Portugal

Thirty years ago practically the only Portuguese wines worth sampling were the fortified gems of Port and Madiera, plus of course that cheeky little Rosé of which most of us have had a least a glass or two, although we might not admit to it, Mateus. The rest were hard and unyielding; wines of structure and power rather than style. But then modern winemaking methods started making inroads on the Western edge of the Iberian Peninsula and the Portugese winemakers began creating a range of serious table wines mainly from their range of native grape varieties. Most of these grapes are hardly seen outside of Portugal making a trip through the wines a real adventure. Standouts include Alvarinho, Loureiro, Touriga Nacional, and Baga. The Portugese wine scene is also refreshing in that you won’t find too much Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay interfering with the local wines, rather the Portugese winemakers have been more than happy to go their own way and create wines using their best indigenous varietals. But while Portgual’s table wine scene certainly is going from strength to strength, the country has made its name with some astonishingly good fortified wines. Unfortunately while much of the world is turning its back on these wines they are just as good if not better than ever before. The most famous of these wines is Port, made along the steep terraced banks of the Douro River. Port can be made from 48 grape varieties although in practice it is Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Barocca, and Sousau that dominate. The wines are rich, pleasantly sweet and heady, full of red and black fruit flavours, with the best examples also showing considerable acidity and tannin making them perfect for long ageing. In fact old vintage Port is one of the best drinks going round, especially with a plate of serious cheese. Port comes in a range of styles, from the relatively simple Ruby ports, to aged and mixed vintage Tawnys all the way up to the great vintage Ports, made from grapes harvested during a single year. Madeira is the other great Portguese fortified, although rarely seen in Australia. It is made on the small island of Madeira off the Portugese coast, from the grapes of Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey, which are often bottled separately. Madeira comes in a number of styles with Sercial-based wines generally the driest of the lot while the wines made from Malmsey are the sweetest. What gives these wines their special character is that they are heated for a minimum of 3 months at between 40-50 degrees prior to bottling, which gives them an attractive burnt edge. The top wines are left to naturally cook in warehouses for upto twenty years which prepares them for long bottle ageing meaning some only just hitting their straps at 100 years of age.