If you’ve ever ordered the house wine at a Lisbon restaurant, chances are it was Tejo. Located outside of the capital, the region is known for crisp, fruity white wines.
The region also produces lemony vinho verde and full-flavored reds from grapes like Baga and Touriga Nacional. Baga, in particular, shows promise for sparkling wines due to its high natural acidity.
One of Portugal’s most underrated wine regions is Bairrada. Peter Dean samples seven wines from this narrow coastal region that is dominated by the local grape Baga and has the highest DOC (Denominacao de Origem Controlada) classification in the country.
It’s a region with a rich heritage, including the tradition of pairing piglets with sparkling wines and a legacy of high yields. This was a result of the work of engineer Luis Pato who could be seen as ‘the godfather’ of Baga and pioneered techniques to tame this grape and create world-class wines.
Today Baga is still the main focus of the region, producing wines with dense colors and elevated tannins reminiscent of bell peppers and black currants. However, since 2003 producers have been allowed to add French varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to their wines, and this has resulted in some beautifully blended bottles.
Its location is unique, too, with long, rainy winters and a hot summer that is softened by the Atlantic coastline. This allows the grapes to maintain good levels of acidity and freshness. A great variety of Baga styles exist thanks to destemming, careful plot selection and the use of different aging vessels, and it’s often said that quality Baga wines can age for decades. The Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional grapes also grow well in Bairrada and are used in wines with a more fruity profile.
Dao is a cool region that’s gaining momentum. Its high-altitude vineyards offer a range of red wines and whites that can be aged beautifully, and they are full of natural acidity. The area is sometimes compared to Burgundy, not because of any physical similarity but because of the style of wine that’s made there. Like good Burgundy, a great Dao doesn’t rely on power but is elegant and subtle, with fruit and supple tannins.
One of the best places to taste Dao wines is at the boutique hotel Casa da Insua in Lisbon’s hilltop Bairro Alto neighborhood. This 5-star property was designed with care for the property’s history and features a restaurant from chef Diogo Rocha that uses many local products and wines. You can also enjoy the hotel’s own wine from its estate.
Other excellent wineries in the region include Quinta dos Roques and Quinta das Maias. Both produce outstanding wines from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Alfrocheiro grapes. They also make whites with Gouveio, Encruzado, and Malvasia.
Both wineries are family-owned and operated by winemakers who understand sustainability and respect each terroir. They’re also pioneers in creating single-varietal wines. Their grandfathers started their winery in the 1960s, and Jose’s father was instrumental in starting a trend toward field blends, blending grapes in the vineyard rather than blending in the winery.
Located in Portugal’s northeast corner, Vinho Verde (and its celebrated subregion of Moncao e Melgaco) is nestled between the Minho River and the Atlantic Ocean. The area has an ideal climate for grape growing, especially for the fresh, aromatic white wines that make up most of the region’s production.
The grapes grown here range from a range of indigenous varieties to international ones, but Alvarinho and Loureiro are the stars of the show. They display citrus and tropical aromas, and the former is known for its crisp acidity and the latter for its floral nuances.
Vinho Verde is a refreshing wine that goes well as an aperitif or with light meals. It is also often bottled with a slight fizz, sometimes called petillance, that enhances its lightness and gives it a pleasant tartness. It pairs well with Mediterranean salads, fresh or grilled fish, seafood, sushi, and even cheese.
Vinho Verde produces a few reds and rose wines, too, made from grapes such as Vinhao, Borracal, Amaral, and Espadeiro. The region is known for its gastronomic soul, and its wines are excellent partners to the local oily fish and shellfish.
The Tejo region is home to some of Portugal’s freshest, most vibrant wines. The three distinct terroirs (Charneca with sandy soil; Campo and Bairro dominated by clay) add depth and complexity to the wines. The area is dotted with cork forests, producing more than half of Portugal’s cork production, and the winemakers use traditional methods that are both natural and sustainable.
BVJ: This is a region that is passionate about harnessing the local grape varieties to produce wines that reflect and celebrate their unique terroir. They are also very committed to delivering wines of consistently high quality, value and relevance, contributing proactively towards lower environmental footprints and being good partners for importers, distributors, retailers and consumer-facing wine professionals.
As such, the region has seen a renaissance in recent years. Its producers are now able to produce world-class wines at a range of price points that are capable of satisfying all types of consumers.
The wines are fresh and vibrant, with great texture. They show a great balance between the fruit and acidity, highlighting the freshness and the terroir nuances. There is a fantastic variety of wines available from this region, and the winemakers are always looking for ways to innovate whilst maintaining their traditional values. The region is embracing the challenge of the current economic climate and is investing in increasing the reach of its wines across key export markets.