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Brief history of Portuguese wines and production areas

Background on Portuguese wine

The history of Portuguese wine is closely linked to that of neighboring Spain. The latter saw the introduction of the first cultivations of vines first of all by the Carthaginians and later by the Romans. Under the domination of the Moors, Portugal experienced the darkest period of wine production. Given the quality and importance of the latter, however, it was decided not to abandon completely this business.

The importance of business relations with England

Never choice was more apt. In 1703, in fact, an English diplomat named Methuen decided to sign a treaty for the reduction of customs taxes on Portuguese wine and in this way Portugal could export wine outside the national borders. The production of fortified wines grew considerably, as they were suitable for long sea crossings. Thanks to commercial relations with England, therefore, Porto and Madeira became protagonists of Portuguese wine production. On the other hand, the island of Madeira, located off the Atlantic Ocean, was a point of reference for ships heading out to discover the New World.

Portugal’s entry into the EU

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the country had to deal with the presence of phylloxera which caused numerous damages to the vines. A situation from which Portugal managed to recover slowly, mainly because of its economic isolation until the beginning of the ’70s. In 1986, however, the turning point. Portugal finally enters the European Union and since the early 1990s has established itself as one of the best wine producing countries.

At this point it is clear how the history of Portuguese wine has been rather turbulent. The Port and the Madeira are the driving force behind this sector, but Portugal is famous for having numerous native vines. Let’s go into the details and discover together the areas of production of the Portuguese wine and the most famous vines.

The vines of Portugal

Viticulture is one of the most important activities in Portugal, so much so that it occupies as much as 15% of the population. It is no coincidence that there are hundreds of native vines, most of them of ancient origin.

Douro

The most famous region of Portugal, it is precisely in this area that the Port is produced. The land is particularly steep and for this reason the placement of the vineyards is rather audacious. To produce the port, fermentation is interrupted when it is about halfway through, adding ethyl alcohol or brandy. In this way the yeasts are neutralized, obtaining a sweet wine, with 10% sugar and an alcohol content of 20 degrees. The final result is obviously the maturation and in this regard it is possible to distinguish the wines matured in cask from those matured in the bottle.

The red port is produced using Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz grapes from the vines of the southern Douro area. The white Port, instead, is made with Fina, Gouveio and Viosinho grapes.

In the Douro region, however, not only the Port is produced. In fact, many red table wines come from this area, which are considered the best in Portugal. There are also white wines, or light and slightly fruity reds.

Madeira

Located in the south of Portugal, here too the vines are placed on particularly uncomfortable slopes. The main wine of this island is obviously Madeira, a fortified wine with a unique taste. Made using a cooking method called “estufagem”, the wine is left at temperatures of about 40-45 ° C for periods varying between three and seven months. During the maturation phase the barrels are not overflowing, in such a way as to allow the oxidation which gives the wine its typical taste. To make the Madeira white grapes are used, such as Bual, Malmsey and Verdelho.

Minho

Located in the north of Portugal, on the border with Spain, the Minho region is known for producing Vinho Verde, or green wine. Fruity and floral aroma, it is not called green wine because of its color, but because it is a young wine that must be consumed within a year. Little alcoholic and slightly sparkling, it is available both white and red. The latter, however, is hardly exported and is generally destined for the Portuguese market. Going into details, to make the white wines are used grapes of the vines Alvarinho, Loureiro and Trajadura. To obtain the red version, instead, black grapes such as Azal Tinto and Vinhão.

Beiras

Beiras includes the regions of Dão, Bairrada, Beira Interior, Encostas da Aire and Távora-Varosa. The area is characterized by poor soils, which mainly present sand and clay, especially red wines that are particularly full-bodied and of the highest quality. There are also typical white wines of the area. As for the vines used are Bical, Braga, Castelào, Maria-Gomes, Rabo de Ovelha and Tinta Pinheira.

Ribatejo, Algarve, Estremadura

Ribatejo is the second largest Portuguese region for viticulture. The red wines of this area are particularly harsh when they are young. As they age, however, they take on a spicy character.

The Algarve is located in the extreme south and sees the production of wines with a high alcohol levels, rich in yeast and with low acidity. Extremadura, on the other hand, sees the production of mass wines. In particular, from the native vine Ramisco we obtain the homonym red wine rich in tannins.

Terras do Sado e Trás-os-Montes

Located in the central-western part of Portugal, the region Terras do Sado produce dry white, classic reds and moscato wines, the most famous of which is the Moscatel Roxo of Setúbal.

In the northeast of Portugal there is Trás-os-Montes which is an area with Controlled Origin Denomination. From the ancient wine tradition, it is particularly famous for the production of rosé and red wines. Moreover, the dessert muscat wines of this area are considered among the best in the world.

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