The Greek, the Phoenicians and the Romans already brought vines to the Iberian peninsula in the ancient times. In the 12th century the Portuguese started to ship wine to England. Before Portugal became part of the EU in 1986, the country was rather isolated which is the reason why there is still a variety of local vines contributing to the unmistakable character of Portuguese wine.
All over Europe Portugal has the most variety of autochtonic white and red grapes. Moreover, what is worth mentioning, Portugal’s “Colares”, a very rare vine, is still grown with ungrafted European vines in the sand near the Atlantic coast. The vine pest that destroyed almost all of the other European vines in the 19th century could not survive in the sand and spared Portugal’s vineyards.
Portugal is the seventh biggest wine region with a cultivation area of over 250,000 hectares. The critical factor for the quality of Portuguese wine is the Atlantic ocean. The rainy North is beneficial for growing sprightly and light quality wines. Some regions count to the most rainy regions of South Europe. The middle of the country, however, is dry and hot. Here, heavy and alcohol-rich wines are produced. In the South of Portugal, with a few exceptions, the simple superior table wine is produced. Portugal’s dessert wines are also very popular, among these are the Port-wine, the Madeira and the Muskateller.
The legal foundations for wine cultivation were set in 1756. Between 1907 and 1911 they were reviewed. The regional commission of wine cultivation (Comisso Vitivinicola) supervises the originality and quality of wines.
Today, there are five wine cultivation zones, 32 regions growing quality vines, 26 of these with DOC-status. Wine with IPR-denomination are produced in six regions. Besides, there are eight regions producing superior table wines. The rest cultivates table wines.
Portugal’s wine designation:
– Verdes: Young wines that are consumed right after fermentation.
– Maturo: Mature wines. All wines that do not belong to the Verdes.
– Reserva: Red and white quality wines matured in vats.
– Grande Reserva: Wines with a minimum maturing time of five years.
– Garrafeida: Label denomination for a quality wine that had been stored in a vat or vault for a very long time.
– Velho: Red and white wines of very high quality.
Red grape varieties are predominant with 70 percent in Portugal. The most popular red noble vine is the Touriga Nacional that is responsible for deep red, highly aromatic wines. However, the varieties Periquita and Baga are mainly cultivated.
Other reds are Alfrocheiro, Castelo Francs, Touriga Francesca and Tinta Roriz.
Popular whites are Maria Gomes, Malvasia, Avesso, Azal, Bical, Encruzado, Trajadura, Verdelho, Bital and Arinto.