Those of you who think Portuguese wine is all about off-dry rosé and cheap-as-chips, fizzy vinho verde might be surprised to hear that the recent Wines of Portugal tasting was one of the most exciting I’ve been to this year. Barring Italy, nowhere rivals Portugal for individuality and the sheer number and variety of its indigenous grapes. And if you need further proof, take a dip into the wine list at Nuno Mendes’ amazing new restaurant Lisboeta or head for Tobacco Dock in east London this weekend for a dedicated Portuguese food and wine festival called Festa, which has been masterminded by the excellent Bar Douro.
You might assume that reds would be Portugal’s strongest suit, but I find the country’s whites equally compelling. If you’re not familiar with them, I’d start with alvarinho, Portugal’s answer to Spain’s albariño from just over the border. Or, in the more classic vinho verde style, try the immensely refreshing Cascata 2020 (£11.99, or £10.49 if you mix 12, Laithwaites, 11.5%), which is a blend of loureiro, arinto, trajadura and avesso (see what I mean about the varieties?).
The white wines of the Dão and Douro regions tend to be richer and more textured – think oaked white rioja or the whites of the Rhône for comparison. A good example is Somontes Branco 2021 (£11.95 Davy’s, 13%), a wine I’d happily drink with grilled pork or the local salt cod.
Douro reds are generally made from the same grapes as port – that is, varieties such as touriga nacional, tinta barroca and tinta roriz – and make similarly rich, brambly wines. The standard of supermarket own-label red douro is particularly high, and the new Booths bottling in today’s pick is a particularly good example. You’ll also find lighter, more innovative styles such as the delicious Niepoort Primata Natcool, which is only 11%. For more supple, Italianate reds, meanwhile, look to the Alentejo.
The other thing Portugal has going for it is qualité/prix, as the French call it. Not that all the wines are inexpensive, but they do tend to be better value than comparable wines from elsewhere. Aldi, in particular, has some real bargains at the moment, some of which I’ve touched on before, including Mimo Moutinho Arinto Vinho Verde 2021 (£5.29, 11.5%) and the Specially Selected Douro Reserva 2019 (£6.79, 13.5%).
In fact, I had even more difficulty than usual in restricting my recommendations to five this week, so take the opportunity to try them when you find them by the glass.
Five Portuguese wines to discover
Taste the Difference Portuguese Alvarinho 2021 £7 Sainsbury’s, 13%. If you’re an albariño fan, you’ll love this incredibly good-value Portuguese version. One for chargrilled squid and other seafood.
EH Booth & Co Douro Red 2019 £11 Booths, 13.5%. Outstandingly good, own-label red. Smooth and velvety: ideal for roast beef or steak.
Herdade de São Miguel Tinto Colheita Seleccionada 2020 £12.95 Cheers in Swansea, £13.29 Butlers Wine Cellar, 14%. An easy-drinking blend of bordeaux varieties with local touriga nacional. Perfect for grilled lamb.
Niepoort Primata Natcool £18 (1 litre) Wanderlust, 11%. Not what you’d generally expect from the Douro, this delicious, light, summery red is brimming with red berry fruit. Could be lightly chilled.
Churchill’s Estates Red 2019 £16.50 Bar Douro Wine Shop, 14%. Really elegant Portuguese red made from tinta roriz, Portugal’s name for tempranillo. Delicious now, but you could happily hang on to it for two or three years. Seems a bit good for the pairings of pizza and burgers they suggest; I’d maybe go for a gourmet burger instead.