Portugal: Wine Travel

 
 

Portugal was once a seafaring nation whom at one point in time ruled half of the "New World," and now finally the world is uncovering its charms. You will learn about the ancient art of boat making and begin to understand how this opened up the world with the origin of trading practices. You will find both medieval and baroque architectural styles. When peaking inside the churches, it will give you some understanding of the riches the nation held; with elaborate gilt works and alters covered in gold.

Portugal was the exclusive maker of Port wine for centuries. This fortified wine put Portugal on the wine map; that, and its cork trees. Many are starting to realize Portugal has more to offer than just Port wine and with the increasing wine quality it should be on your wine travel list. These same red grapes are now making outstanding full-bodied, tannic, age-worthy red wines. Don't worry if you've never heard of the grape varieties, over 200 indigenous varietals are making for so much to be tasted and explored.

Lisbon is one of my favorite European cities with pastel-colored, and uniquely tiled buildings adding to the character. The city is built on hillsides extending down to the bay, and it enchants you with water views at almost at every turn. The graffiti-covered cable cars will get you across the city and a great way to explore its neighborhoods. Traversing the cobblestone streets, you'll find a lively café culture and a buzzing nightlife. A special treat is Lisbon's famous pastéis de belém with handmade pastries filled with custard cream.

Porto (Oporto) split by the Douro River with all of the famous Port makers on one side and the beautiful old town on the other. The city is rich in history and the home of its famous Port wine. Road tripping between Lisbon and Porto you can make some interesting stops, with each town unique in it's offering;

Sintra - hilltop 19th-century palace

Obidos – charming hill town famous for its sweet cherry liquor

Nazare – surfers mecca and famous for its women who wear skirts with seven petticoats

Coimbra – with the oldest university in Europe

Aveiro – canals traversed by barcos moliceiros (boats) and famous for its Ovos Moles de Aveiro dessert

Beyond the Port Houses, the wine tasting experience is still a very quaint one, no big fancy tasting rooms, and where you can easily arrange one-on-one appointments to be shown around the vineyards and production facility. In visiting many of the wineries, it is appropriate to schedule a visit in advance.

The Vinho Verde region is located just north of Porto and can be experienced with day-trips. No the wines aren't green as the translation of the name would imply; it depicts the landscape and the fact that they produce young wines. Mostly a white wine region, the wines produced tend to be light, crisp, and refreshing. You will also find some Vinho Verde with a little pétillance (fizz). The region extends to the Portuguese-Spanish border, which may be why you will find some similarity with Albariño, they virtually share the same grape known in Portugal as Alvarinho.

A pleasant visit in this region is the town of Guimarães, which has significant historical importance as it is considered to be the birthplace of Portugal. For decades it was the capital of the country and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All over Portugal, seafood is the dominant cuisine, particularly the meaty white fish bacalao (cod). White Vinho Verde with its high acidity makes it an ideal for pairing with all forms of seafood and today it is definitely a bargain.

The beauty of the Douro Valley wine region is incomparable. The vistas overlooking the Douro River valley are merely breathtaking; steep, terraced vineyards all the way down to the water. The unique soil is flinty rocks like slate, which act to moderate the temperatures of the grapes during the cold winters and the heat of the summer. There are hundreds of native grapes; many directly descend from pre-historic vine plants that developed in the country and have to endure thousands of years. The wineries in the region (Quinta) often have upwards of 40 different varietals in one plot. This to me is one of the most beautiful uniqueness of the region, where they already have natures perfect blend. If you are seeking authenticity and age-old traditions you'll find it here. With the steep nature of the vineyards, most wineries handpick their grapes, and you will still see the traditional concrete lagers that were used to crush the port grapes by foot.

A group of winemakers known as the Douro Boys (Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Niepoort, Quinta Vale D. Maria and Quinta do Vale Meão) came together to promote the red wines of this region. They have transformed the old-world perceptions and created a lively and vibrant image of Portuguese wine. If you endure the winding road to Quinta do Crasto, you will be rewarded not only with fantastic views but fabulous wines. Another standout of our visit were the wines of Wine and Soul, run by a dynamic winemaking couple that is setting the standard for the new Douro generation.

Road trip from Lisbon through inland Portugal right to the border with Spain and you will find small white villages. You will fall in love with Évora, Estremoz, and Monsaraz each so charming and easily explored. Here the food becomes richer, and the wine steps up to match. The Alentejo wine region is mostly flat planes and rolling hills, where the climate is dry and very hot, reminds me a bit of eastern Washington. This area provides another full-bodied red wine, typically a blend, which offers generous fruit and mocha flavors. In this region, you can explore the cork forests and seek out the mystical site where one of the oldest and largest stone-circles can be found.

So you can see with so much history, and such a wide variety of grapes and wines, I'd put Portugal as a top wine and travel destination.