Portugal Wine Travel Guide
Photo credit K.Fridlyanskaya
When learning about wine I try to focus on one country at a time. I’ve been recently obsessed with Portuguese wine, so it is no surprise Portugal became number one destination on my bucket list.
Before going there I knew very little about Portuguese wine, but this is the whole idea of travel for me – to learn wine by strolling through the vineyards, meeting winemakers, tasting wine, pairing it with local food and further exploring wine culture and tradition.
Portuguese wine in a nutshell
There are 13 different wine-growing regions in Portugal if you include the exotic Azores. The diversity of soils, microclimates and native grapes (over 250) is remarkable. So, it’s ok if you do not recognize the grape variety on a Portuguese wine label.
Historically, most Portuguese wines are made as a blend, mixing several national grape varieties. Sometimes, the winemaker will blend more than twenty varieties to achieve the desired balance. While some varieties may add fruit flavors, increase freshness, others will add body and roundness to the finish. There are single variety wines in Portugal too, but it’s more an exception to the rule. (ex. 100% Alvarinho wines in Vinho Verde or wines made of 100% Baga grape in Bairrada).
As our itinerary included Lisbon and Porto we decided to cover only central part of Portugal this time, so I focused on Lisboa wine region, Dao and Vinho Verde. My goal was to visit at least one winery in every region, so I could get familiar with local varieties and wine styles.
Lisboa is a hilly coastal region to the north-west and north part of Lisbon. It is Portugal’s largest producer of wine by volume. Most of the wine is made by co-operatives in a very diverse variety of styles and qualities.
Colares is a truly unique terroir. Most of the vines are tiny lots, planted low on the sand to avoid the coastal wind, resembling green serpents running wild along the sandy soils. The reds, made of the Ramisco grape, are high in acid and very tannic, so much that they are aged in cellars for many years before they are released. The whites, made of Malvasia de Colares, are fresh and rich, but also herbal and saline with depth and character. The vast majority of Colares wine is made by the co-op Adega Regional de Colares. So if you plan to visit Sintra (which I really hope so), you should definitely pay them a visit.
Alenquer is another sub-region where good, concentrated reds and fresh whites are produced with indigenous Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Castelao, Arinto and some international grape varieties. We visited Quinta de Chocapalha which is located about an hour drive from Lisbon. The winery has a long history of winemaking and makes some of the best wines in the area. Read the whole story of our visit to Quinta de Chocapalha and my wine recommendations.
LISBON & AROUND
I didn’t read a lot about Lisbon before the trip on purpose. I thought I’d stroll the curvy streets, stop wherever I want and just go with the flow. Lisbon is a city that was made so people could walk it, go up the hills and enjoy panoramic views, come down and relax under the beautiful Jacaranda trees.
To me, it’s a city of wind, wonderful glazed ‘Azulejo’ tiles, sentimental fado music, romantic people and mouthwatering cuisine.
Castelo de Sao Jorge, a Moorish castle atop a hill overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and the River Tagus, is definitely worth a visit to grasp the city size. Alfama District is Lisbon’s oldest quarter, characterized by steeeeep slops and old houses built so close to each other, that locals hang their linen across the opposite household. Lose yourself in a labyrinth of narrow streets and listen to a melancholic sound of Fado. Finally, remember to look down as you walk through the city. Beautiful pavements decorated with patterned designs can be seen all over the city, not to mention the profusion of antique tile panels (azulejos) covering facades of ordinary homes and countless palaces and churches.
Wine & Dine
Let yourself eat desserts for breakfast. Pastel da Nata, a Portuguese custard tart was my go-to option since the day we arrived. Manteigaria shop specializes exclusively in this iconic pastry. For a quick lunch Timeout market (Mercado da Ribeira) is ideal. Every day we would come here to indulge in a dozen of fresh oysters or to have one of the classics, Bacalhau a Bras or Polvo a Lagareiro.
When you get tired of roaming around the town, have a shot of sweet cherry liquor at A Ginjinha or some vinhos e petiscos at Sol e Pesca or Garrafeira Alfaia. For a traditional dining experience, go to Sacramento do Chiado – spectacular historic place set in a former noble residence. For more innovative cuisine try Segundo Muelle, San Bartolo – inspired Peruvian restaurant. This is where we celebrated my birthday savoring tender ceviches and sipping refreshing pisco cocktails.
