Portugal has undergone something of a wine revolution in the past couple of decades, updating its winemaking technologies, styles and attitudes. This archetypal Old World country has long been famous its fortified wines (Port and Madeira) and tart, light Vinho Verde. But in the last decade or two it has garnered a great deal of attention for its new wave of rich, ripe, table wines, with reds from the Douro Valley particularly prominent.
Annual production has ranged between 600 and 670 million liters between 2016 and 2020. Over those years this has placed Portugal in 11th position in the world, while Italy and France have vied for top sport with figures between 4 to 5.5 billion liters. There are around 200,000 hectares of vineyards (nearly 500,000 acres).
Portuguese grape varieties
Portugal's many vine varieties and their countless regional synonyms are the bane of ampelographers. Some are endemic to Portugal (e.g. Touriga Nacional), while others are shared with neighboring Spain (e.g. Tinta Roriz/Tempranillo). Overall around 250 varieties are considered as native.
The ever-popular 'international varieties of French origin have also been planted, with Syrah by far the most popular. Importantly, the current success of Portuguese wines has not become dependent on the latter category, helping winegrowers to maintain a certain uniqueness in their wines.
The OIV Report "Distribution of the World's Grapevine Varieties" (2017) listed Portugal's top ten varieties by estimated vineyard area as follows:
- Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) R: 18,000ha (44,500 acres, 9 percent of total, trending up)
- Touriga Franca R: 15,000ha (7.5, strongly up)
- Castel?o R: 13,000ha (6.5, strongly down)
- Fernao Pires W: 13,000ha (6.5, down)
- Touriga Nacional R: 12,000ha (6, strongly up)
- Trincadeira R: 11,000ha (5.5, down)
- Baga R: 7,000ha (3.5, down)
- Siria (Roupeiro) W: 7,000ha (3.5, strongly down)
- Arinto (Pederna) W: 6,000ha (3, strongly up)
- Syrah R: 6,000ha (3, strongly up)
The diversity of varieties is shown by the 45.7 percent share of "Other varieties' (91,000 of 199,000ha total, according to the OIV).
Growing conditions and wine regions
Portugal's temperate, predominantly maritime climate has a great deal to offer winemakers. The country's portfolio of terroirs is not as broad as that of, say, France or Italy, but there is significant variation nonetheless between its mountains, river valleys, sandy littoral plains and limestone-rich coastal hills.
The high levels of rainfall that blow in from the western Atlantic are a boon to those seeking high yields from their vineyards. However these showers bring a significantly increased risk of fungal problems in all but the best-ventilated sites.
Provided the risk of disease can be effectively managed, producers in coastal regions such as Lisboa (formerly Estremadura) and the Setubal Peninsula have little problem generating prolific yields. Quality can be achieved in these fertile environments only by limiting quantity through careful canopy management and judicious green harvesting.
Sheltered, inland wine regions, such as Transmontano and Douro, are typically better equipped for the production of quality wines. Their drier climate and alluvial soils stress vines, forcing them to dig deep, strong root systems.
Portuguese wine history
One might argue that Portugal's place in the wine world has centered more around its cork production than its wine, but this depends largely on which period of history one chooses. In the 18th century, when the supply of French wines to England and Scotland was threatened by revolution and war, Portugal's vineyards proved more than capable of filling the void.
It was only in the 20th century, when international demand for Portuguese wines had dwindled to almost nothing, that Portugal rose to dominate world cork production. In the 21st century, the Portuguese cork industry is struggling (due to the ever-growing popularity of plastic corks and metal screwcaps), but the nation's wines are once again on the rise, led by dry reds from the Douro and D?o.