I suppose when you think about Portugal, it’s all about sunny holidays, great surf, and a few golf resorts. When you think about what the national drink (from an export point of view I guess) is, you’d be right in saying Port. The sweet and fortified wine effectively invented by the British merchants in the 18th century. It’s massive business and it makes use of the countless local grapes still grown in Portugal for plenty of blending to closely-guarded secret formulas.
Portuguese table wine always had a reputation of cheap rosés, led by the famous/infamous Mateus Rosé. But in the last 10 to 15 years lots of investment has come into the country. The big challenge was always that there are lots and lots of small vineyard owners, and how do you get everyone to modernize their techniques? And how do you keep an otherwise poor rural population working in the industry?
Well a lot of investment went into co-op houses (they buy in the grapes and process the wine on behalf of their own label, and sometimes for other people’s labels too) and price tariffs were set by local government on the grapes. It means that even the “cheaper” wines aren’t cheap anymore, but it also means that the “cheaper” wines are much better than they used to be.
In terms of its layout as a country, Portugal is very diverse for quite a small country. It’s got long beaches, flat plains, vast mountain ranges, the Atlantic Ocean, and plenty of rivers and tributaries. If we take the famous Douro river valley for example, the end by the ocean is cooler, wetter, and humid, but it rises into the mountains to the east and gets very hot and very dry. In that one valley you have lots of different areas, temperatures, altitudes etc. to grow your grapes. It’s what makes it possible to supply all these different grapes for Port production.
Of the grapes grown out in Portugal, one red variety has become forever linked with the better table wines of most of the wine-making areas, this week’s New Wine of the Week, Touriga Nacional!
Other posts in NWTW Week 6: