All over Portugal wine has been an important part of agricultural history since at least Roman Times. Increasingly Portuguese wines are becoming more widely renowned and there are several denominated areas such as the Bairrada wine region.
Of course no visit to Portugal would be complete without finding out about the port it produces. The city of Porto and the Douro region are steeped in the history of port wine production so while you're tasting the produce you can gaze out over some of the country's most spectacular scenery.
In Vila Nova de Gaia, a suburb of Porto, the port lodges and their distinctive names high up on the terracotta roofs give Porto city its atmospheric character. The lodges are where the barrels of port were brought from all over the Douro region on the barcos rabelos - the traditional boats moored at the riverside - and stored ready for shipping across the world. Some of the port wine lodges are over 300 years old. Today nearly every company offer a tour of their cellars while imparting information on the production of port, the different types, vintages and history of port and the companies that sell it. What better way to gain an explanation of port wine!
Apparently port came about when somewhat inferior wine had brandy added to it to make it more palatable. These days it's a much more serious business. The grapes for making port are grown in a demarcated area 40,000 hectares in size along both banks of the River Douro and its tributaries. Grapes are harvested in September to October and then crushed. The juice ferments for a few days and is then stopped with the addition of aguardente - a Portuguese brandy-type spirit - at a time that later dictates the wine's sweetness. The wine then stands in casks in a cellar of the estate until the following March. It is then shipped downstream to the shippers' lodges at Gaia where it matures. The Portuguese often chill their port (probably something to do with the warm climate) and good accompaniments are some of the lovely Portuguese cheeses or chocolate for a very decadent experience.
Tours run on weekdays and Saturdays, but not Sundays. These are all pretty well organised some to military style precision! It can often be cheaper to buy the top quality ports from here, but some of the cheaper ones can be found cheaper in town.
One more place you may want to visit to find out about the history of port wine trade and its impact on the city is the Port Wine Museum (Museu do Vinho do Porto). It's free entry and is found in a former warehouse on Rua de Monchique west of Porto's Ribeira district. Rua de Monchique 45-52, tel: 351 22 2076300. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am-12.30pm and 2-5.30pm, Sundays 2-5.30pm. Closed on Mondays and holidays.
The Port Wine Route has been identified through the Douro region as a tourist trail that takes you through the Douro countryside where you can stop off points at quintas to find out about the various stages in the production of port wine. Needless to say there are many quintas offering wine tasting tours along the route.
The Port Wine Route Members' Association produce a helpful website that can help you plan a journey with maps indicating where the quintas are throughout the Douro region, they can even help you organise tours.
The Port and Douro Wines Institute run three Solar do Vinho do Porto in Lisbon, Porto and Peso da Regua. These are like bars where a selection of wines are available for tasting alongside information, exhibitions and artistic events about port and the Douro area.
Solar do Vinho do Porto on Rua de Entre-Quintas near the Crystal Palace in Porto is a good stopping off point where you can taste a selection of port wines with views out over the River Douro. This, like the ones in Regua and Lisbon, are run by the Port and Douro Wines Institute and offer tutored tastings and a selection of books and information on Douro port wine. Open: Mon-Thurs: 2pm to 8pm; Friday and Saturday: 2pm to 12pm. Closed Sundays and holidays.
A good stopping off point in Peso da Regua is the Solar do Vinho do Porto housed in a converted warehouse on Rua da Ferreirinha. Open Mon-Sat 11am-7pm. Tel: 351 254 320 960. Next door at the Casa do Douro, the headquarters of the port growers organisation, is a series of stained-glass windows illustrating the history and production of Port wine.
The Lisbon Solar do Vinho do Porto is on Rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, 45, 1250-237 Lisboa - Portugal. Tel: 351 213475707/8. Fax: 351 213478392. Email: email@example.com. Open Tues-Sat 11 am-midnight. Closed Sundays and holidays.
The region around the River Tamega encompassing the towns Celorico de Basto, Mondim de Basto and Cabeceiras de Basto form the district known as Terras de Basto. This a fertile, rural area dotted with smallholdings and vineyards that produce the strong Vinho Verde (Green wine). These are semi-sparkling wines that are picked early and drunk young. You can see the vines as you travel around the area that are kept clear of the ground by draping the vines on trees or trellises around the fields. The red is preferred by the Portuguese while the whites are more frequently exported. You can follow the Rota Vinho Verde - the Green Wine Route either independently or through organised trips throughout the Vinho Verde region that stretches from south of Porto north to the Spanish border. The Vinho Verde website (links right) is a useful source of information for finding out more about the wine, the region and for planning a route.
The wines from the Bairrada region are nationally and internationally renowned. Wine has been produced here since the 12th century. In 1979 the Bairrada region received its apellation designation. Sparkling wines are of particular note such as "Conde de Cantanhede" and "Marques de Marialva", two of the best quality sparkling wines of the region. Red and white table wines are also produced.
In Anadia is the Bairrada Wine Museum. At the museum find out all about the winemaking history of the region before embarking on the Bairrada Wine Route. Museu do Vinho da Bairrada, Avenida Eng. Tavares da Silva, 3780 - 203 Anadia. Tel: 231 51 97 80. Fax: 231 51 97 81. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Tues-Fri 10 am-1 pm and 2-6 pm. Sat-Sun and Hollidays 11 am-7 pm.
The Bairrada Wine Route, Rota dos Vinhos da Bairrada, takes you through the countryside dotted with vineyards so you can see the wine being produced first hand. The first route takes you through the Dao region taking in Viseu with its rich architectural heritage. The Baga casta grape is the most widely grown grape in this area. The countryside becomes more lush between the River Dao and River Mondego where vineyards are associated with manor houses and stately homes. Along the way you can take in spectacular views of the Serra do Caramulo and its famous forest.
The second route of the Bairrada Wine Route takes you through the Bairrada wine region. Here it is said that the influence of the sea has a lot to do with the character of the wines of this region. This is the route that takes you through the spa towns of Luso and Curia.
The Ribatejo region has produced wine on the banks of the Tejo for over 2000 years. This has largely been traditionally made with modern techniques only being introduced in recent years. As a consequence the wine of the area has become more popular across Europe often being labelled Ribatejo, Arruda and Liziria. In the year 2000 the Ribatejo region was awarded the best wine certification in Portugal, DOC (Denominacao de Origem Controlada).
Ribatejan whites are typically from the Fernao Pires or Trincadeira-das-Pratas grapes which makes a distinctive dry, lemon-coloured fruity white wine. The reds tend to be from Periquita, Trincadeira Preta and Castelao Nacional grapes. There are five denominations in the Ribatejo region: Almeirim, Cartaxo, Chamusca, Coruche and Santarem.
To explore the vineyards and the region's cultural heritage you can follow any of the tours suggested as part of The Ribatejo Wine Route devised by Association of Ribatejo Red Wine. Check the weblink right. Their exceedingly helpful website is in English and tours include vineyards and wine producers as well as pointing out historical sights along the way. There are the contact details of wine related places you can visit too.