There are 14 demarcated wine regions in Portugal. Altogether, they represent the fourth-largest vineyard area in Europe, equivalent to 199 thousand hectares. Of these, 174 thousand hectares are vineyards with Geographical Indication (IG) or Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC), corresponding to 88% of the total. See other articles on wine regions in our Regions and Terroir section.343 types of grape varieties are grown in these regions, all registered by the Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV) and suitable for wine production. According to the IVV, there are 149 white and 194 red varieties, of which 250 are autochthonous, that is, of Portuguese origin, such as Alvarinho, Alfrocheiro, and Touriga Nacional.
Vinho Verde is characterized by a set of very specific factors that define its typicality. Indeed, the “needle”, freshness and intense aromas in the white wines, as well as the youth of particular flavours in the red wines, give these wines unique characteristics worthy of the recognition of this Denomination of Origin, not only for the still wines, but also for the sparkling wines, different kinds of vinegar and the “Aguardentes Bagaceiras e de Vinho” of the Vinho Verde Region. The richness of this region is not limited to the DOC. Other potentialities, such as the exploitation of the wines with geographical indication, i.e., the “Minho” Regional Wines, should be highlighted. These wines also reach great levels of quality, being able to present different physical-chemical and sensorial characteristics or be elaborated with several other grape varieties. Nine sub-regions are also recognized for products included on the Demarcated Region Statutes and can be used as a complement to the Denomination of Origin: “Amarante”, “Ave”, “Baião”, “Basto”, “Cávado”, “Lima”, “Monção”, “Paiva” and “Sousa”.
Vines have been grown in the region of Trás-os-Montes since the Roman occupation, and the wine produced, already from that time, is renowned and appreciated for its qualities. This vast region is located to the east of Minho and up to the Spanish border and ends on the left bank of the Douro, where the Beiras begin. The soils of this region are predominantly formed of pre-Cambrian and archaic schist, with some granite patches, and, in a small area, there are limestone patches of gneisses and alluvium. The wines from the Trás-os-Montes region are quite different, depending on the microclimates where they originate (altitude, sun exposure, rainfall, temperature, etc.). Thus, in the North, we find the DO Trás-os-Montes with the sub-regions “Chaves”, “Valpaços” and “Planalto Mirandês”. The wine with geographical indication, commonly named Regional Wine “Transmontano”, is produced in all the regions of Trás-os-Montes.
Vines were already being cultivated, and wine was being made, in the Alto Douro valleys during the Roman occupation. The history of the region is both fascinating and cruel, since those immemorial times when the Douro was mainly characterized by effort and violence, which was gradually tamed, ever-changing, allowing us today to enjoy one of the most amazing “cultural, evolving and living landscape” of the country, currently recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO. Noteworthy is also the fact that it was the first demarcated and regulated region in the world, when the Marquis of Pombal created the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro in 1756. The region, rich in microclimates as a consequence of its rugged orography, is divided into three sub-regions – Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior, being produced, in each, quality white, red and rosé wines, sparkling and liqueur wines, as well spirited wines with their specificities. Of the total volume of wine produced in the Demarcated Douro Region, about 50% is destined for the production of “Port Wine”. “Port Wine” is distinguished from ordinary wines by its particular features: an enormous diversity of types in which one can find a wealth and intensity of unrivalled aromas and very high persistence, both in terms of aromas and flavour, in addition to a high alcohol content (usually between 19 and 22% vol.), a wide range of “sweetness” and a great diversity of colours. The Duriense Regional Wine, whose production region coincides with the Douro Demarcated Region, is also worth mentioning.
Terras de Cister
Bordering the “Duriense” and the “Terras do Dão” regions, we find “Terras de Cister” and “Távora-Varosa”. Although a small region, it is, nonetheless, very relevant in terms of producing sparkling wines; fresh white and soft red wines are also produced there. Its unique edaphoclimatic conditions, of predominantly granite, but poor limestone soils, sometimes schistosome with accentuated erosion and acidity, and a temperate continental and dry climate, with rigorous winters, make it a privileged area for wine production. Regarding white wines, the natural acidity, the intense aroma and the citric character, bright and fresh, allow us to highlight their quality. Similarly, red wines display that aroma’s delicacy body nobility, reaching excellent aromas with time.
Winemaking in this region dates back to Roman times, as demonstrated by the various wine presses carved out of granite rocks (anthropomorphic wine presses), where the wine was produced at the time. Later, king D. Afonso Henriques, authorized the planting of vines in the region, on the condition that a quarter of the wine produced was given to the kingdom. Stretching from Minho to Alta Estremadura, it is a region of predominantly intensive and multicultural agriculture, with small landholdings, where the vine occupies a prominent place.
