When one hears the words “European wine,” typically French Cabernet and Italian Lambrusco, or perhaps German Gewürztraminer, come to mind. Though Portuguese wines have become increasingly popular in American restaurants (especially the Vinho Verde varietal, and Port has made a resurgence in popularity), tourists often envision Portuguese wines as subprime to their French and Italian counterparts. Totalmente o contrário! Portuguese wines are complex and delicious, and the Minho and Douro wine regions of Portugal, though more rugged and less touristy than the Loire Valley or Tuscany, offer just as much charm.
The Minho Region
Minho is located in the northwest corner of Portugal, adjacent to Spain’s Galician province. The Minho region produces sharp reds and softer whites. Vinho Verde, perhaps the most popular Portuguese wine today, is from this region. Its name literally means “green wine,” a reference to the wine’s “youth.” Vinho Verde should be consumed soon after it is bottled, which means it is very reasonably priced. Wines from this region that are better with age are labeled as Reserva or Garrafeira, and cost a bit more. Vinho Verde is typically a white wine- fresh, fruity, and perfect for summertime. I recently learned that Vinho Verde can also be red, but red Vinho Verde is rarely exported. It is more acidic tasting than its white cousin and bright magenta in color.
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley, located in the northeastern part of the country, is separated from the Minho Region by the Douro River. The wine production area of the Douro Valley extends along the Douro River, as well as along its tributaries that run from the Spanish border to roughly 100 kilometers outside of Oporto. Port, Portugal’s most famous wine, is produced in this region. Though there are many countries that produce versions of this sweet, heavy wine, authentic Port (called Porto) only comes from Portugal’s Douro region.
There are 165 grape varietals in the region, however the five main red varieties are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, and Touriga Francesa. The four most common whites are Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Donselinho, and Gouveio. Touriga Nacional is widely recognized as the best grape for red Porto, and white Porto is made from a blend of Malaysia Fina and Viosinho, Donselinho or Gouveio.
Wine Tours in Portugal
A variety of wine tours are offered in the Minho and Douru regions. Tourists can choose between riding Portuguese Lusitano horses between vineyards (with stops for wine tasting), women’s wine tasting tours (featuring spa treatments and shopping deals), and longer wine tasting tours (1-2 weeks) in Douro, designed for true oenophiles who want to sample a large variety of wines and learn about the vine growing practices in the region.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com