Why Portugal is having a wine revival

John Wilson: Regional and bursting with tradition, Portuguese wines have arrived

 

I recently received a copy of Foot Trodden, Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot. This is a book that needed to be written. For years now, Portugal has been under the radar, producing a string of fabulous wines for the enjoyment of a group of aficionados, but largely ignored by the rest of the Irish population. We have taken to the refreshing Alvarinhos of the north, and the inexpensive rounded fruity reds that brighten up the shelves with their vividly coloured labels, but there is so much more to Portugal.

The book is a collaboration between Simon Woolf, an English wine writer living in Amsterdam, and Ryan Opaz, an American wine writer and tour operator who has lived in Portugal for the past decade. “Portugal had its first boom in the 1990s, but producers had to make wines that were similar to the rest of the world to get noticed,” Opaz says. “But now there is a return to the ways they used to make the wines; it is an exciting revival. People are finally discovering that Portugal has its own wine profile and traditions that should be celebrated.”

“We felt that Portugal was perceived as an underdog and that many people had a limited understanding of what the country offers,” Woolf explains. “We had so much fun discovering the wines, and I have to thank Ryan for that, and we kept wondering why the rest of the world doesn’t know about these diverse and exciting wines.”

Thankfully the book avoids having chapters on every region, with long lists covering every winery. Instead Woolf and Opaz talk to some of the key producers, look at some of the most interesting regions, and tell their stories. Wine is always so much more than simply a drink. It is usually deeply imbedded in the culture and history of the region, and this book is at times as much a social history as a wine book. 

Portugal, as Opaz and Woolf argue convincingly, has a huge range of indigenous grape varieties and winemaking traditions going back centuries. From the wet green north, through the mild maritime coastal vineyards, to the baking hot interior, the country has a huge variety of climates and soils. It makes for a thrilling voyage of discovery.

I have already covered the wines of Dão, which produces some of my favourite wines, Vinho Verde and the Douro. Most of the supermarkets stock a few less expensive wines, and O’Briens has a decent range, but it is worth checking out your local independent to find some of the smaller producers. 

Most of the wines mentioned in the book are available here, including all four producers featured below. For more information on the book see foot-trodden.com or themorningclaret.com.

Dinamico Branco 2020, Bairrada, Filipa Pato and Willian Wouters
11.5%, €19
An aromatic and delicate light wine with wonderful energy. Succulent lively plump pear and apricot fruits with subtle lemon zest. Enjoy it by itself or with lighter fish dishes such a grilled plaice with lemon.
From: Pinto Wines, Dublin 9, pintowines.ie; 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Sweeneys Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Loose Canon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; thenudewineco.ie; Beau Vino, Dublin 15, beau-vino.ie; Lillith, Dublin 7.

Xisto Ilimitado 2019, Douro, Luis Seabra
12.5%, €22.50
Elegant and impeccably balanced with cool blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits and a seam a mouth-watering acidity. A wine of great finesse. Serve with a platter of charcuterie; pâté en croute, salami and ham. 
From: Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; siyps.com; Loose Canon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; Margadh, Howth, margadhfoodandwine.ie; Elm Epicurean, Dublin 4, elmepicurean.ie.

Fossil Branco 2018 Vale da Capucha DOC Torres Vedras (Organic)
12.5%, €29
From one of the most talented young winemakers in Portugal, this has rich and creamy peach and apricot fruits overlaid with beeswax and herbs and a distinctive saline finish. Enjoy it with fish pie or lighter chicken dishes. 
From: Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie.

Voyeur 2019, Vinho Tinto de Anfora Nat’cool Niepoort 
11.5%, €37 for a 1lt bottle
Made from a blend of red and white grapes fermented and then aged in amphorae for eight months, this is a beautiful wine, complex and fragrant with juicy, sappy ripe fruits with very fine tannins. Serve cool with a roast chicken or some mild firm cheese.
From: Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Wine House, Trim.

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