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Portugal has a wine culture that dates back centuries, but it wasn't until the last 30 years that international markets began to appreciate the unique, distinctive tastes of Portuguese wine.
Portugal's wine production is dominated by native grape varieties which are used to produce some of Portugal's most famous wines, such as Port, Madeira, and Vinho Verde.
This article will provide a brief history of wine in Portugal, the main wine producing regions, and the most notable wine varieties.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WINE IN PORTUGAL
There's a long history of wine production in Portugal, dating back to at least 2000 B.C. when vineyards were planted in the valleys of the River Tejo and River Sado.
However, it wasn't until the 12th Century that there were export opportunities for Portuguese wines, when Portugal began shipping certain wines to England. This was the start of a long-lasting export alliance with England. It was the British population's love of Port that really drove the growth of Port production from the 17th Century.
Portugal didn't escape the devastating effects of the vine pest phylloxera in the 19th Century, and like most European countries saw a lot of their established vineyards destroyed in this period.
Many of Portugal's vineyards were replanted following the impact of phylloxera, but political instability across the country held back the development of the Portuguese wine industry in the early 20th Century.
It was only when Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 that the wine industry grew significantly. Many smaller Portuguese wine producers were provided with EU grants to help improve their winemaking facilities and there was a drive to invest in wine quality and standardisation to help meet EU standards and the expectations of the international export markets.
Similar to Spain, Portugal has been reluctant to plant many international grape varieties, preferring to focus on production of its indigenous grapes. This has proved to be an excellent strategy, as the world is starting to pay attention to the distinctive flavours and characteristics found in the wines of Portugal.
If we fast-forward to today, Portugal is the 9th largest exporter of wine in the world, with France, UK and the USA as its three largest export markets.
WHERE IS WINE PRODUCED ACROSS PORTUGAL?
There are 12 main wine producing regions across Portugal: Minho, Transmontano, Douro, Dão, Barraida, Lisboa, Tejo, Beira Interior, Alentejo, Algarve, Setúbal, and the island of Madeira.
The Minho wine region is in the North-West of Portugal, on the Atlantic coast. It is mainly white grape varieties that are grown in this region, and they are almost exclusively indigenous to Portugal. The Minho region is most famous for producing Vinho Verde wine, which is a lightly sparkling wine produced from blend of grape - typically Alvarinho, Loureiro, Arinto and Avesso grapes. Historically, Vinho Verde table wines were mainly consumed by the Portuguese domestic market. However, in recent years, international export markets have been very welcoming of Vinho Verde wines.
The Douro Valley region is possibly the best known wine region of Portugal, and vineyards are planted on the hillsides of the Douro River. The Douro region is world famous for the production of Port wines and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dão wine region is renowned for producing amazing red wines, with over 80% of wine production in this region being from red grape varieties. The main indigenous wines produced in the Dao region include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Encruzado.
WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR STYLES OF WINE FROM PORTUGAL?
There are over 280 different varieties of grape grown across Portugal, the majority of them indigenous grape varieties native to the country. The decision to continue to plant local grapes instead of more internationally recognised varieties is currently working well for Portugal as the world awakens to the unique flavours of Portuguese wines.
The most popular and well known wine to come out of Portugal is Port, which is a fortified red wine from the Duoro Valley. Most port wine is made from a blend of different grapes, with the five commonly used varieties for the production of Port being Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao, Tempranillo, Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional.
Another fortified wine that enjoys international recognition is Madeira, which is produced on the island of Madeira, situated off the coast of Africa. Madeira wine is produced from a selection of local grape varieties, with Tinta Negra Mole, Sercial and Verdelho being the most widely used.
Vinho Verde is an increasingly popular Portuguese wine that is currently estimated to be exported to over 104 international markets. Vinho Verde can be loosely translated as "green wine" which is more of a reference to the youthful, crisp and light nature of the wine rather than the colour of the grape used - although the majority of Vinho Verde wines are white grape blends, there are red and rose varieties.
There is also international demand for Portuguese red blends. Common grape varieties found in popular red wine blends are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tempranillo, Castelão and Trincadeira.
We have a small but perfectly formed collection of Portugese Wines in our online shop, so why not head over and take a look.
Our favourite is the fabulous Vinho Verde Ponte De Lima Rose, which is fresh and easy drinking, with fruity aromas.
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