The vines are predominantly grown on soils of a clayey and clayey-calcareous nature. Winters are long and fresh and summers are hot, tempered by west and northwest winds, which are more frequent and stronger in the regions closer to the sea. Bairrada region is located between Águeda and Coimbra, bounded to the North by the Vouga River, to the South by the Mondego River, to the East by the Caramulo and Buçaco Mountains and to the West by the Atlantic Ocean. It is a region of mostly flat orography, with vineyards that rarely exceed 120 metres in altitude, which, due to its flatness and closeness to the ocean, enjoy a temperate climate with a strong Atlantic influence, abundant rainfall and average temperatures.
The soils are mainly divided between clay-limestone soils and long sandy strips, including diverse styles according to the preponderance of each element. Part of a coastline subject to a very high population density, the rural property is divided into thousands of small plots, with an average size of exploitation that rarely exceeds one hectare of vineyard, favouring the presence of large cooperative wineries and large wine companies, along with several bottling producers that greatly dignify the region. Bairrada’s official borders were established by Antonio Augusto de Aguiar in 1867. It was one of the first national regions to adopt and explore sparkling wines, since the region’s cool, wet climate and strong maritime ascendancy favour its production, offering grapes of low alcoholic graduation and high acidity, an indispensable condition for the making of sparkling wines.
Vine growth developed considerably from the 12th century onwards, mainly due to the action of several Religious Orders, with emphasis on Alcobaça, where the followers of St. Bernard settled in the monastery built by the Cistercian Order. The main goal at the time was to produce wine for the masses. It was then that the wines from Estremadura achieved great consumption and prestige, becoming one of the most important products in the region’s economic activity. Identified as one of the largest wine regions in the country in terms of vineyards and wine production, the area where Lisbon Geographical Indication is produced includes all the municipalities on the Atlantic strip north of the Tagus estuary, bordering Beira to the north and Ribatejo to the east. The shape of the landscape is not very high, except in the South, where some basalt and granite strata appear, and the region is almost entirely grounded on secondary formations of clay-limestone and sand-clay; in turn, the climate is temperate, without great thermal amplitudes, with an annual rainfall that ranges between 600-700 mm. In the southern part of the region, we find the winegrowing areas of three Denominations of Origin known for their traditional prestige: Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares, going from east to west. The largest vineyard areas can be found in the central part of the region, located on the gentle slopes of the hills where, besides the wine with Lisbon Geographical Indication, the Denominations of Origin “Alenquer”, “Arruda”, “Torres Vedras” and “Óbidos” have been recognized for their high-quality characteristics. By the sea, it is worth mentioning an area that produces wines with a special vocation for the production of quality brandies, deserving of the recognition of the Denomination of Origin “Lourinhã”. In the northernmost area, there is a vast region of vineyards that extends from the slopes of the Candeeiros and Aires mountains to the sea. There, the wines entitled to the Denomination of Origin “Encostas d’Aire” are produced in the sub-regions of this DO, respectively, “Alcobaça” and “Ourém”. Finally, the Lisbon Geographical Indication for the red, white and rosé wines produced in the whole region must be referred to; and, besides the “Light Wine”, with characteristics that make it appreciated especially in warm weather, it is also important to mention the sparkling wines with IG Lisboa.
In accordance with the wishes of the region’s producers, in 2009, the Tagus Geographical Indication was established for the production of white, red and semi-sparkling wines. The aim was clear: to give new visibility and dynamics to the wines produced in the region, whose continuous increase in quality has been recognized nationally and internationally. Located in central Portugal, the region has undeniable natural conditions for the development of agricultural, forestry and livestock activities. Tagus’ viticulture history is lost in time, but the peak of the trade of these wines occurred at the end of the first half of the 13th century, reaching the figure of almost 30 000 barrels shipped for England alone. The vine also played a preponderant role in the region’s colonization. Between 1900 and 1960, the population of the continent increased by 61%, and the region experienced roughly the same growth. The main orographic accident is the Serra de Aires e Candeeiros, delimiting what it can be called the “Medium Tejo” and “Lezíria do Tejo” and, in hydrographical terms, the Tagus river; the climate of this region is southern-Mediterranean temperate, influenced by the river that runs through it, with an annual rainfall of about 500-600 mm. There are three distinct production areas in this region, known as “O Campo”, “O Bairro” and “Charneca”.
Península de Setúbal
It is believed that the Phoenicians and the Greeks were responsible for bringing grape varieties to this region from the Near East and, as they find the climate mild, and the Arrábida slopes and Tagus riverside propitious to vine growing, they started cultivating them. Later, the Romans and the Arabs greatly increased vine growing in this peninsula. With the foundation of the kingdom of Portugal, other people came, namely, the Francos, which possessed ancient wine growing traditions, expanding, therefore, wine production in this region, as it still prevails today. Located on the west coast south of Lisbon, it is in this wine-growing region that the famous and much-appreciated Moscatel de Setúbal is produced. This region can be divided into two different orographic zones: one to the South and Southwest, mountainous, formed by the Arrábida, Rosca and S. Luís mountains, and by Palmela, S. Francisco and Azeitão hills and valleys, with altitudes between 100 and 500 m. The other, on the contrary, is flat, extending into a vast plain by the Sado river. The climate is mixed, subtropical and Mediterranean. Influenced by the proximity of the sea, the hydrographic basins of the Tagus and the Sado, and the mountains and hills located in the region, it has low-temperature ranges and a rainfall index between 400 and 500 mm.
