No country in the world has a longer history of growing, producing and exporting wine than Portugal. They traded with the Romans, Phoenicians, and Greeks. Portugal during the Hundred Years War became the main wine import of the British. Today, Portuguese wines are still very popular in Britain and are gaining popularity all over the world. The Portuguese were the first to implement a quality control system for wine production, two hundred years before the French. With such a long history of making wine, Portuguese wines are still not known very well in the US. Many times when I am speaking to people about wine, I get the most resistance when I try to tell them about Portugal. Most people think of Portugal as where they make Port, the sweet fortified wine. Most of the time things go south when they ask what grapes make up the wine. Soon as names like Fernao Pires, Touriga Nacional or Tinta Roriz are spoken I see their eyes glaze over. Unlike California wine, or France, when a person does not know what grapes are in a Bordeaux, they become comfortable when they find out because they are familiar with the grapes. With wines from Portugal, the names of the grapes are as foreign as their pronunciation. So here is a simple guide to the main grapes of Portugal and what better known grape they most taste like.
Alvarihno- Known as Albarino in Spain. This is a grape that has intense aroma of peach and full fruit on the palate, think of it like a Gewurztraminer or Viognier
Loureiro- This is a white grape found in the wines of the Vinho Vede Region of Northern Portugal. This grape is known for its intense aromatics of bay leaf and citrus. Think of this similar to a Sauvignon Blanc
Touriga Nacional- This is Portugal's flag ship red grape. Used in both the production of Port and Still wine. These grapes produce wine that is Dark and rich with flavors of black fruit and intense gripping tannin. Think of this like Cabernet Sauvignon
Touriga Franca- This is also one of Portugal's most widely planted grapes that is used in both Port style wines as well as dry wines. The wine from this grape is also dark, but more fragrant and slight lighter bodied than Touriga Nacional. Think of this like Cabernet Franc.
Tinta Roriz- This is known in Spain as Tempranillo where it makes the world famous wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Shows cherry, berry, character, sometimes showing hints of mint. Think of this like Merlot.
These are only a few of the grapes used in Portugal but they are the main components of most of the wines. So please for yourself try some wines from Portugal.