Portuguese wines ripe for rediscovery


Duoro Valley.

Philip Dunne

After the Mateus Rosé love affair of the 1980s, Cupid’s arrow lost its way and Irish consumers’ flirtation with Portuguese wine cooled.
Portugal is no novice in the art of winemaking. The Iberian country has been producing wines for over 3,500 years. Despite dwindling exports over the last few years, and being overshadowed by France, Spain, and Italy, Portuguese wine’s quality is higher than it’s ever been.
While you may struggle to find single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay in Portugal, chances are you can still discover a wine similar to a style you like that might cost even less. The fact is the country is a rich treasure trove of over 200 indigenous and exciting grape varieties. The strengths of Portugal’s wine game are its diversity of styles and tastes, and its value for money. Portuguese wine offers some some serious bang for your buck; no other country comes as close to achieving the same quality level at the price point. Ching Ching!
There are 26 official DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) wine regions in Portugal, with the two most famous and for us to likely see in Ireland being ‘Vinho Verde,’ and ‘Douro.’
Vinho Verde, Portugal’s largest DOC, located in the Minho province of the northwest, literally translates to ‘green wine’. The white wines from Vinho Verde are refreshingly clean, crisp, acidic and will have a light touch of spritz, naturally added into the wine. Divine citrus and pear notes are prominent in these dry wines, which are go very well with light white fish.  
Although the white wines from Vinho Verde are made from any combination of 25 different grape varieties, the ones we tend to find most are Alvarinho (also known as Albarino in Spain), Trajadura and Loureiro. These Vinho Verde wines are delicious on a warm day and as a palate cleanser or aperitif before dinner. One to try from this region, available from www.thecorkscrew.ie for only €13.95, is called Quinta da Lixa Vinho Verde.
While white wines dominate the Vinho Verde region, Douro, just south, is more known for red wines produced by the region’s quintas (comparable to a wine châteaux in France). Also, the home to Port wine, Douro red wine’s style is most akin to Tempranillo from Spain and the rich clarets of Bordeaux. Popular native grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. A perfect representation of what Douro red wine offers is Crasto, available from www.winesdirect.ie for €16.

> Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.