Amateur wine enthusiasts may think of wine origins as being from France, Italy, or California, if they give it much thought at all. True wine lovers know, though, that Portuguese wine is a rich, full bodied wine with a flavor all its own. Portugal is the 7th largest wine producer in the world, growing more than 100 different varieties of grapes throughout the entire country in numerous regions. This makes Portuguese wine something that everyone can appreciate.
The History of Portuguese Wine
Portuguese wine has a long and vibrant history that helps to influence the flavor and body of the wine they produce today. Anyone taking a course in wine has probably already learned that the fortified wine known as port has its origins in Portugal, as do a number of other table and full bodied red wines. Grape growing has been a part of Portugal’s history for centuries, and wine production has been around almost as long. The exporting of Portugal’s wine to England, the beginnings of Portugal as a major player in the world’s wine market began in the 12th century.
Beginning in 1386 with the Treaty of Windsor, the market began to open up between Portugal and England, expanding the wine trade between the two countries. The treaty promised equal rights to subjects of both countries, which allowed free trade between them. In fact, by the 15th century, a large portion of Portugal’s wine was being shipped to England, most of it in exchange for salted cod.
By the 17th century, the wine that is now known as port wine began to be produced. The name comes from the Portuguese Vinho do Porto, taking its name from the city it was shipped from, as did most wines of the era. Wine had to travel vast distances at this time to reach its destination in England. Therefore, a small amount of brandy was often added to it to help fortify the wine and prevent it from spoiling. The added brandy also strengthened the wine, giving it a more robust flavor and mouth feel, and it quickly became a popular drink throughout Britain.
By the 18th century, the Methuen Treaty was signed between England and Portugal, which ensured that wines coming from Portugal paid 1/3 less duty than those imported from France. This was done to help strengthen the wine trade, particularly as port wine was beginning to be thought of as more suited to the English palette than other types of red wine.
The wine trade grew very quickly after this point, unfortunately leading to cheaper wines that were often darkened with elderberries to enhance their color and appearance. To help separate the wines into classes that were easily distinguishable, port wine vineyards were designated to help ensure the quality of the wine that was being produced.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, the method of making port wine began to change into what we know of it today. Originally, the wines were fortified with brandy after they had been fermented to help stabilize them for their journey. At this point in time, the wines began to be fortified prior to the fermenting process, which began to produce the sweeter, heavier wine that is today known as port.
Portuguese Wine Today
Today, Portuguese wine is treasured by true wine lovers for its exceptional quality and taste. While there are many wine producers in Portugal who still adhere to the ancient practice of crushing their grapes by foot, wine production as a whole has been revolutionized within the last 25 years. The modernization of vineyards, which includes temperature control during the fermentation process, as well as state of the art cellar practices have ensured that Portuguese wines have become something that is nearly universally enjoyed by wine lovers around the world.
Because the modernization of wine making in this country was so slow to be adopted, many people may not have heard of, or have tried these unique and varied wines before. In fact, with the exception of port wine, many people may not have tried Portuguese wine at all, particularly with up and coming California wines begin grown so close to home.
To overlook Portuguese wines for these reasons, however, would be a mistake. While different and slow to regain its position on the world stage, Portugal as a wine producer has several wine masters now dedicated to transforming the face of Portuguese wine for good.
Portuguese Wines to Try
In recent years, many Portuguese wines have been winning awards and acclaim for their flavor and body. If you’re new to wine, but learning to become a wine connoisseur, you may want to ask your local merchant for a few of these bottles:
- Luis Duarte 2010 Rubrica Laurel Importers – the master who created this wine, Luis Duarte, has designed his wines for elegance, and this wine speaks to that with its flavor and clarity.
- Aveleda Grande Follies – Wine Enthusiasts called this wine big and smooth, giving it 93 points and speaking highly of its finish.
- Bonifacio Patrimonio – Wine Spectator gave this wine 87 points and described it as juicy with a robust finish.
- Assobio Dourmo – This wine comes from the famous Dourmo region of Portugal which is also where port is produced. This wine is powerful and full bodied, expected to be fully mature by 2017.
Portuguese Wine Pairings
If you’re still learning how to pair wine and food, adding some Portuguese wine to your table may be a little daunting. With so many different wine varieties to choose from, you’ll have no trouble finding one that pair with any dish you make. A few pairings you may want to consider include:
If you’re enjoying a dish with an acidic bite, such as salads with vinegar based dressings, or food marinated in lemon juice, pair it with an equally high-acid white wine. Northern wines have the highest acidity; consider Vinho Verde or Minho to try.
Pair your seafood with a very dry wine, particularly a dry white. Look for a wine that comes from the Vinho Regional Lisboa region.
If you’re pairing your wine with tuna, or the Portuguese favorite of salt cod, consider a red such as Baga.
If you’re enjoying a savory dish that contains sweeter-tasting vegetables, consider pairing it with any rosé.
Red meat and game have tough, robust flavors that can handle the tannins found in strong red wines. Pair your red meat or game dish with a robust wine to match such as Bairrada.
White meats would be overpowered by the strong reds that pair well with red meats. Instead, choose a softer red to pair with your white meat, such as Palmela.
Wine and cheese is the classic pairing, and because of the wide variety of cheeses, they can also be difficult to match up properly. Stick to wines that are meant to be paired with cheese, or use a safe choice such as port, or Madeira.
Desserts should always be paired with a dessert wine, such as sweet Muscatel, port or Madeira.
Portuguese wines are so varied, with each region producing its own unique flavor, that it can be difficult to find just the right match each time. You may need to do some experimenting, or enlist the help of your wine merchant. Be sure to describe the dish in detail, so that sweet and savory elements, as well as the cut of meat can be weighed to help you find the right wine. And remember, that it’s also entirely acceptable to switch wines as you move through the meal; serve an acidic wine with the salad course, move to something light for the soup course, and finish with something more robust for the meat course. If you choose to do separate cheese and dessert courses, the same wine can be used for both, you can branch out and separate the two courses with two different wines as well.
Get to Known Portuguese Wines
Portuguese wines may not get the publicity as some other wines that have a longer modern history, but overlooking the rich and varied wines from this country would be a mistake. While Portugal has been slower to adopt modern wine making techniques than other countries, their newer methods and wine masters have ensured that these wines will not be left behind for long.
Whether you enjoy a good port and are interested in branching out in sampling this unique wine, or you’re interested in broadening your wine knowledge to include a variety of wines that is unique to the world, consider getting to known Portuguese wines better. Once you get to know some of the rich finishes and juicy starts, you may be inspired to learn how to make your own wine, or you may just want to invest in a few bottles to age and sample within a few years. Whatever your inspiration is, turn to Portuguese wines as a major contender in the world wine industry, and find out just what you may have been missing.