Why You'll Want to Get to Know Portuguese Wines This Summer

·6 min read
group of friends drinking casa ferreirinha wines outdoors
group of friends drinking casa ferreirinha wines outdoors

Courtesy of Casa Ferreirinha

In Portugal, as in most of Europe, wine is an essential part of everyday life. And that oftentimes includes wine at lunch—a glass of Alvarinho with your peixe grelhado (grilled fish) or whatever the prato do dia (dish of the day) may be? Why, sim obrigada (yes, thank you). As we all know, wine makes your food taste better.

With everyday drinking in mind, and the summer season of relaxed eating and entertaining hitting its stride, we've zeroed in on some regions of Portugal known for their eminently drinkable, delicious, and affordable wines. And we got recommendations from a wine expert who guided us to some amazing discoveries we're sharing here; we're also providing an overview of the country's main wine regions to help you when you're shopping for your next bottle of Portuguese wine.

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Italian Wines

Treasures of the Douro Valley

Of Portugal's 14 wine regions, the Douro Valley, the birthplace of port wine, is perhaps the most widely known. Port deservedly grabs the spotlight, but don't sleep on the area's unfortified reds and whites. "One of the best-kept secrets of the Douro Valley is the vast array of wines it offers, from entry-level, fruit-forward options like Esteva ($11.99, wine.com), all the way to the most iconic Portuguese wine, Barca Velha ($549.99, bedfordwines.com)," explains Anita Musi, fine wine specialist for Evaton Inc., the U.S. distribution arm of Sogrape Vinhos.

Douro wines are a combination of Old World and New World (many traditional winemakers, in fact, still stomp their grapes by foot) and, Musi says, they are typically blends of native grape varieties with a balance of ripe fruit and acidity. The primary red grape varieties include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, while the white grape varieties include Malvasia, Rabigato, and Viosinho. "Portuguese winemakers are master blenders, combining diverse varieties from distinct microclimates in perfect harmony," she notes.

Located in Northern Portugal around the Douro River, an hour and a half drive from Porto, the Douro is divided into three geographical areas. Baixo Corgo, the most western, is the coolest, and the wines from here are a bit lighter and influenced by the sea. Cima Corgo experiences less rainfall and boasts two-thirds of the Douro's vines, while the untamed Douro Superior, near the Spanish border, has very hot summers, extremely cold winters, and is more difficult to cultivate. Schist (mineral stone) and granite soils and a continental climate lend minerality to the white wines, while the reds range from light to plummy. The wines are food-friendly, and usually more affordable than California wines, too, Musi adds, overdelivering in value.

Try Casa Ferreirinha Douro Branco Papa Figos 2019 ($13, saratogawine.com), a refreshing white blend with balanced acidity, paired with swordfish kabobs or a layered summer salad. Duorum Tons De Duorum White Blend 2019 ($14.99, wine.com) a crisp white, takes on cioppino and grilled chicken. And Casa Ferreirinha Callabriga, 2018 ($32.99, totalwine.com), a complex red blend aged in American oak, complements smoky baby back ribs or zesty Spanish rice.

Vinho Verde Is Perfect for Summer

Portugal's largest DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) is Vinho Verde, and it also offers wines with amazing quality—many are the quintessence of summer drinking. "The name Vinho Verde (Green Wine) refers to the fact that these are wines meant to be enjoyed young—or while still green and not fully ripened," says Musi.

With the Minho River to the north, the mountainous Trás-os-Montes to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Douro River flowing through the south, the terrain is lush and verdant. Though each of the Vinho Verde's nine sub-regions has its own microclimate, the area is generally cool and rainy, with granite soils. The inland sub-region of Monção and Melgaço is famous for its dry, complex Alvarinho wines with minerality and high acidity, made from the Alvarinho grape. To the south, in the sub-regions of Lima, Cávado, and Ave, Loureiro is one of the major grape varieties and the wines are floral or citrus-scented, while in the Amarante and Baião sub-regions, the Avesso grape yields dry, mineral-driven whites. And while its white blends and single-varietals are legendary, the Vinho Verde produces red, rosé, and sparkling wine, too. "The three things they all share is that they are light, refreshing, and surprisingly affordable," says Musi.

Sample Quinta de Azevedo Reserva Vinho Verde 2017 ($13.99, wine.com), a fizz-free blend of Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes, with shrimp tacos or Thai pork salad. Flinty and full-bodied, the Quinta de Linhares Avesso Vinho Verde 2018 ($13.99, wine.com) heightens coconut-curry mussels while the slightly effervescent Gazela Vinho Verde Rosé ($8.99, wine.com) is the perfect pour for pasta with pesto.

The Old Vines of the Alentejo

Sprawling over the southern part of Portugal, east of Lisbon, the sparsely populated Alentejo boasts rolling plains with a landscape alternating between cork and olive groves, lavender fields, wheat, and whitewashed farmhouses. While big, easy-drinking reds dominate this humongous winemaking area, complex whites have also gained ground.

The Alentejo has eight different inland sub-regions and vineyard soils rich in limestone, granite, and schist. Its microclimates and terrain are diverse, ranging from the mountainous northeast area around Portalegre, near the Spanish border, with its old vines and cooler climate, to the hotter central area around the towns of Évora, Borba, Reguengos, and Estremoz, known for its balanced acidic wines. The Moura and Granja-Amareleja regions in the south get blistering hot, and the wines can be robust and rustic. And the wines bear the label of DOC Alentejo and sometimes the name of the sub-region, too, while the regional wines, labeled Vinho Regional Alentejano, can use foreign grape varieties like Syrah.

Savor Quinta do Quetzal 'Guadalupe' Tinto 2016 ($15, tintowineandcheese.com), a smooth red blend made from Syrah and two of the Alentejo's primary red grapes, Alicante Bouschet and Aragonês, with grilled beef tenderloin or one-pan orecchiette. You can also team the intense, spicy Cartuxa Pera Manca White 2016 ($49.99, wine.com), a blend of Antão Vaz and Arinto, two of the Alentejo's main white grapes, with spaghetti lobster fra diavolo.

Many Regions, Many Styles

While many of Portugal's most sip-worthy wines are region-specific, others achieve their characteristics from blending grapes from multiple regions. Such is the case with Silk & Spice Red Blend ($11.99, wine.com), a smooth red that pairs beautifully with summer favorites, like burgers and grilled marinated hanger steak.