to it. 86pts
 
 
A blend of Castelão & Cabernet Sauvignon
 
Balsamic, raw and resinous on the nose with spicy, floral aromas that recall juniper topped with smoky and blueberry notes.  A touch soft on entry then raw with astringent red fruits on the midpalate which turns a touch a little creamy. This remains juicy and fresh in the mouth if a touch of sweetness does become obvious on the blueberry and blackberry tinged, slightly creamy finish. Easy to drink but not too simple. 85pts
 
 
A blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca e Touriga Nacional from relatively young vineyard with some vines up to 30 years old. Little oak used, in this vintage 5% 85% French, and 15% American,
 
Buttery and  dusty on the nose with perfumes of faded roses, cracked pepper and spicy red fruit with a hint of VA. Easy drinking on entry with a round softness on the palate and simple, slightly sweet cut plum fruit with an inky edge and a hint of juniper leading to a short slightly chunky cocoa dusted finish, 85pts
 

 
 
Old and young vines of Baga, two and a half hectares, fermented in open lagar with no destemming five to eight days in lagar, then drained into tank where fermentation continues for an additional ten to fifteen days before the wine is aged for 14 to 16 months in 2000 to 4000 liter casks
 
Tight and a bit dull on the nose with aromas of dates, coffee, old wood, and a bit of a foxy cast to the fruit.  Soft on entry and a bit low acid, this shows rather grapy and foxy black fruit early on the palate, which is a bit  simple if nicely polished. Chunky and inelegant today, this carries quite a load of fruit tannins though it is lacking in detail and depth at the moment and finishes short with a slightly medicinal quality. Quite a different wine than the 2008, or iis it just the additional year in the bottle. 84pts
 
 
A blend of Castelão, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Syrah 
 
Raw on the nose smoky and with hints of high toned red fruits. Lots of acid on entry support bright strawberry and redcurrant fruit that feel a bit astringent and bristly on the palate. Front loaded with fruit, then structured and acidic on the backend and through the brief finish. Not your typical wine but I can certainly see it having it’s place. 84pts
 
 
This shows lots of wood spice on the nose with a huge nutmeg note, lots of smoke and overt oak. Hints of violets and candied dark fruit, smoke along with some fresh berry notes peak through the blanket of oak but never quite really make it to the top.In the mouth there’s a too much oak and sweetness here for this rather medium bodied wine that shows soft tannins and good acids that help the rather rich blackberry fruit to fan out on the backend before fading away on the plummy, toasty sticky two-step finish, A lighter wine with wood and sweetness layered on rather heavily, which may make it appealing to a braod audience but it’s not well balanced. 84pts
 
 
Alicante Bouschet (100%) aged for 12 months in new 500-litre Allier oak barrels
 
Volatile with lots of latex on the nose along with notes of cigar tobacco, glue, and some black tea notes. Chewy and deep in the mouth with lots of cherry character and great acidity that is well integrated and yet able to make a strong impression in the mouth. This is fairly spicy and with fine grained tannins, but it finishes on the short side with more volatility and that latex character reemerging on the finale. 83pts
 
 
A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Franca
 
Smoky, with lots of nutty oak with cocoa base notes and too much VA. Soft with soft tannins and decent depth to the blackberry and wild cherry fruit that's rusty and raw in the mouth turning a bit chewy on the back end and through the long, high toned finish which also shows too much VA. 80pts
 

Top Portuguese Reds 8/13

1.
Quinta Do Crasto Vinha da Ponte Douro (2010)
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2.
Quinta Do Crasto Douro Red Reserva Old Vines (2010)
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3.
Quinta Das Bageiras Garrafeira (2008)
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4.
Quinta Do Crasto Douro Reserva Vinhas Velhas (2010)
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5.
Quinta Do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro (2011)
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6.
Sousão Douro DOC (2011)
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7.
Luis Pato Bairrada Vinha Pan (2010)
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8.
Sidonio de Sousa Reserva Bairrada (2008)
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9.
Quinta da Vacarica Bairrada (2008)
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10.
Casa de Santar Tinto (2010)
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11.
Quinta Do Casal Branco Falcoaria Reserva Tejo (2011)
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12.
Quinto Do Aveleda Follies Touriga Nacional Beiras (2010)
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Comments

  • Snooth User: MURILOAL
    1177441 22

    The best Portugal red wines are from Adega Cartuxa in Evora. They are Pera Manca Red, Cartuxa Reserve and EA. The Pera Manca red 2007 is perfect.

    In Brazil, there is one Lebbiolo wine from Wilmar Bettu that is also fantastic.

    Oct 01, 2013 at 2:30 PM


  • Snooth User: mj girl
    644139 8

    Try the Palestra................

    Oct 01, 2013 at 9:16 PM


  • The problem with these reviews from foreigners is that they always go by mainstream...anyway happy to convey with you when saying that is stupid to alienate unique world wines character, blending them with stuff that you may find all over the planet... glad also to see in the first list 3 wines from my village... Quinta do Casal Branco... after all world is little... but dig a little deeper...and you may find diamonds...for nothing! Joao Correia

    Oct 02, 2013 at 1:27 PM


  • Why does this wine not make it to California? Every seller of this wine is listed as New Jersey, Delaware, etc... I love the wine from Portugal especially Evora, Setubal, and Requenhos. I just cant get any of it in Southern California. Too bad...

    Oct 02, 2013 at 7:52 PM


  • Snooth User: loh
    1245261 18

    Cruised the Douro River this summer and discovered that most of the glorious wines produced in Portugal are sold and consumed in Portugal.

    Oct 03, 2013 at 12:27 AM


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