An Overview of Distinctive Wine Regions and Varieties in Portugal

As to wines from Portugal, most consumers only know Porto Wine. Portugal is a coastal and strip-shaped country in the Southwest of the European Continent as well as a major producer of wine. Its coastal regions are affected by the oceanic climate while its inland regions by the continental climate. There are over 250 native varieties of grapes. Most Portuguese wines are blended with several varieties. Most winemakers in Portugal are experts in blending wine, which is another guarantee for the diversity of Portuguese wines. Native wines dominate the menus of local restaurants, supermarkets and pubs. The enormous domestic market is the very basis for local wineries.

Including the fortified Porto Wine and Madeira which are time-honoured and much-treasured, there are many distinctive wine regions and varieties from the north to the south.

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Last year, I visited wine regions in Portugal for 3 times. In May this year, I was the only judge from the Chinese Mainland to the Wine Competition organized by Viniportugal (Viniportugal will attend ProWine China 2014 in Shanghai). In June, I visited most wine regions from the north to the south and even the Madeira Island. All those trips contribute to my knowledge on Portuguese wines. Some varieties I spotted during my visits, little known to people in the Chinese Mainland, produce premium wines for generations. Here I choose some to share with you:

There are some famous green wine regions in Northwest Portugal. Green wines have nothing to do with the colour but come from early harvest of grapes. Green wines are low in maturity. They are light and fresh with microbubbles. Native Alvarinho (termed as Albarino outside Portugal) can produce top white wine tinged with a balance of fruit and minerals. The aftertaste is light and complex with layers. Chateau like Quinta Da Lixa will attend ProWine China 2014 in Shanghai this November.

The Douro Valley, featured with schist soil and terrace, is one of the 3 staple regions of Porto Wines (Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz, Tempranilo —— also called Aragones in the south). During my visits, I found that the philosophies of both vineyards with a signal variety and ones with several varieties have their fans respectively. That is one of the major differences between the emerging and the traditional.

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I learnt the most from the visit to Bairrada. Baga, a red wine variety, can make wines with good acidity. It can produce wines to be magnificent, traditional and full as well as having a delicate structure. Wines of that kind are good for storage. Their mellowness is better than that of Touriga Nacional. There are excellent cost-effective sparkling wines in the local area. This area is home to 65% of the country’s sparkling wines.

Bucelas AOC in the Lisboa Region is home to Arinto white wine which is brisk, mellow and complex with good concentration.

Peninsula de Setubal is the perfect habitat for Castelao red wines. Their mature tannin, balanced body and moderate taste may have greater potential in the Chinese market. The signature wine of Setubal is the fortified Moscatel de Setubal, which is sweet and fragrant, complex after years’ storage in oak barrels. It is a fortified musk sweet wine of full thickness. I tasted the 1911 vintage during my visit. The 100-year wine, superbly condensed, favoured of citrus, licorice and honey, is of strong AHA but with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. What a pity it can only be bought at auctions. Its maker is JOSE MARIA DA FONSECA which attended ProWine China last year. They are one of the representatives in Setubal.

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The Alentejo region has an abundance of cork oaks which are to produce corks. The soil and climate are diversified here. There are vieilles vignes in some areas with edges, which contribute to superior wines. Quite a few overseas species are increasingly introduced in this region.

Madeira Fortified Wine, dubbed as Immortal Wine, is produced on the Madeira Island, 1,000 km from Mainland Portugal. Though it is well-renowned in the world, there is a very limited production of AAAAA Madeira. The making of Vintage Madeira, in particular, shall last for 2 decades, so the pricing is staggering. Fortunately, there is a large supply of other low-priced Madeira. Exhibitors include Justino’s and Henriques & Henriques.

With the publicity of Portuguese wines in the Chinese market over the past years and the diversified consumer demand, China became the 5th largest export market outside the EU after Angola, the United States, Canada and Brazil in 2013. The sales hit 12 million Euros last year. This year, more efforts have been devoted to the publicity like offering wine courses to professionals, recruiting delegations to ProWine China and inviting media people to visit wine regions. Though the Chinese market is constrained by the restrictive policies of the Central Government (for reducing the consumption of public funds on official receptions, vehicles and overseas trips), we are surprised to see that the sales of premium Portuguese wines are soaring. Portuguese wines, high-qualified, elegant and cost-effective with considerable market potentials, are gaining favour by wine importers. Portugal, on the west tip of the European Continent, is an Old World wine maker for a long time. In the past, the country was always a renovator in the wine industry. In the years ahead, it will bring about more distinctive wines for Chinese consumers.

- LU Jiang, WineSchool China -