Discovering Portugal's indigenous varieties
With over 250 unique and exciting indigenous grape varieties, Portugal boasts the largest concentration of native grape varieties per square kilometre in Europe.
This fantastic treasure trove of Portuguese grapes has been preserved for various reasons. One of these is Portugal’s isolationist recent history and isolated location at the furthest point west in Europe – far from the advance of international grape varieties at the end of the 20th century. Another is the fact that these indigenous grape varieties are very well adapted to the climate, soils and topography of the regions in which they are grown and produce distinctive wines with a real sense of place.
The top quality of Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties is something which is increasingly recognised beyond the country’s borders. Indeed, even the discerning Bordelais have recently welcomed Touriga Nacional into their vineyards.
We have put together a selection of some of our favourite Portuguese wines made from indigenous grapes, from stunning single-varietal wines from the Dão and Bucelas to perfectly balanced blends from the Douro and the Alentejo.
Quinta dos Carvalhais, Dão Encruzado 2019
Encruzado is a Dão grape prized for its ability to produce full bodied but balanced wines with refreshing acidity. It also has a great affinity with oak, and barrel fermentation and ageing results in wines comparable to white Burgundy. The Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado is partially barrel fermented and then aged for eight months in French oak barrels of varying sizes. It perfectly marries the citrussy vibrancy of this variety with delicious toasty notes from the oak.
Quinta dos Carvalhais, Dão Touriga Nacional 2017
Although there is ongoing debate about whether Touriga Nacional originated in the Dão or in the Douro, there is no doubt that some of the most elegant expressions of this famed grape come from the Dão. A slow ripening process, thanks to the wide diurnal range here, results in the retention of delicate aromas of violet and bergamot alongside its characteristic brooding black fruit intensity. The Quinta dos Carvalhais Touriga Nacional showcases these aromas alongside a well-integrated spiciness from 12 months in French oak.
Quinta dos Carvalhais, Dão Alfrocheiro 2015
Alfrocheiro is another prized red variety, native to the Dão. It produces deeply coloured wines with flavours of juicy blackberry and spice, coupled with fine-grained tannins and a bright acidity. The Quinta dos Carvalhais Alfrocheiro underwent nine months ageing in used French oak barrels, adding subtle savoury notes to the vibrant blackberry fruit. Bottle age has also added a delicious earthy, mushroomy complexity to the wine, reminiscent of that of aged Pinot Noir.
Casa Ferreirinha, `Vinha Grande` Douro Branco 2019
A blend of four grapes grown at Quinta do Sairrão, one of the coolest vineyard sites in the Cima Corgo sub-region, located at 600 metres above sea level: Viosinho and Rabigato are aromatic indigenous varieties which bring delicate notes of stone fruits and orange blossom to the blend; Arinto and Gouveio (Galicia’s Godello) both contribute a balancing acidity. Fifty percent of the blend is barrel fermented and then aged for eight months in new French oak barrels, resulting in a wine which combines bright fruit and floral aromas with a lovely buttery richness from the oak.
Casa Ferreirinha, `Vinha Grande` Douro Tinto 2018
Grown in prime vineyard sites in both the Cima Corgo and the Douro Superior, four of the grapes prized for Port production form the ‘Vinha Grande’ Tinto blend. Touriga Franca is the most widely planted grape in the Douro Valley and thrives in some of the warmest vineyard sites. It brings body and aromas of blackberries and rock rose to the blend. Touriga Nacional provides great tannic and acidic backbone along with subtle hints of violet and swathes of dark fruit. This is balanced by the classic red fruit character of Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo) and Tinta Barroca. Twelve months' ageing in used French oak barrels has added a lovely savoury complexity to this hallmark Douro red.
Azamor, Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto 2018
Azamor blends international varieties (Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Merlot and Petit Verdot) and indigenous Portuguese varieties (Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira) in their Vinho Regional Alentejano. Trincadeira is another grape which thrives in the Alentejo and is capable of producing age-worthy and intense wines with a peppery spiciness similar to Syrah. Seven months' ageing in a combination of French and American oak has resulted in a bold yet refined red, packed with juicy fruit, spice and velvety tannins.
Herdade do Peso, `Trinca Bolotas` Alentejo Tinto 2019
This deliciously juicy Alentejo red combines Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez (another synonym for Spain’s Tempranillo). Alicante Bouschet is a crossing of Grenache with Petit Bouschet which originated in France but is arguably at its best in the Alentejo. A teinturier grape with red flesh, it contributes intense colour and black cherry, bramble and spice aromas to the blend. An ode to the acorn munching black pigs native to the Alentejo, this is a fantastic wine which offers superb value.
Quinta da Romeira, `Morgado de Santa Catherina` Bucelas Arinto 2019
Arinto is a native Portuguese white grape prized for its crisp natural acidity and planted in many of the southerly wine regions to bring a refreshing lift to white blends. However, the best Arinto wines are found in Bucelas, a small but historic appellation with rolling limestone hills, located just 30 kilometres to the north of Lisbon. The Quinta da Romeira ‘Morgado de Santa Catherina’ is a complex and textured expression of Arinto. Partially barrel-fermented and then aged for six months in French oak barrels with regular bâtonnage, it marries delicious aromas of brioche with the characteristic zesty fruit of the Arinto.