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12 best Portuguese wines to transport you to a sun-soaked vineyard

You may not be going abroad, but it’ll always be happy hour when you’ve got one of these bottles in hand

John Clarke
Wednesday 23 June 2021 14:49 BST
There’s a huge variety of indigenous grape varieties, all of which are worth exploring
There’s a huge variety of indigenous grape varieties, all of which are worth exploring (iStock/The Independent)

Not just a popular destination for sun-seeking Brits (when they can visit there, that is), Portugal also has a lot to offer when it comes to wine.

There’s a huge variety of indigenous grape varieties, all of which are worth exploring, and an exciting range of styles, from the succulent and rich reds of the Douro valley to the crisp and fresh examples of the famous “green wine” (vinho verde) from the north of the country. Prices can be moderate too, with some great wines available for under £10.

We looked at wines at all prices, from supermarket staples to prized bottles for that special occasion.

Some, like the white wines, suit the sunshine and the chance to sit in the open air and perhaps enjoy a light snack or lunch outdoors. Others, such as the rich, ripe and smooth Douro reds, tasted best in the evening after the sun had set and acted as the perfect partner for a leisurely supper with a roasted meat dish or grilled vegetables.

Whatever wine you choose, it’s plain that a new generation of enterprising and inventive winemakers are busy showcasing a huge range of new and exciting drinks. Portugal has been called the “jewel house” of wine varieties – now is the time to explore it.

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The best Portuguese wines for 2021 are:

  • Best overall Vinha do Fava touriga nacional 2019, 75cl: £10.49,
  • Best for a summer tipple – Waitrose loved and found arinto 2019, 75cl: £7.99,
  • Best for a shared supper – Vallegre Vinhas velhas reserva especial 2016, 75cl: £17.15,
  • Best for a connoisseur – Quinta da Pedra Alta prova no. 1 tinto 2015, 75cl: £29.01,
  • Best for a garden party – Casal de Ventozela vinho verde 2020, 75cl: £9.99,
  • Best for something different – Vulcao ameixambar, 75cl: £29,
  • Best for a meat feast Rocksand shiraz 2019, 75cl: £10.49,
  • Best for an old favourite in a new guise – Quinta de Chocapalha cabernet sauvignon 2017, 75cl: £16.25,
  • Best for tip-top freshness – Terra d’Alter branco 2020, 75cl: £8.95
  • Best value Casa Santos Lima behind closed doors Lisboa reserva red 2018, 75cl: £10.99,
  • Best for a grilled fish dish – Lavradores de Feitoria estrada Douro branco, 75cl: £8 in-store only,
  • Best for star quality Vida Nova red 2015, 75cl: £11.29,

Vinha do Fava touriga nacional 2019, 14.5%, 75cl

vinha .jpg

Best: Overall

Portugal’s Setubal peninsula is home to some of its finest wines, and it’s where Leonor Freitas of the acclaimed Vinha do Fava vineyard has been championing the indigenous touriga nacional grape variety. It’s often considered to be Portugal’s finest and this rich, concentrated and distinctive, full-bodied red shows you why. It oozes layered, sumptuous dark soft fruit and berry flavours along with soft tannins and notes of spice. Open it and let it breathe for an hour or two before bringing it to the table where it makes a wonderful companion to rich meat dishes and casseroles.

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Waitrose loved and found arinto 2019, 13%, 75cl


Best: For a summer tipple

Dry, white and crisp, this is part of Waitrose’s admirable ambition to educate the public about lesser-known grape varieties. The Portuguese arinto is known for its versatility and refreshing acidity. This example from the coastal vineyards of the Estremadura wine region immediately to the north of Lisbon has a citrusy, lemon and lime appeal with a tempered acidity and notes of apple and blossom. It makes for great summer drinking and, at under £10 a bottle, is splendid value.

Although this wine is currently unavailable, more stock is expected soon.

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Vallegre vinhas velhas reserva especial 2016, 14%, 75cl


Best: For a shared supper

A gloriously heavyweight wine that comes in an equally heavyweight bottle. This luscious red from the Douro valley is laden with awards, which is no surprise once you’ve sampled it. Huge, bold and dark fruit flavours mingle with notes of spice and chocolate, while 22 months in French oak adds a smoky veneer. The grapes are hand-picked from traditional Douro grape varieties including sousao, tinta amarela, touriga franca, touriga nacional and tinta francisca in the old vineyards of Quinta da Vista Alegre. It’s superbly equipped to complement any roast or grilled meat dishes and pairs well with pasta or cheese. Unfiltered, it will need to be decanted before serving.

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Quinta da Pedra Alta prova No. 1 tinto, 2015, 13.5%, 75cl

quinta fava.jpg

Best: For a connoisseur

This is a red wine from the heart of the Douro that’s the result of a vision shared by a group of friends including winemakers Matt Gant from Australia and João Pires from Portugal. They acquired the Quinta da Pedra Alta and set about redefining what was possible in what they call “the most exciting wine region in the world”. It’s a blend of tinta barroca, touriga franca and tinta roriz grapes, each of which brings its own special qualities to the table. A complex and layered wine, it has concentrated notes of dark fruit and spice with soft tannins and an underlying minerality. Best decanted an hour or so before serving, it’s a serious wine at a serious price, but the quality shines through.

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Casal de Ventozela vinho verde 2020, 12%, 75cl


Best: For a garden party

The vinho verde wine region in the far north-west of the country is perhaps Portugal’s most famous, and home of the “green wine” or in other words, young wine. Crisp, zesty and slightly spritzy, it’s the perfect summer drink with bucketloads of refreshing apple and citrus flavours and a welcome acidity. It’s meant to be drunk young so don’t put it in the back of the cupboard and forget about it. Pair it with tempura prawns or light seafood dishes to enjoy it at its best.

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Vulcao ameixambar, 13%, 75cl


Best: For something different

Vines have been planted in the Azores in the mid-Atlantic since the 15th century, but winemaking in these volcanic islands some 900 miles west of Lisbon was nearly wiped out by the insect pest phylloxera at the end of the 19th century. Happily, some vineyards survived, and this white wine is made from the local arinto dos açores grapes grown on the foothills of the Capelinhos volcano on the island of Faial, and the balsalt soil of Criacao Velha on neighbouring Pico. As you’d expect, there’s a flinty minerality at the heart of this wine, but it’s tempered by softer pear and citrus flavours. It’s rare and hard to come by, but if you want a real taste of the Atlantic, this is where to find it

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Rocksand shiraz 2019, 14.5%, 75cl


Best: For a meat feast

This is a rich, full-bodied red from the coastal Peninsula de Setubal wine region in central Portugal, where Atlantic breezes temper the hot days with cool nights and the shiraz (or syrah) grape prospers. Although it’s a grape more likely to be found in Australia, the shiraz from this award-winning winery equals its antipodean counterparts with big, luscious and jammy dark fruit flavours. Four months spent in American and French oak barrels adds to the opulent flavour and it has a long and satisfying finish.

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Quinta de Chocapalha cabernet sauvignon 2017, 14%, 75cl


Best: For an old favourite in a new guise

Why, some may ask, would you buy a cabernet sauvignon – a grape that’s the pride of Bordeaux – from Portugal? Well, apart from being one the world’s finest grapes, it’s also one of the most adaptable. Grown, as it is here, on a family-run estate in the Lisbon wine region, it possesses all the familiar cabernet sauvignon traits; masses of blackberry and bramble flavours plus soft and pleasing tannins, but it also adds a Portuguese accent with notes of spice and pepper and a welcome minerality. So, if you want to sample a French classic with a touch of Portuguese flair, this is where to come.

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Terra d’Alter branco 2020, 12.5%, 75cl


Best: For tip-top freshness

A young white wine from the Alto Alentejo region in the south of Portugal, where Australian winemaker Peter Bright has been bringing some new-world flair to local wines. It’s a blend of the indigenous arinto and siria varieties that has been enlivened by the addition of the aromatic viognier grape. The end result is an easy-drinking but lively summer wine where soft and stoned fruit flavours are enhanced by floral and mineral notes. Constant sampling in the vineyards meant that the grapes were picked at just the right time to ensure optimum ripeness and acidity.

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Casa Santos Lima behind closed doors Lisboa reserva red 2018, 14%, 75cl


Best: Value

It was the country star Charlie Rich who used to sing: “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” In this case, the answer would seem to be: great winemaking. Blended in the Lisboa wine region from the indigenous grapes touriga nacional, tinta roriz, alicante bouschet and our old friend syrah, this is a bold and muscular red with dark fruit and dark berry flavours allied to notes of pepper and spice. Winemakers Casa Santos Lima are a family-owned company and gained international recognition this year as the “best Portuguese producer” at the AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge. A quality wine for just over a tenner is something worth opening the door for.

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Lavradores de Feitoria estrada Douro branco, 13%, 75cl


Best: For a grilled fish dish

You would normally associate the Douro wine region with robust reds, but it also produces this aromatic and floral white – a joint venture between winemakers Lavradores de Feitoria and the Silva Reis family. It’s a blend of indigenous varieties including arinto, gouveio, viosinho and fernao pires, plus a dash of muscatel. Peach and orchard flavours dominate along with notes of lemon, grapefruit and blossom. A refreshing summer wine, it pairs well with fish and shellfish dishes.

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Vida Nova red 2015, 14.5%, 75cl

vida nova.jpg

Best: For star quality

The giveaway clue here is that this is a product of the “adega do cantor” or “winery of the singer” – the vocalist in question being our very own national treasure Sir Cliff Richard. It’s situated in the Algarve, which may be a holiday hotspot but wasn’t that well known as a winemaking area until Sir Cliff and his associates championed the rebirth of the area’s viniculture, hence the Vida Nova, or “new life” name.  Deep red in colour, this blend of syrah (80 per cent) and aragones has abundant dark berry and plum flavours with telling notes of spice, subtle tannins and a long and smooth finish. And even if you don’t get a chance to visit the winery where the singer’s often spotted giving a helping hand, you do get his signature on the label, foil and cork.

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The verdict: Portuguese wines

If it’s a summertime drink you’re looking for, Portugal could be the place to start, with some aromatic and lively whites such as the refreshing Waitrose loved and found arinto. Indoors, it’s the Portuguese reds which make their mark from the distinguished Vallegre Vinhas velhas reserva especial to the pricey but sumptuous Quinta da Pedra alta prova no. 1 tinto.

But the best buy comes from the Setúbal peninsula. Vinha do Fava touriga nacional is a rich, ripe and smooth red featuring the country’s most esteemed grape variety. A perfect pairing for a summer casserole.

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