The Sommelier's Table: A WSET3 Certified Expert Unveils Portugal's Wine Renaissance.

Rui Gabriel Viegas
December 26, 2023
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A new generation of vintners, volcanic wines from Pico and a 100 Robert Parker points.

Portugal has proved to be much more than the land of cork, Port and the medium-sweet, lightly sparkling Mateus Rosé. The world has opened its eyes to a place of modern, genuine and distinctive wines, that still honours traditions and a precious heritage of hundreds of native grape varieties. WSET3 Certified Sommelier, Rui Gabriel Viegas provides us with a snapshot.

LISBOA - Portugal has a long tradition of wine. A history which goes back to the Roman occupation when wine production was systematised in the country. One of the highlights of this long history is the demarcation and regulation by Marquis of Pombal – Prime Minister of the time – of the rules, limits and wine boundaries for the production of Port wine in 1756, which made the Douro the world's first wine region appellation. Since then, there has been a constant transformation, with multiple styles and types of wine seeing the light of day.    

With a longtime tradition, wines such as Madeira, Colares, and Carcavelos are not unknown to wine enthusiasts worldwide. Recently, a new wave of young winemakers – and even more experienced players with restless minds – have shown their will and skill, coming up with modern approaches to winemaking and viticulture, making previously obscure wines available to an increasingly demanding public. For such a small country, Portugal produces a remarkable diversity of wines: Atlantic, volcanic, sweet, fortified, amphora, late-harvested, orange, and sparkling wines have excellent examples in the country.

Although international grape varieties have their place – particularly in the Lisboa and Alentejo region – the precious inheritance of indigenous vine varieties (a treasure trove of indigenous grape varieties, 248 of them according to a 2013 study), have added differentiation to the Portuguese nectars. Grape varieties such as Baga, Arinto, Touriga Nacional, and Alvarinho (to name just a few) are becoming more and more known, with these last two being now allowed to be planted in the Bordeaux region as part of the glorious Bordeaux Blend.

In 2015, the Wine Spectator said of Portugal - "Change is sweeping across this historic winemaking nation, with renowned Quintas and a new generation of vintners competing and collaborating across a dizzying array of terroirs, varieties and viticultural techniques. With refined red table wines and focused whites from indigenous grapes taking a place on the world stage, this diverse and beautiful land offers much more than Port."   This path remains the way in the country, with the same intention to balance tradition with modernity and innovation, looking to the past but driving into the future.    

Almost unknown regions, like Pico (Azores), are now producing volcanic, salty and mineral table wines. Setúbal's península is making the fantastic fortified Moscatel de Setúbal with plenty of complexity and acidity; Enfant terribles like Ricardo Diogo de Freitas from Barbeito are now bringing new approaches to Madeira wine, honouring masterfully this very old wine, while adding more freshness and acidity.  

Ricardo Diogo de Freitas from Barbeito.

Luis Pato, aka Mister Baga, continues his path of mastering the art of vinifying this Nebbiolo-like grape, creating outstanding wines in different styles; Dirk Niepoort, who is genuinely making wines of his own, (whose Niepoort Port Vintage 2017 was recently awarded an impressive 100 Robert Parker points) continues to be a true ambassador of Port, Douro and Portugal as well as other regions in the country. These are just a few examples of the best of the best in the Portuguese wine trade.  

Luis Pato, aka Mister Baga.

In all the country's wine regions, you will find plenty of characterful and artisanal wines whose producers try different approaches and bring new possibilities.

If you aim to taste a wide variety of superb wines, rest assured that this eclectic wine country has much to excite.

For Private Tasting and Masterclasses on Portuguese Wines, contact Rui on Instagram @ruigabrielviegas.

All Photography courtesy of Rui Gabriel Viegas (obrigado, pá!).

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Rui Gabriel Viegas
Wine Expert for THE GOODS