Out of all the major wine countries in Europe, why is Portugal so lost to us? The average American wine lover can reel off a bevy of French regions, touch down in Italy for Chianti and Barolo, recall a glass of Rioja or sherry, and even note that Germany has its Rieslings. But mention Portugal and the result is a puzzled look. Then, wait: Isn’t that fizzy pink stuff Portuguese? In the funny bottle? Mateus? Right. That one.
No shade on Mateus; if you’re after cheap, fizzy, pink, and sweet, it’s as good a choice as any. But it no more defines Portuguese wine than Bud Light defines beer. This fascinating country’s wines span a vast range of styles, and, in the hands of the current generation of ambitious winemakers, quality has soared. Consider: Do you think of Vinho Verde as a super-simple white to drink ice-cold in the summer? That may be, but try Anselmo Mendes’ versions. There’s complexity and deliciousness to be had in Vinho Verde you might never have guessed. Holding onto memories of chunky reds from the hot plains of Alentejo? Try Catarina Vieira’s vivid bottlings from Herdade do Rocim. Or look to Bairrada or Dão, regions you may have never even heard of. I’d say it’s time to fix that situation.
In the past few years, Portugal has become one of the most popular travel destinations on earth, so my hope is that a little of people’s newfound love for the place rubs off on its wines, too. Plus, Portuguese wines are often wildly underpriced for the amount of flavor they offer—and even at their most expensive, they’re far less than the price of a round-trip ticket to Lisbon.
Here, 15 Portuguese Wines to Try Now:
2018 Anselmo Mendes 3 Rios Vinho Verde ($15)
For anyone accustomed to simple, spritzy Vinho Verde, Anselmo Mendes’ wines are eye-opening. This zesty white is ridiculously inviting, full of lime and grapefruit flavors.
2017 Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Douro White ($15)
This supple wine from longtime port producer Ramos Pinto is a blend of the Portuguese varieties Rabigato, Arinto, and Viosinho and suggests ripe pears with a touch of marzipan.
2018 Vila Nova Alvarinho ($18)
This estate has been owned by the Lencastres since the 12th century, though they’ve only been making their own wines— like this fresh, flinty, grapefruit-y white—since the 1970s.
2017 Esporão Reserva White ($20)
Portugal’s sunny Alentejo region produces wines with abundant fruit flavors. This blend of Antão Vaz, Roupeiro, and other varieties is no exception: It’s tangerine-scented, with sweet citrus fruit and a creamy texture.
2018 Soalheiro Alvarinho ($20)
Soalheiro was one of the first Portuguese wineries to concentrate on varietal Alvarinho. It’s still one of the best, winning you over with fresh, tingly citrus notes then lingering on rocky minerality.
1994 Caves São João Poço Do Lobo Arinto ($60)
In 2013 the owners of this idiosyncratic winery in Bairrada decided to start rereleasing older vintages from their cellar. This lemony Arinto, with its aged notes of toasted almonds, is the current library release.
2017 João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Red ($10)
Ebullient red fruit notes, exceptionally enjoyable but uncomplicated, are the signature of this value-oriented blend from vineyards near Estremoz in the south of Portugal.
2016 Dac Tinto ($16)
Alvaro Castro, the Dão region’s premier winemaker, uses organically grown grapes from his Quinta da Pellada estate—where vines have been grown since the early 1500s—for this cherry-inflected, peppery wine.
2016 Prats & Symington Prazo De Roriz ($17)
Quinta de Roriz, in the heart of the Douro Valley, is the source for this blackberry-juicy red. Its flavors suggest the ripening heat of Portugal’s summer and the valley’s abundant wild herbs.
2017 Quinta De La Rosa Red ($20)
Jorge Moreira is one of the Douro Valley’s most talented winemakers, and this wine he makes for Quinta de la Rosa, with its dark-berried fruit and scent of violets, features estate-grown grapes and is a serious bargain.
2016 Herdade Do Rocim Alicante Bouschet ($20)
Partners Catarina Vieira and Pedro Ribeiro run this ambitious southern Alentejo estate. The scent of this aromatic, violet-hued wine recalls bay leaves and black cherries.
2009 Eladio Piñeiro La Coartada Grande Escolha ($31)
Eladio Piñeiro farms biodynamically and holds this Alentejo red until he feels it’s ready to drink. Its liqueur-like raspberry fruit and forest-floor notes end on soft, fine tannins.
2016 Filipa Pato & William Wouters Nossa Calcario Red ($35)
Husband-and-wife team Pato and Wouters make, as they say, “wines without makeup”—certainly this floral, light-bodied Bairrada red, with no new oak at all, fits that ambition.
2016 Quinta Do Vale Meão Douro ($100)
Vale Meão was long the heart of Portugal’s iconic Barca Velha red. Now owner Francisco Olazabal makes his own stellar wine there, full of violets, mocha, and rich black raspberry fruit.
2017 Warre’s Vintage Port ($140)
In the extraordinary 2017 port vintage, possibly the best in 30 years, the wines from the top houses are all stellar, but the Warre leaps out with fine floral aromas, fresh plum and blackberry fruit, and concentrated intensity.