It’s time to discover these under-appreciated wines.
When someone mentions Portuguese wine, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think of fortified Port or that bubbly sipper, Vinho Verde. These are certainly the best known.
But there are some delicious table wines from Portugal that you may not have tried … yet.
Like neighboring Spain, Portugal is blanketed with vineyards. Over 350 types of grape are grown there, including many rare, ancient varieties likely brought to Portugal by the Phoenicians. Portugal’s isolation behind Spain has given its wines a unique profile. While other countries planted French varieties, Portugal stuck with its indigenous grapes, some of which are gaining well-deserved popularity.
Touriga Nacional emerged as the flagship red variety, producing complex, structured wines with black fruit flavors, and often used as the lead variety in blends. Also noteworthy, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) is popular with table wine makers for its red fruit, olive and herbal notes.
Some of the most underrated, good-value, dry table wines from Europe are Portuguese. Most are blends of indigenous varieties, and the best are bold, rustic, plummy reds, though good whites are also available.
Although great table wines are made almost everywhere in Portugal, those from the Douro and Dão regions are more often found in the U.S. and provide a great introduction.
Tastes of Douro
The area of Douro was first identified as an exceptional wine-producing region in 1756. While originally famous for Port, the region was considered by experts to be the best for table wines. Here, the vines struggle to survive in the extremely hot summers and cold winters. The hillsides can be so steep and rocky that dynamite is needed to clear narrow terraces for vineyard rows.
The principal red grapes used are many of the same varieties traditionally used in Port: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão. Douro reds range from light and fruit-forward to supple, spicy wines full of dense plum and black raspberry notes.
For a taste of all that Douro offers, try Quinta do Portal Grande Reserva Douro 2007 (94 points Wine Advocate, $29.99) a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, an aromatic red with berry, cedar and graphite flavors that’s velvety but muscular, with a firm structure. Pair with hard cheeses or game meats if you’re feeling adventurous!
For a splurge, pick up Prats and Symington Chryseia Douro 2012 (95 points Wine Enthusiast, $69.99), a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, aged 15 months in new French oak. With rich dark fruits, minerality, smooth tannins and graceful acidity, this wine drinks like a good Bordeaux and is delicious with veal or steak.
For a great value from a winemaker who aims to compete with the French greats, try Cedro do Noval Red Duriense 2010 (87 points Wine Spectator, $12.99) a lush blend of Syrah with Touriga Nacional, Tintao Cão, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. With notes of coffee, olive and dried berries, it’s perfect with stews, goat cheese or brie.
The Douro’s white table wines are not as well known. But with full-bodied blends of Viosinho, Rabigato, Côdega de Larinho and the traditional white Port grapes, Malvasia Fina and Gouveio, they deserve attention.
You’ll enjoy Quinta de la Rosa Douro DouROSA White 2012 ($14.99), a blend of Côdega de Larinho, Rabigato and small amounts of Gouveio and Malvasia Fina, all from high-altitude vineyards, which bring out stunning acidity. This expressive white has rich citrus flavors with noticeable minerality—a delicious complement to grilled fish and chicken.
Tastes of Dão
Another of Portugal’s promising regions for table wines, Dão lies about 30 miles south of the Douro River. Enclosed on three sides by mountains, the region is sheltered from the humidity and cold of the Atlantic, giving it a Mediterranean climate. About 80 percent of Dão’s wine production is red, principally from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto and Jaén grapes producing juicy, friendly wines.
From the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Winemaker’s Selection, Pedra Cancela Seleção do Enologo Red Dão 2010 (92 points Wine Enthusiast, $9.99) is a tasty medium-bodied blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro Preto with a hint of oak. This affordable red has cherry, berry and subtle mint flavors—an excellent match with pizza and takeout.
For something heavier—say with ribs and burgers—try Quinta de Lemos Dona Santana Dão 2009 (91 points Wine Enthusiast, $14.99). A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaén and Alfrocheiro Preto, aged 18 months in French oak, this is rich, fruity and complex with black fruit notes, sweet spice and perfumed character.
For Dão’s whites, the leading grape is Encruzado, yielding full-bodied wines. Bical grapes, noted for acidity, are also widely grown, as are the white Port varieties.
To sample a representative Dão white, try Proeza Dão White 2014 ($10.99), a blend of Encruzado, Malvasia Fina and Fernão Pires, with pear and mineral aromas and crispness perfect for shellfish and salads.
Now that the weather’s warming up, get out of hibernation and enjoy some of the tasty wines described here. I think you, too, will become fans of Portugal’s table wines.
Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She currently works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia. Learn more at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.