Depending on who you ask, Portugal is blessed with somewhere between 250 to 500 native grapes — a number right up there with Italy, Georgia (the country not the state!), and Spain. With such a wealth of indigenous varietals, no wonder they haven’t bothered to make more wine more familiar to Americans like Cabernet Sauvignon. (Although they do make Cabernet and Syrah too!)
For the adventurous wine drinker or for folks looking for wines that are affordable and food friendly, this is quite an advantage. And just because you haven’t heard of these grapes doesn’t mean there’s anything new about them: people have been making wine in Portugal since 2000 BC!
When the Romans invaded and named Portugal Lusitania, after Lusus, the son of Bacchus aka the God of wine, they did a lot to spread winemaking from southern Portugal north, and they added significant infrastructure including aqueducts like the one below:
A SIDE NOTE: In addition to building aqueducts and wineries, the Romans also developed thermal springs into spas! Check out Longroiva, a hotel built on an ancient site which has been improved and modernized by Lisbon-based architect Luís Rebelo de Andrade in the north east Portugal town of Mêda — walled towns, walking trails, wineries, and hot springs! Sounds like heaven to me!
With the fall of Rome, local authorities and the church maintained the vineyards and kept up production. Wine was exported to England and fortified to stabilize it for the journey. This developed the Port industry and the beverage was popular in England as well as in the United States, eclipsing over time unfortified wines, both white and red.
Like they were around the world, grapevines in Portugal were decimated by the Phylloxera epidemic, and combined with political forces, much of the land that had once been vineyards was planted with other crops including the development of extensive cork forests; today Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world.
Unfortunately, much of the wine that was produced was not of a very high quality, however, that has changed in the past 20 years as Portugal has sought to increase production of better, more distinct wine that reflects the terroir of the various wine growing regions.
In the past, the Portuguese drank almost all of the unfortified wine they produced. Now they have enough to export into the US and other countries– and Americans should take advantage by experimenting with these very food friendly and affordable wines. Red or white– you can’t lose with these wines at these prices!
In 2009, I had the opportunity to visit Portugal’s Alentejo region for a week and to spend a day learning about the cork industry. It was my first visit to Europe, and the sense of history walking the limestone cobbled streets and visiting the storied structures inspired me and left me in awe.
As a poet, I also appreciated that the Portuguese honor and respect their literary heroes. Poetry and the literary arts are part of daily life for the Portuguese and graces the walls of the Lisbon Aquarium and a bicycle path!
While I expected to enjoy and appreciate the wine, I didn’t expect to fall so hard for the cuisine!
Some of the most memorable meals of my life were enjoyed in Portugal. One of the restaurants, Fialho, in historic Evora, had recently published a cook book which was given to me and we explored it for ideas for our Wine Pairing Weekend Meal.
What’s all this talk of Portugal leading into?
Just in case you’re new around here, each month a group of wine and food bloggers take up a different theme and explore the wine and cuisine around that theme. For September, I am hosting — and I chose the theme of Portugal. Continue reading to find links to learn what other folks ate and drank this month.
Spanish cheese and charcuterie
Fresh figs, olives, bread
Caldo Verde (a kale soup)
Milho Frito (corn and kale fritter)
Lobster green salad with pickled vegetables
Rice made with lobster stock and saffron
Pork Loin with Clams
Fig and Almond Torte
2009 – Finis Terra – White wine blend $7
2012 – Muralhas de monção – Vinho Verde – $12
Red Wine Blends:
2009 – Finis Terra Alentejo – $7
2010 – Reserva Cabeza de Toro – $12
2011 – Callabriga – Alentejo – $16
2012 – Portal – Colheita – Douro – $18
2014 – Jose De Sousa – Alentejano – $13
Porto – Morgado – Tawny Port – $7
So many minerals and so much salinity on all of these wines! Please note: when we tasted the wines we had no idea what the price points were.
2009 – Finis Terra – White wine – SRP $7 – 13% alcohol
Blend of Antão Vaz, Siria, Rabo de Ovelha, and Perrum
This wine was intended to be enjoyed long ago. But it was a reminder of the trip, and I really wanted to try it with regional cuisine using one of my Portuguese cookbooks and it was all just too overwhelming for me… so I convinced Sue to do the cooking but we just hadn’t gotten around to it and somehow several years went by!
We did not expect much from this wine but we all really really enjoyed it. While very golden in color, indicating its age, and a bit oxidized, it was still definitely drinkable with a fruity nose and interesting caramelized flavors that went well with our soup and kale fritters.
Reminding us once again you can still open an older wine and enjoy it!
2012 – Muralhas de monção – Vinho Verde – 12% alcohol SRP $12
Pale and pretty in color, this wine is very similar to an Albarino, in fact it is the Portuguese version of Albarino. It is fresh and bright with a bit more fruit than a typical Albarino.
so, so good with the seafood…
The flavors mingle and are lasting from a saline pleasantness lingering into some melon characteristics. This wine had a bit of a tang to it, a bit of effervescence, and citrus and pine tar on the palate.
drink this at the beach…with oysters!
