Portugal has moved beyond port

Steve Delaney
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There are about 75 wines listed for Portugal at the NLC. About two-thirds of these are some form of port product

It makes sense that most of the local listings from Portugal are for port, the country's most well-known product. The famous sweet and fortified wine has, however, overshadowed the capabilities of the country in producing quality table wines.

Wine has been made in what is now Portugal since pre-Roman times.

Production was reduced when the region fell under Arab domination during the early Middle Ages but was revived after the reconquest in the 12th century. The Methuen Treaty with Britain in 1703 gave Portuguese wines preferential import duties over French wines and helped kick-start the port industry. The Douro valley, where port is made, later became one of the world's first demarcated wine-producing regions.

Some Douro vineyards have been shifted to dry wine production as a result of a decline in port markets in recent decades. Many port producers now have a red wine sideline that uses grapes that once would have been made into port. There are nine such wines listed locally, including one I have liked before — Barco Negro ($16.48). Such wines tend to be as big and hearty as their port cousins.

A few other areas of Portugal have gained some international recognition, including the special wines of the island of Madeira, wines from the Canary Islands, and from the Azores. The Setubal area, near Lisbon, is well known for its sweet wines based on the muscat grape variety. The northern Atlantic coastal region produces Vinho Verde, the light white wine which is Portugal’s second-largest wine export after port.

The country has come a long way since Casal Mendes was one of our most popular local wines. Significant private and European Union funded investments over the last few decades have improved the quality of production and increased international exports and recognition.

Portugal has made a point of differentiating itself in international wine markets by promoting the development of indigenous grape varieties and wine styles.

You are unlikely to see varieties such as cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay from Portugal. Instead you will see strange names such as castelao, touriga nacional and roupeiro.

There are also some varieties shared with Spain, but with different names in Portugal. Spain's tempranillo is known as tinto roriz in northern Portugal and aragonez in the south. The white alvarinho of Portugal is the albarino of Spain (in both cases, a variety worth checking out).

Strange varietal names may make marketing more difficult, but may also appeal to consumers looking for something new and different.

Does it matter that the Teixeiro Branco (NLC $15.69) is made from avesso and loureiro grapes from the Minho region?

It is the abundant bouquet of citrus, tropical fruit and hints of floral elements balanced with juicy acidity in the mouth which appeal to me. This wine works on its own for sipping or with seafood and sushi. Score: 14.5/Very Good.

Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at sdelaney@nfld.com.

Organizations: European Union, Opimian Society

Geographic location: Portugal, Douro, Britain Spain Island of Madeira Canary Islands Azores Setubal Lisbon Atlantic Northern Portugal

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  • Carlos
    January 10, 2014 - 10:38

    the Canary Islands are Spanish