The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and especially the Romans all introduced winemaking to Portugal. The country even exported its wines as far back as the Roman Empire.
Portugal actually has the oldest appellation system, or wine region, in the world: the Douro Valley. As the oldest appellation system in the world, the Douro Valley Wine Region (called Douro Vinhateiro in Portuguese) has been defined and protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Portugal can also boast of having approximately 500 native grape breeds, which may explain why it”s among the top-10 wine-producing nations, with 4 percent of the world”s market as of 2003.
Produced in the Douro Valley, this wine gets its name from the city that exports it: Porto. Typically served as a dessert wine, it has spawned copies produced in other countries around the world, but only true Portuguese Port wine may be labeled Port.
Several varieties of Portuguese Port wine exist, including:
- Late Bottled Vintage (L.B.V.)
Tawny indicates wines made from red grapes. The wine is aged in wooden barrels and is then exposed to gradual oxidation and evaporation. This gives them a golden-brown, or tawny, color. A label of Tawny Reserve Port means the wine has been aged at least seven years in barrels. When an age is indicated on the label, it means the port is a blend of vintages, with the average years aged in wood listed.
Ruby Port gets stored in stainless steel or concrete tanks after fermentation to prevent oxidative aging and to preserve its rich color. White Port is made from white grapes. It can range in taste from dry to sweet.
Vintage Port is the flagship wine of all of Portugal, even though it only accounts for 2 percent of Port production. It gets made entirely from grapes of a declared vintage year.
Vintage Port should not be confused with Late-Bottled Vintage, which indicates a wine that was originally considered for bottling as a Vintage Port but as a result of low demand got left in the barrel for longer than intended.
After Port wine, Vinho Verde wines are the most exported Portuguese wines. Both in Portugal and abroad, the white wines of this region are the most popular.
Vinho Verde grapes, produced in the northwest of Portugal, do not require an aging process. The wine”s refreshing taste, both very light and with a natural mild fizz, has developed as a result of the region”s climate, which has high humidity and a nearby ocean.
Made on the Madeira Islands of Portugal, this popular fortified wine is used both for drinking and for cooking. It”s unique due to the method used for hastening its maturation.
The method involves subjecting the wine to a high temperature for several months. Why is this done? It duplicates the effect that a long sea voyage through tropical climates had on the aging barrels. As an added bonus, this process makes Madeira wine extremely stable, meaning an open bottle can survive for up to a year. Also, in sealed bottles Madeira is one of the longest-lasting wines.
Portuguese Wines Overall
In the past 20 years, things have changed and improved rapidly for the winemakers of Portugal. In 1985, only 10 demarcated wine regions existed, whereas now there are 55. In addition, many value-priced bottles have come out of Portugal in the last decade alongside the high-priced deluxe varieties.