Wines from Portugal
Port, the fortified favourite of the British and French, must be Portugal’s most famous export. Her best-known light wine could hardly be more different. Vinho Verde, made just north of the port-producing Douro region, is white, light and, in its natural state, very dry.
Alvarinho (Albarino in Galicia) grapes are hoisted up on pergolas and picked very early when their acidity is still high. This means that the natural sugar, and therefore potential alcohol, is still low, and Vinho Verde rarely has an alcohol level of more than 9%. The wines usually have a just perceptible and very refreshing sparkle, and the exported versions range from bone dry to medium dry.
Portugal’s most famous red-wine region is Dao (pronounced ‘Dow’), sometimes called Portugal’s Rioja. The difference is that Dao wines are usually much fuller-bodied and often considerably tougher when young. They are high in glycerine and tannin and mature versions, up to 15 years old, can still be found at very reasonable prices.
In anticipation of EEC entry, the country has been trying to sort out a system of wine quality designation based on the French Appellation Controlee system. This is yet to work perfectly, and several of the demarcated zones, such as Colares and Carcavelos produce very little wine nowadays. Bairrada is now making some very good reds, though much of the country’s reliable red wine is sold under the name of the producer, such as Serradayres, or called after the principal grape, such as Periquita. Garrafeira means special reserve.
A delicious and strongly flavoured dessert wine is made with Muscat grapes grown just south of Lisbon. Moscatel de Setubal develops a rich golden colour and tastes like a slightly more fiery version of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.
The commercial successes on the Portuguese winescape are the blends sold under the Mateus and Lancers labels. These are, typically, sweet, pink and good introductions to wines with a more complex flavour.