It’s a conversation that occurs regularly at my job, which is to be expected when working with at a restaurant that has more than a few esoteric wines on the list. “I’ll have a <Pinot Grigio/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Noir/Merlot/other common grape variety>, please.” “I don’t have one of those, but I have something similar,” I respond. “This wine from Portugal would be excellent.” The guest looks at me, bewildered: “From Portugal? But I’ve never had a Portuguese wine!”
Yes, it’s easy to forget about Portugal, a country often overshadowed in American minds by its much-larger Spanish neighbor to the east. Though its two famous fortified wines, Port and Madeira, enjoyed great success in the 17th and 18th centuries, subsequent years of political struggle, both internal and external, hindered the Portuguese wine market’s growth. While many U.S. wine consumers have tried, or at least heard of, Port wine, recent trends towards drier styles have contributed towards a decline in its popularity.
But it’s a shame to forget about Portugal, not only when it comes to wine, but when it comes to food, travel, culture, and more! The Portuguese are some of the warmest, most welcoming people, and they hold their country’s history in high respect, all of which shines through in their wines.
Need more convincing? Read these five reasons why you should drink more Portuguese wine, and have no shame if you then want to go seek one out immediately.
Because Portuguese wines remain unknown to many U.S. wine drinkers, the quality to price ratio is high; where there is less demand, prices can remain low. Many bottles remain in the under-$15 category, but drink like they cost upwards of $20. Take the 2010 Herdade do Esporão Reserva Red: priced at just $25, this wine is has richness and complexity and will continue to evolve into meaty, tobacco-like goodness as it ages. This vintage especially is spectacular, and worth far more than the price tag.
Unique, indigenous varieties
Want to impress all of your wine friends? Just brush up on your Portuguese grapes, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Castelão, Fernão Pires, Trincadeira, Antão Vaz – they may be tongue-twisters, but they all contribute to the unique landscape of Portuguese wine. Portugal’s most famous grape is Touriga Nacional, which is traditionally used in Port but also makes top-notch table wines smelling of blueberries and violets.
Portugal may be small, but it has a huge diversity of microclimates, from cool, lush Vinho Verde along the northern Atlantic coast to hot, arid Alentejo in the landlocked Southeast. This creates a variety of wine styles: white, red, rosé, still, sparkling, fortified, dry, sweet, and more! There’s a Portuguese wine out there to please any and every wine drinker.
Portuguese hospitality is often centered around a table, so it is unsurprising that Portuguese wines tend to be incredibly food-friendly. The wines are typically well-balanced, have excellent acidity, and, as previously mentioned, have a wide range of styles to match both local and international cuisines.
Tradition meets modernity
Ever see that episode of I Love Lucy when the gang stomps wine grapes? That is called “foot-treading,” and while it’s synonymous with winemaking in many peoples’ eyes, the technique is rarely used today – except for in Portugal. It’s just one example of how Portuguese winemakers’ continuation of tradition creates exceptional wine. That being said, Portugal also embraces innovation in winemaking, especially when it comes to conservationism.
Courtney Schiessl is working the 2014 Portuguese wine harvest with Herdade do Esporão in the Alentejo and Quinta dos Murças in the Douro. She will be writing about her harvest experiences here on The Daily Meal and on her website, www.courtneyschiessl.com.