The planting of vines in this region also dates back to Roman times, as shown by various vestiges of that era, namely grape seeds discovered in the ruins of São Cucufate, near Vidigueira, and some Roman presses. The first written documents about this subject date back to the 12th century. In the vastness of flat, or almost flat, horizons, the most important orographic accidents in the Alentejo are the Portel (421 m), Ossa (649 m) and S. Mamede (1025 m) mountains. It is, however, in the isolated elevations that are generated the microclimates most propitious for growing vines, conferring quality to the wines. The southern position and the absence of important soil reliefs are responsible for the Mediterranean and Continental characteristics of the climate. The insolation has very high values, which is later reflected in the ripening of the grapes, mainly in the months before the harvest, giving them a desirable accumulation of sugars and colouring matter in the skin of the berries. Most of the vineyards are located on a geological substratum of plutonic rocks (granites, tonalites, syenites and nepheline syenites), although the diversity of soils on which the vines are planted (namely schistosome and clayey-limestone soils) is noteworthy. It should be noted as well that the best land is usually chosen for cereal crops and livestock farming, while the vines and olive trees, due to their rusticity, are planted on soils with low usability. Eight sub-regions have emerged in this region: “Portalegre”, “Borba”, “Redondo”, “Reguengos”, “Vidigueira”, “Évora”, “Granja-Amareleja” and “Moura”.
Several remnants are proof of the tradition and importance of the vine in the Algarve, as well as the important role played by the wine produced in that region during the Middle and Modern Ages. During the Muslim occupation, the Arabs not only planted vines, but also exported the wine produced. After the reconquest, the Christians took advantage of the previous structures and expanded the economic organization left by the Arabs. In the extreme south of mainland Portugal, Algarve is a well-defined area, with specific features conferred by the proximity of the sea, the climate, the natural vegetation and the culture marked by the long Arab occupation.The southern location, the protection provided by the mountain barrier against the cold northerly winds, and the amphitheatre exposure facing south originate a climate distinctly Mediterranean: hot, dry, not very windy, with narrow temperature ranges and an average of over 3 000 hours of sunshine per year. Given the typicality that the edaphoclimatic conditions confer to the wines, there are four Denominations of Controlled Origin in the Algarve: “Lagoa”, “Lagos”, “Portimão” and “Tavira”.
With a total surface area of 738 km2, Madeira Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean. Discovered by Portuguese navigators in 1418, Madeira soon attracted the interest of Prince Henry, the Navigator, who considered it a privileged location for vineyards and sugar cane. He introduced vine growing on the Island by ordering “Malvasia” grape varieties from Greece, originally from Napoli di Malvasia, near Sparta. With a mild climate and gravelly soils of volcanic and basaltic soils, the vine conquered the Island and the Madeiran landscape was transformed. The smallholding, highly parcelled and largely valued by a rather intensive and varied polyculture that traditionally associates cattle breeding to corn, beans, potatoes, and vines on the periphery, generally arranged in trellises or branches, is similar to that found in Minho. The vine occupies, in this rural world, about 1700 hectares and is mainly used to produce Madeira wine, a product that was already being exported in the 17th century. The areas chosen for this culture are the sunny south-facing slopes where the vine, in its high form, gives shelter to other cultures, but they are also cultivated in its low form, especially near the sea.
In the Atlantic Ocean, 1600 km west of the Portuguese mainland coast, lies the archipelago of the Azores, made of nine islands, on three of which vines are grown: Terceira, Pico and Graciosa. These islands were colonized in the middle of the 15th century. It is thought that the Franciscan brothers were responsible for introducing the growing of vines there; at the time, they found similarities between the soil and climate conditions in Sicily and some islands of this archipelago, having brought several plants of the best-known grape variety, Verdelho (old Sicilian Verdecchio, according to some researchers), whose expansion was quick and massive. The wine produced in the Azores became famous and was widely exported, particularly that of Pico Island, to all of Northern Europe and even Russia. After the Bolshevik revolution, in 1917, bottles of Pico Verdelho wine were found stored in the cellars of the old Russian czars. The quality and prestige of the wines from the Azores have been known for a long time, which led to the recognition of three Regulated Indications of Provenance: “Pico”, “Graciosa” and “Biscoitos”.
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