Wine and Travel: Portugal

Portugal is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. Nestled between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that Portugal has abundant seafood and beautiful beaches. In addition to this, the country has been producing wines for over 3, 500 years. Famous for its Port and Madeira wine along with a rich treasure trove of over 200 indigenous and exciting grape varieties, it remains one of the lesser visited countries in Europe for wine travel.

We’ve taken a look at five popular wine regions of Portugal and why it should be on your list of must visit holiday destinations. Read all of our Wine and Travel blogs in the series including Spain, Italy and California.

Douro Valley

The Douro Valley is a designated UNESCO World Heritage region and is one of the top wine regions of the world. It is home to the River Douro, the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsula, which runs for eight hundred and 97 km from the Spanish town of Duruelo de la Sierra to Porto, Portugal’s second city.

The Douro River and the Douro Valley are known primarily for Port, a sweet wine that has been produced here for two thousand years, along with less well-known red and white table wines. The ‘capital’ of the Douro Valley is a town called Peso da Régua, which is dominated by a huge Sandeman’s logo perched on top of a hill. It was here that wines were collected before being transported downriver to Porto. Régua, which straddles the river and has a lively selection of waterside cafes and bars, is home to the headquarters of the Port Wine Institute.

Top Tour: Discover the splendor of the Douro Valley on a full day trip to Régua from Porto, including a return boat ride. During a scenic train ride to Régua, you’ll see vineyards and valleys before you board a cruise ship set to sail down the Douro River.

Madeira

The beautiful island of Madeira is out on the Atlantic, south of Portugal and enjoys mild temperatures all year around. Funchal is Madeira’s main city, and one of its most beautiful. Whether you want to surf the waves, paraglide along the coast or spend a day at sea whale watching, there’s plenty of adventures to be had. The nightlife takes place in the old part of the city, where bars and clubs dot the winding streets between the crumbling houses, while the casino and marina provide a modern contrast to some of the more traditional parts of the city. Funchal is blessed with some of the island’s lushest scenery, from its public gardens to the colourful fruit plantations.

The vines here grow in deep valleys and steep slopes on volcanic soils that are rich in organic matter. Madeira is a fortified wine and is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert. Cheaper cooking versions are often flavoured with salt and pepper for use in cooking, but these are not fit for consumption as a beverage. The grapes are high in acidity, which is a distinguishing feature of Madeira wines. Approximately 85% of Madeira is produced with the red grape, Negra Mole. The four major white grape varieties used for Madeira production are (from sweetest to driest) Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial.

Top Tour: Madeira Exquisite Food on Foot Tours – the tour takes 3.5 hours accompanied by a qualified guide. At each stop, you will sample one or more elements of the Madeiran cuisine, usually accompanied with regional drinks or Portuguese wines. You will also learn about the history behind each of the restaurants, as well as Funchal’s heritage, often considered one of the best towns in Europe to live. You are taken through the old streets of Funchal to places that only the locals know.

Algarve 

A combination of perfect beaches, lively coastal towns and a fascinating Moorish history, the Algarve is a truly beautiful holiday destination. With secluded coves hidden along its rocky coast and plenty of cosy restaurants, it is a great choice for couples. However, groups will have just as much fun with the incredible nightlife on offer. For families, the Algarve offers many happy hours exploring the scenic Albufeira, Vilamoura and Sagres. It is Portugal’s best region to mix golf, motorsports or sunbathing with wine tours and wine tasting. The Algarve also has some of the best restaurants in the whole of Portugal.

The Algarve wine region is the southernmost wine region of Portugal in the far south western corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Although a small quantity of fresh styled white wines are made here, the wines of the Algarve are predominantly reds. The main white grapes used in the production of Algarve wine are Arinto, Malvasia Fina, Manteúdo and Síria, and for the reds Castelão and Negra Mole.

Top Tour: Algarve Tour with Wine Tasting & Lunch – on this private tour from Portimao you will visit several Algarve area wineries with a guide, learn about wine production in the region and taste some of the finest samples. Lunch is in the mountaintop town Monchique, where you will have a traditional Portuguese lunch accompanied by epic views.

Lisbon

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and the country’s biggest city, located on the estuary of the Tagus river, on the European Atlantic Coast. It is continental Europe’s westernmost capital. Lisbon is also called Lisboa in Portuguese, so don’t get confused.

The Lisbon wine region is long and thin running north from Lisbon beside the Atlantic Ocean. Although the vineyards along the coast are affected by the wind and therefore the grapes do not ripen easily, just a little way inland hills and mountains shelter the region. Many top wine estates are in and around Alenquer, 40km from the coast. The area is a little warmer and less windy, allowing for the grapes to ripen well and potential for top class reds. Classic Portuguese varieties like Aragonez, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, are found here.

Top Tour: Experience Lisbon: Walking Tour with Food and Wine Tastings. Combine Lisbon’s culture with its cuisine on a walking tour that includes tastings of Portuguese food and wine. A great way for food lovers to experience sights and local specialties, this tour provides an overview of Lisbon’s culture and history.

Alentejo

The wine region of Alentejo occupies 1/3 of Portugal, though it is one of the least visited areas. Covered with vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich fertile soil, most towns here rely on agriculture, livestock, and forestry. Visitors can enjoy an abundance of traditional wines, cheeses, smoke hams and sausages made in the region. Located 90 minutes from Lisbon by car, Evora is a picturesque town with interesting historical monuments, great restaurants, and a relaxed nightlife. The compact city has the second largest number of national monuments in Portugal, being second only to Lisbon. Highlights include an impressive Roman Temple, a majestic cathedral, intriguing prehistoric standing stones and the macabre Chapel of Bones. Evora is perfect for those who want to explore the wine region of Alentejo.

Alentejo has the most Atlantic climate in Portugal, with cool summers and mild winters that result in wine that is not overly ripe or jammy. The region is renowned for red blends, which feature Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to the non-local native varieties Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.

Top Tour: The Route of Bacchus – venture out on a fantastic journey to a traditional and genuine Alentejo farm 20 minutes from Évora. Experience the delights of Alentejo, meet the family owners, visit the vineyards, the winery and taste the wines accompanied by bread, sausages and cheeses.