Things to Take on the Trip
For a small country Portugal is so diverse it can take a lot of luggage to take all the significant things in. On a good trip it is better to travel light. So, let’s stick to the essentials and the favourites.
What makes Portugal so diverse?
Portugal is a place of many influences: the uniqueness arises through the conflict of different sides and though absorption of different trends. This is true for the climate; people, culture and the wine, making the diversity and uniqueness of wine a good metaphor for the people and the land that give birth to it.
The struggle of the forces of Nature
The climate, Mediterranean by definition, is torn by perpetual collision of the Atlantic dampness from the West and dry continental influence from the East. This struggle of atmospheric masses is finely narrated by the complex terrain. The Granite Mountains invading from the East and the North, leave the plains of Alentejo relatively flat, while throwing an abundance of rivers over the rest of the region, which cut through hard rock to create deep valleys. As a result of this compartmentalisation two neighbouring vineyards growing the same grape can produce quite
distinct wines (e.g. see António Ribeiro Perreira, page 19). In a lot of places the soils are poor making both the vines and the people who grow them tough and full of character.
A lot of cultures passed through Portugal:
South to North
Tartessians, arguably, planted vines in Tagus and Sado valleys as early as 2000 BC. Around 10th century BC Phonecians brought new grape varieties and new winemaking processes. Later, Greeks, Celts and Romans spread it further north, and introduced and developed new winemaking processes.
North to South
With the collapse of the Roman Empire the cultures invading from the north preserved and cultivated winemaking. Cistercian monks with the monasteries dotted around Beiras, Dao and the north brought a new era underlined by the traditions from France.
The conflict between the French and the English led to the increase of wine export from the Vinho Verde and Douro regions, culminating in the creation of the world first demarcated region where port wines were produced. Long distance shipping required preservation and a number of fortified wines developed.
20th century- the age of destruction
Phyloxera invading from Spain at the end of the 19th century devastated much of the indigenous vines through the first half of the 20th. Compared to the North, sheltered in deep valleys, the open plained exposed South was particularly affected, where agriculture, as a consequence, had to turn away from wine and later replanted with high yielding varieties and French hybrids.
The sand based soils North of Lisbon and the wind from the Atlantic provided the best protection from the plague. The engrafted Ramisco vines of the Colares region are some of the oldest in Portugal, producing deep coloured, full bodied, tannic wines.
Dictatorship was another misfortune that gripped the country and its wine. The conformist and repressive culture subdued enterprise and creativity, turning the country inwards and isolating it from much of the world. Junta Nacional do Vinho 1937, encouraged consolidation of small vineyard owners into large cooperatives. This took winemaking away from individual growers, while winemaking standards of some of these establishments brought a bad reputation to the cooperatives as a structure and the name of Portuguese wine in general.
Revolution and Revival
Carnation revolution brought about stark changes. People were liberated and filled with optimism. The monopolistic power of cooperatives was curtailed, and investment and subsidies allowed individual producers to modernise, to develop and to experiment with their own ways, leading to the the rise of the Quintas.
The country and the winemaking, with a rich past and tradition which allowed to preserve uniqueness and diversity, is now in the pursuit of quality and recognition. The Douro region only recently returned to making dry wines and in many ways leads the country on the international scene. But the wine revival is felt throughout the country. The new generation is returning to their old family lands. There is an emerging trend for organic and sustainable production. And its unique identity is slowly penetrating the rest of the world.
White Portuguese Varieties
Loureiro - A high quality grape planted in Vinho Verde region. Makes harmonious and tasteful wines with strong aroma.
Encruzado - The most balanced white grape grown in Dão. Makes surprisingly fresh and persistent wines, with aromatic complexity and high potential for aging.
Antão Vaz - A productive, consistent and reliable grape exceptionally well adapted to Alentejo. Makes firm and full bodied wines, structured and perfumed.
Arinto - A very productive grape spread throughout most regions. Makes vibrant and harmonious wines with grape aroma with potential to age.
Bical - This early maturation grape with regular yield, is grown manly in the centre of Portugal. Elegant and dry wines with good acidity and complex aromas.
Azal and Avesso - Two good quality varieties grown in Vinho Verde. Azal makes slightly acid and fruity wines with delicate aroma. Avesso makes well balanced and well flavoured wines with grape aroma.
Alvarinho – One of Portugal’s finest and most characterful grapes. Its full-bodied, subtly fragrant white wines are easy to recognise, their complex but delicate aromas reminiscent of peach, lemon, passion fruit, lychee, orange zest, jasmin, orange blossom and lemon balm. The wines are delicious young, but they can also age well, often for ten years or more.
Red Portuguese Varieties
Touriga Nacional- The noblest Portuguese variety, spread in all regions. Intense and thick colour wines, with complex aromas, persistent and robust, with high potential for aging and unmistakable mellow flavour.
Aragonês / Tinta Roriz- A very productive with early maturation Iberian variety grown in most regions. Very elegant and balanced wines with potential for aging.
Touriga Franca- Well adapted to Douro slopes, adds fitness to the wines which are light and perfumed, with equilibrated tannins and fruity aromas.
Trincadeira- A vigorous and temperamental grape well adapted to Alentejo. Aromatic and fruity wines, with natural acidity, regularly combined with Aragonês.
Jaen – A grape with good yields typical of Dão. Elegant wines with intense colour and very soft due to its weak acidity, with preciously intense and delicate perfume.
Vinhão- A quality dye red grape widespread through all Vinho Verde region. Makes full-bodied, harmonious and tastefull wines with red garnet.
Alfrocheiro- A grape with regular production and maturation used in the North. Makes fine and fruity wines with balanced tannins and complex aromas.