Beiras (Beira) is a traditional administrative region in the northern half of Portugal. It is also the name of the IGP, or Indicacoes Geograficas Protegidas, wine classification (formerly known as Vinho Regional) which covers the region as a whole. A wide range of wines are made in Beiras – red wines from the region are typically rich, deeply colored wines made from Baga, Castelão, Rufete (Tinto Pinheira), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Touriga Nacional, and are sometimes fortified to emulate their more famous Oporto cousins. Whites are most often based on Fernão Pires and Bical, the latter being a small-berried variety with the affectionate nickname Borrado das Moscaos ('fly droppings').
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Beiras is relatively wide, as Portuguese regions go, and stretches from the Atlantic coast right to the border with Spain (about 100 miles/160km). It was traditionally a single region, but was later split into Beira Litoral (coastal Beira) and Beira Interior (inland Beira). The region encompasses several DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) titles, among them Bairrada, Beira Interior and the famous Dão.
Terroir varies greatly in the Beiras region, which touches both sides of Portugal and takes in coastline, rivers, valleys, lakes, plateaux and low mountains. The same is true of the climate – although heavily influenced by the Atlantic in the maritime west, the continental draw of Spain's hot, dry center is strong in the east. In the west are the sandier soils of the coast, slightly inland are the limestone and clays of Bairrada, and the center has the alluvial soils of the Dão, Mondego and Ceira river valleys.
Baga is arguably the most important red wine grape in Beira. It typically makes up the lion's share of red wines, particularly in Bairrada, where it accounts for more than three-quarters of the red plantings. Prolific and late ripening, Baga's large crops are often threatened by the risk of autumn rains blowing in from the Atlantic, one of the more significant challenges facing the region's vignerons each vintage. Baga-based wines are typically deeply colored, highly acidic and very tannic – a consequence of their small berries and thick skins. French grapes Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah are increasingly popular across Beiras, as they are the world over, and are often used to soften Baga wines and make them more immediately appealing to those wine consumers not yet seduced by classic Portuguese wine styles.
For centuries Beiras has suffered the repercussions of a significant event in the wine history of Bairrada, its westernmost viticultural area. In the early 18th century the British appetite for port (produced in the nearby Douro valley) was reaching fever pitch, creating significant commercial opportunities. A number of Bairrada producers were caught exporting their Bairrada wines as port, and a number of legitimate port producers were found blending Bairrada wines into their own to increase output. Wine legislation and regulation was in its infancy back then (Tokaj and port were among the first), but so valued was the port name that the Portuguese government took immediate action to maintain its purity; Sebastião José de Carvalho, the country's vehemently nationalist First Minister, ordered that all vines in Bairrada be uprooted. The stain on Bairrada's reputation lasted well into the 20th century, and only in 1980 was the area finally granted official recognition as a Portuguese wine region.