05 Sep 2019 781 3with Paulo Sousa, sommelier at the Med restaurant, Vila Porto Mare PortoBay Hotels & Resorts
The perfect week to drink and get to know Portuguese wine
Wine lovers should not miss this major festival, which offers a careful selection of the best producers from north to south and from the island of Madeira.
This year, PortoBay Wine Week is being held from 10th-15th September at The Cliff Bay, Porto Santa Maria hotels and the Vila Porto Mare resort (Porto Mare, The Residence and Eden Mar). Over the course of this week, the unmistakable aroma of wine will fill the air, accompanied by guided tastings, music, workshops, visits, cheese and food tastings. Remember to check your calendar . .. in 2020 this event will be held from 15th - 20th September !!
Before getting down to practicalities, let’s get to know a little bit about Portuguese wines, the end result of a number of traditions introduced into Portugal by various civilisations.
Let’s talk a little about wine, this nectar of the Gods, a drink that is both thousands of years old and also very modern.
Did you know that . ..
1. Portugal has the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro, with some of the most exquisite, exclusive and highly valued wines in the world.
2. As in the rest of Europe, Portugal was afflicted by phylloxera in the 19th century. European botanists and wine specialists began importing indigenous grape vines from North America. However, they were unaware that in many cases these American vines carried small yellow insects that fed on their roots and sucked their sap. American vines were accustomed to attacks by these microscopic insects and had developed ways of overcoming them. However, European vineyards had no such defences. It was some time before a definitive solution was found. This involved grafting European vines onto the resistant rootstock of American grape varieties, which eventually stopped the destruction.
3. In past centuries, the Old World winemakers, which included Portugal, labelled their wines only with the name of the DOC regions (Controlled Designation of Origin) and the name of the property. Over time, as part of a marketing strategy designed to compete with New World winemakers, labels were increasingly stamped with the names of the grape varieties used in the production of their wines. With this change, consumers began to identify the style of each grape and the showcasing of grape varieties gained ground worldwide. The huge number of native varieties makes it possible to produce an extensive range of wines with very different personalities. In addition to the characteristics transmitted by the different grape varieties, other factors must be taken into account such as the soil, the climate and the winemaker's production techniques, which give the wine specific and unique characteristics, known by the French term "terroir".
4. Portugal has around 285 native grape varieties and many more names besides. Do you know the João de Santarém grape? Perhaps not, but you probably know the Periquita varietal, which is another name for the same grape. No? And what about Castelão? Well, in fact they’re all the same grape, although the official name conferred by the Portuguese Institute of Wines and Vines is Castelão. Regardless of regional differences, 285 varieties is a lot of grapes, not to mention the many international varietals used in Portugal. There are two important concepts in winemaking, the Varietal and the Blend . Basically, a monovarietal is made using a single grape variety. A Blend is a wine made by mixing different varieties of grapes. And which is better?
There are wonderful wines made from a single grape and from a mixture of grapes. The best depends on each individual’s particular taste.
Come and find out about different grape varieties during PortoBay Wine Week, with daily tastings and matchings with traditional Portuguese tapas and appetisers.
At the Vila Porto Mare, our journey begins in the north of Portugal, in the largest Demarcated Region in Portugal: the Vinho Verde Demarcated Region. Vinho verde is produced exclusively in the Minho region, in north-eastern Portugal, between the border with Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. With its cold and humid climate, this region is suited to the cultivation of white varietals, and is home to the charismatic Alvarinho grape. However, red grape varieties can also be found here - including Alvarelhão, Espadeiro, Padeiro and Vinhão - planted in the Monção and Melgaço subregions, where there is less rain and higher temperatures.
Rosé wine produced in this region is made mainly with the Padeiro and Espadeiro varietals. Its sugar levels are more noticeable than vinho verdes and it is considered a semi-dry wine (with low alcohol content and sweet on the palate). It produces aromas of fresh fruit (such as strawberry, cherry or raspberry) with persistent flavour. We will continue our trip to the north-east of Portugal to the Douro Demarcated Region, surrounded by the Marão and Montemuro mountains, known worldwide for Port. This ambassador for Portuguese wine was created from the poor soils and rugged slopes along the banks of the Douro River. In addition to Port, this region is increasingly recognised for its excellent red and white wines. The vineyards stretch from the tops of the deep valleys down to the riverbank, creating a magnificent landscape recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2001. Douro soils are essentially composed of schist which is particularly difficult to work, and in the Douro the difficulty is compounded by the steep slopes of the terrain. The region’s wonderful scenery goes into making excellent wines produced in all three Douro sub-regions: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior.
With our batteries recharged, we resume our wine trip towards the north-central region of Portugal, the province of Beira Alta, arriving at the Dão Demarcated Region: this region is known as Portuguese Burgundy, and is the birthplace of the most charismatic Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional. The wines of the Dão Demarcated Region go well with food, with their exceptional acidity and complex, delicate aromas. Their character, complexity, elegance, balance and maturity produce elegant wines with personality, freshness and smoothness, and have great potential for ageing.
Moved by our thirst for knowledge, we head on to the Tagus region, located in the heart of Portugal, a short distance from the capital, Lisbon. The temperate climate here serves as the basis for the creation of soft, velvety and fruity wines. The use of international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah is common, and in the Tagus region they have found fertile ground for the creation of interesting wines with their own identity.
We continue our pilgrimage with great gusto. We have reached the centre and south of Portugal, and the DOC Alentejo wine region. The Alentejo is one of the largest wine regions in Portugal, with vast open plains stretching to the horizon. It gets many hours of sunshine which is perfect for maturing the grapes, and temperatures are very high in summer. The vineyards are planted in very mixed clay, granite and limestone soils. Many varieties are planted here, the most important white grapes in the region being Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto. As for red grape varieties, Trincadeira, Aragonez, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet (a French variety adapted to the Alentejo climate) are the most important.
From the Alentejo, we move on to Madeira with its table wines. Almost all are fruity, with colours ranging from clear crystalline to dark golden, from raspberry-coloured to solid and full-bodied red. The whites, rosés and reds that reach the island’s dining tables fulfil their destiny thanks to the climate and variations in terrain, fanned by surrounding ocean’s tropical, dry winds and the grapes’ own acidity.
Wine and cheese, the perfect combination
There is such an affinity between cheese and wine that we shouldn’t be surprised that they are often found together. During PortoBay Wine Week, we select cheese and wine where the secret lies in striking a balance between the acidity, tannins and body of the wine and the fat content and consistency of the cheese. The secret of the perfect combination of cheese and wine is also to do with balancing the palate, in creating a "third taste”. And the third taste is simply the ability of the food and wine to complement each other - when both emphasize their own qualities, making it even more enjoyable when the two are brought together. Come and try them out !!
"God wills, man dreams, the Work is born.” It is Fernando Pessoa's poetic formulation that best helps me understand the history of Portuguese wines.
In the fragility of our human condition, I dare to think that, in fact, in order to understand the reality of our wines today, some God has inspired us, some dream has moved us.