While in Lisbon be sure to purchase some of the products it is famous for : fabulous natural Claus Porto soaps, Bordallo Pinheiro home décor pieces, gourmet canned fish, delicious wine, and as in my case, a pair of bespoke custom-made leather gloves from Luvaria Ulisses.
Sintra – the Portugal’s most enchanting city filled with fairytale palaces and historic mansions. Pena Palace and Regaleira Estate were my favorite.
Cascais and Cabo da Roca – picturesque little resort town and the Europe’s westernmost viewpoint. Stroll through the tiny streets of Cascais, spend some time on the beach (Tamariz or Guincho), dine with the beautiful view at Panorama and have a drink at Fortaleza do Guincho bar nearby.
Setubal – fishing city with one of the best fish markets I’ve ever seen (Mercado do Livramento) and an extensive beach line nearby. After visiting the fish market we drove the curvy route east of Setubal to spend the rest of the day at beautiful Portinho da Arrabida beach.
On the way to Porto lies another beautiful wine region – Dao, that stands out for its production of elegant top-quality wines. Vineyards are planted mostly on granite soils and are protected by mountains from the wet coastal air and rough continental winds. This unique terroir gives reds that range from light and spicy to more full-bodied and fruity, as well as fresh captivating whites, both with a great aging capacity. Encruzado variety makes some of the best white wines in Portugal – elegant, balanced, full-bodied with delicate floral and citrus aroma, and sometimes mineral character. Top red wines are mostly made of Touriga Nacional, often blended with Alfocheiro or Tinta Roriz. Jaen makes some lovely rose and elegant reds with a delicate perfume and mellow tannins.
We stopped at a lovely city of Viseu to meet with Jose Perdigao, a winemaker/an architect, who kindly showed us around and introduced us to the Dao wine scene. You can read about our wine experience at Quinta do Perdigao here.
The day we arrived in Porto I knew I must come back here again. We had only a few days, but instead of trying ‘to see everything in one day’ we decided to slow down and enjoy local life by doing normal daily activities with our local friends -Carolina, Bernardo and their little son Tomaz. Every morning we’d run along the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze and see the fishermen’s fresh catch. After a nice breakfast on the sunny terrace, we’d stroll the old city streets to feel the city vibes and its exuberant energy. We would cook delicious diners indulging in classic comfort food recipes featuring traditional Arroz de Pato and Polvo a Lagareiro. No matter how much time you have in Porto, you will always want to come back for its historic heritage, artistic and cultural expression, gastronomy and wine, and its hospitable and genuine people.
From the first day here I knew I was going to be in love with this charming country, and ‘it was love from the first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.’
For the Porto’s most iconic cityscape, stroll along the Ribeira riverfront, with its shop-lined praca and colorful, postcard-perfect houses. Cross the Ponte Luis I to the Vila Nova de Gaia district – home to port wine lodges, where you can taste all kind of world-famous port wine and tour the cellars. We visited one of the oldest cellars – Ferreira Cellars. If you appreciate Modern Art visit Serralves Museum of Contemporary art and its beautiful gardens. To see a more cosmopolitan side of the city and nightlife experience, pass through the Galeria de Paris area and nearby streets. Party till late and have a Porto’s signature francesinha sandwich for breakfast – a buttery, golden belly bomb stuffed with roasted meats and drown in cheese.
Head north to Quinta da Aveleda to discover their historical delightful gardens and taste delicious Vinho Verde.
Just to clarify, the wine is called green not because of coming from infinite verdant landscapes, but because grapes used to be picked green so they retain high acidity and freshness. The name literally means ‘green wine’ but translates as ‘young wine.’ Vinho Verde is a blend of several white grapes including Alvarinho, Loureiro, Azal, Arinto, and Trajadura. Light, fresh, young and delightfully aromatic, it pairs wonderfully with salads, fish, seafood, vegetable dishes, citrus sauces, and sushi. You can also find rose wines from this region (made with local red grapes), as well as light and fresh in style reds.
On your way back to Lisbon you have to stop at Rei dos Leitoes – the King of the Piglets, to taste Leitao – tender, crispy-skinned roast suckling pig. As you are in Bairrada, pair it with red sparkling wine or bubbly rose made of Baga grape, which is particularly good with leitao.
It was almost the end of our trip, but not the end of our journey of lifelong learning about wine.
Tchau Portugal, I will be back soon.
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