Lobster Salad with homemade pickled veggies and more kale fritters was fantastic with this wine. The wine likes the salt in the fritters and also cuts through the creaminess in the salad.
2010 – Reserva Cabeza de Toro -13.5% alcohol $12
John got marshmallow, but we all found caramel, vanilla and some herbal notes on the nose along with baking spice sasparella, and maraschino cherry. On the palate, it does not taste like a marshmallow but it does have an herbal quality on the finish.
This family planted grains when they were forced to plant grains as a communist country; when they were no longer forced to plant grains, they planted vines. This is a really typical story of the region. Most of their award-winning wines are enjoyed only in Portugal.
These wines have very herbal, saline qualities. Herbs de provence. Shrubs throughout the country of Portugal are lavender and it comes through in the food and wine. the animals are foraging on the lavender and the acorns. This comes through in the cuisine of the country. There is also a heavy presence of mint rather than menthol. It is present on the front of the palate and continues through to the finish.
2009 – Finis Terra – Red Wine – 14% alcohol SRP $7
Very nice minerals on the palate – smooth and viscous – bold without being heavy
This wine went so well with the pickled veggies and brined veggies in the salad.
With a mild flavored food, barnyard and funk kind of shines through. However the minute you put it with the pickled brine flavors, it shines.
It worked very well with the pork and the clams. The barnyard goes away with the food. Nice label. For under $10 serve it with food that has picked, or smokey flavors and be impressed.
Barnyard, acetone, petrol, ocean and seaweed, kelp when washed up on the shore. This comes through on the palate, it is saline and viscous. Petrol and turpentine.
2011 – Callabriga – Alentejo – 14.5% alcohol $16
A bit thinner than the Finis Terra and has a bit more smokey notes, but is also a nice wine. However with the chorizo sausage it was fantastic. These wines really like the salty, smokey, pickle flavors that are throughout the Portugese flavors. Perfect with the cured meats and cheeses.
Mushrooms and earth on the nose, it is also the most tannic with more barnyard, more funk.
Simplest label of them all: one thing that was frustrating with all of these wines is that they are very difficult to figure out what grapes are in them or any other identifying characteristics. Labels are confusing and difficult to read.
Smoke, tannins and fruit, so much more smokier than the others tasted tonight. Must have a higher oak treatment.
Black olive and bright cherries.
While somewhat more expensive than the others, this was our least favorite of the evening! However, I enjoyed it over the next few days and it just got better and better.
2012 – Portal – Colheita – Douro – Red Wine 14% alcohol SRP $18
60% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca
This wine looked a bit richer in color than the others, but did not shine through as well. However it was full of fruit and rich minerals.
Roses on the nose, sweet rose, a little bit of lavender . This is a lovely wine that went well throughout our meal tonight. as well as the herbal qualities of this wine.
My favorite of the night: love the roses and lavender.
It is the youngest wine and has the most fruit, and the most assessable red fruit. All of these wines have a nice long mineral lingering finish. All of them have clean, yet lingering mineral finish. The lingering finish has subtle fruit and salinity.
2014 – Jose De Sousa – Alentejano – 14.5% alcohol – $13 at Costco
One couple joined us late in the evening and brought this wine from Costco. It received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast, and like the other wines, has a similar mineral, tannic and fruit profile that the rest did.
50% grand noir,
30% oak new french and american.
All of the wines have the herb de provence sage like qualities
Dessert of – Queijo di Fiogos
We picked the fresh figs from around the corner. This is more of a candied fig and nut dessert rather than the “cake” that they call it. It is not baked at all.
Porto – Morgado – Tawny Port – 19.5% alcohol – $7 at Trader Joes
John’s big thing was that this port reminded him of all of the wines that we had tasted throughout the evening. Barnyard and fruit and minerals and funk all wrapped up in a dessert wine. This is a very simple Port which Sue had in her kitchen for cooking but it was the right wine to pair with this dessert and it worked so well: big duh!!! Of course — port works with figs.
Food and travel are always a part of the chat, so join us for all the doors that Portuguese wine can open. And we’d love to have participation from people who live in Portugal too!
Find more ideas about pairing food with Portuguese wine:
- From Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato with a Vinho Verde”
- From Jill Barth of L’Occasion: “The Plurality of Portuguese Wine”
- From Lori Budd of Dracaena Wine : “Portugal’s Political History Effects It’s Culinary and Wine Culture”
- From David Crowley of Cooking Chat: “Best Portuguese Kale Soup”
- From Nicole Ruiz Hudson of Somm’s Table: “Cooking to the Wine: Passagem Douro Reserva with Spiced Wine Braised Octopus”
- From Lauren Walsh of The Swirling Dervish: “Talego – A Taste of Portugal in Paris.”
- From Wendy Klik of A Day on the Farm: “Rustic and Red”
- From Sue and I at Wine Predator: “Portugal: Wine, Castles, Cobbles, Coastline, Cuisine