Plush, juicy and intensely vibrant, the sunshine filled vineyards of Portugal’s northern Vinho Verde, central Duoro Valley, and southern Alentejo create wines as unique as their surroundings, including a range of white and red wines that flow from being highly acid driven, low alcohol, and very fresh, to mineral intense and robust, to luscious, soft, ripe fruit filled wines produced from varieties like Alvarinho, Antao Vaz, Loureiro, Touirga Nacional, Trincadeira, and Vinhao.
I am heading to Portugal next month for a deep dive into the wines of the Duoro Valley, specifically Port, but also the still wines made from the same classic Port varieties, grown on terraced hillsides overlooking the Duoro River. In anticipation, I have been sipping at few stellar selections from the country to prepare, mainly from the Duoro and Alentejo regions. Here are a few standouts.
Several years ago I did a wine trip to the southern Alentejo region with Herdade Do Esporao, with roots dating back to the 13th Century, and I fell in love. The region is beautiful, as reflected in each medium to full-bodied red and white wine we enjoyed. The winery produces a range of wines, including their entry-level, to be enjoyed young and youthful, Monte Velho. The Monte Velho white blends Anto Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum, three distinctly Portuguese varieties that when blended the sun-drenched fruit delivers a full-bodied palate with tropical and citrus fruit like ripe mango and tangerine, with an underlying note of freshness thanks to the bright acidity of the Roupeiro fruit.
Esporao Private Reserve Red Wine represents the best blocks of their expansive estate vineyards, blending key varieties based on what the land has given them that year, including Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Syrah with the later two fermented in traditional marble Lagares with foot treading and pumping over. The wine is aged 18 months in new and 1-year-old French oak, creating an inky wine that is rich, dense, and heavily spiced with blackberry and black cherry fruit melding with woody, wild herb.
Heredad Do Rocim Mariana white brings in a touch of one of my favorite white varieties, Alvarinho (also known as Albarino in Spain). The variety thrives in the northern part of Portugal, where Vinho Verde shines, but is not as common in the southern, warmer part of the country. When blended with well-rounded, ripe Antao Vaz and high acid Arinto, the resulting white is a harmonious balanced blend of sunshine, melding textured minerality, ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and lively freshness.
Straying away from conformity, celebrating history, Winemaker Antonio Macanita’s FitaPreta white blends six indigenous varieties for a mineral-rich, earthy, fresh, and juicy wine with texture, structure, and lively character.
Rich, robust, well-rounded, and rustic, Dona Maria Grande Reserva layers Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional with 20% Petit Verdot. Classically used in tiny percentages in Bordeaux, the dense, tannin-filled variety melds with the bold Portuguese varieties in harmony for a bug wine ideally enjoyed with heartier beef and game dishes.
The Douro Valley is best known for their iconic, fortified Port wines, with some of the finest produced by the historical Symington family, including DOWs, Graham’s, and Warre’s, stealing Port loving hearts with their fruity Ruby, concentrated Late Bottle Vintage, and nutty, toasty Tawny. I adore a Ruby or LBV port when pairing with blue cheese, but for sipping simply give me a Tawny anyday. DOW’s 20 Year Tawny reveals an elevated palate layered with toasted hazelnut and crushed almond, dried mandarin, and baking spice notes of nutmeg, clove, and pepper.
Though the classic sweet wines are the predominant focus for the region, dry reds also reveal the earthiness of the rocky, mineral rich soils. Prats & Symington Post Scriptum, the sister wine to the highly popular Chryseia, delivers the same field blend of Portuguese varieties as it’s sister and made in a Bordeaux style and aged 12 months in French oak, but in a lighter style that is ready to enjoy without a lot of bottle aging. Concentrated, structured, highly textured Chryseia is powerful, without being overbearing. Tannins in the wine are present without being brazen, allowing the character of the vineyard and the varieties to shine.