Historically, Portugal has been known for it’s fortified wines: Port from the Douro Valley, and Madeira from the island of Madeira. Although they have been making wine for over 2000 years, the wines were mostly consumed domestically, and fortified exports were limited to both their colonies and Britain. This led to Britain having a strong hold on the Port industry, and subsequently many British families moved to Porto to get in on the booming business of Port export.
During its time as a colonial power, Portugal forbade it’s colonies from importing wine from other countries. To this day, Brazil and Angola are among the biggest consumers of Portuguese wine. Interestingly, only 25% of Portuguese wine is fortified (mainly Port), however it accounts for nearly 50% of export revenue.
It wasn’t until after Portugal’s entrance into the European Union in 1986 that they were able to compete on the global market. The joining of the EU brought an influx of foreign investment. Winemaking and viticulture were modernized, leading to a more refined wine. Prior to this, the unfortified wines of Portugal were known to be rustic and oxidative. Portugal was forced to abolish legislation which unfairly favoured large co-operative producers in order to comply with EU standards. This allowed small independent producers, known as ‘quintas’ to flourish.
Originally, there was a major divide between producers: those who made Port, and those who did not. That divide has began to fade. Many Port houses have begun to produce dry red and white wines in the Douro and other regions of Portugal, and new Port houses are popping up on occasion as well.
Perhaps to their detriment in the international market, Portugal has never wholly embraced the planting of international varietals such as Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc. They continue to cultivate indigenous varietals that have been grown for centuries. Grapes such as Baga, Trincadiera and Encruzado are rarely seen outside of the region. This tradition has kept Portuguese wine unique and interesting to study and drink.
Traditionally, vines in Vinho Verde were trained in high pergolas (see the bottom photo of the cover page). Although many producers are moving towards a more conventional training method, the pergolas are still prevalent in the region.
The Douro Valley was the first demarcated wine growing region, dating back to 1756. The area has been expanded since.
There are 82 permitted and 30 recommended grapes allowed for cultivation in the Douro Valley. One of the most widely planted is Tinta Roriz, more commonly known as Tempranillo.