Vinho Verde
Grapes Varieties
The Language Of Portugal

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Strong traditions, a wide range of grape varieties and a varied climate allow Portugal to make some stylish wines, as well as fortified port and madeira for which it is famous.

Portugal is a land of contrasts. This narrow Country occupies a mere seventh of the Iberian Peninsula, and on the map it looks overwhelmed by the bulk of neighbouring Spain. But few countries of Portugal's size can lay claim to as many different styles of wine. Place a glass of dark, spicy Portugal's size can lay claim to as many different styles of wine. Place a glass of dark, spicy port alongside a glass of slightly sparkling Vinho Verde. No two wines are less alike, yet they are produced in adjacent regions. Topography plays a vital part. Wines from the coast are shaped by the Atlantic, the moderating effect of which diminished beyond the mountains. Annual rainfall, as high as 1,500mm (60 inches) on the coast, is less than 500mm (20 inches) inland. Vines cover Portugal from north to south. Only the highest mountains are too cold to support some form of viticulture. Between the River Minho, which marks the northern frontier with Spain, and the Algarve coast 560km (350 miles) to the south, there are nearly 400,000ha (988,000 acres) of vineyard producing an average of 94 million cases of wine. Two great rivers divide the land into three distinct winemakeing areas. In the north the Douro bisects granite mountains that soar to nearly 2,000m (6,600ft), and from its valley come not only port, but also a range of table wines. Central Portugal, from the Douro to the Tagus (Tejo), has a hospitable climate and the large wine-producing region of the Ribatejo, as well as the well-known zones of Dao and Bairrada. South of the Tagus lie the vast hot plains of the Alentejo region, and the more touristically orientated Algarve. Many of the contrasts inherent in the landscape extend to Portugal's wine industry. Ultramodern wineries are found alongside tiny cellars making wines for local consumption in the same way as they have for centuries. Since joining the EC in 1986, Portugal has had the incentive to change. With money to invest, the Portuguese are making a determined effort to improve their wines and capture new markets. However, certain traditions are unlikely to be swept away. In the past only a handful of vines have crossed Portugal's borders, and growers are reluctant to uproot their treasure-trove of indigenous vines and replace them with imported interlopers. Even the most forward thinking winemakers tend to resist planting foreign varieties.

Wine has been exported from the Atlantic shores of Iberia since the 12th century when Portugal first became a nation. By the 1650s, foreign merchants were setting around the port of Viana do Castelo, but wines from this damp region proved disappointing, and early traders moved inland in search of more robust reds. They found them in the steeply-terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley upstream from Oporto, starting a huge trade in sweet, later fortified wine eventually christened "port"

Having been eclipsed by port for over 300 years, dry red and white Douro table wines are undergoing a revival thanks to investment in stainless steel and controlled fermentation. As in other DOC regions, a wide range of grape varieties is permitted, but the best producers are concentrating on Portugal's own distinctive native varieties.

The mountains north of the Douro are the source of another great international success story. The slightly sweet, sparkling wine known as Mateus Rose caught the imagination of a new generation of wine drinkers after World War IL Mateus is an extension of a much older tradition: light, dry, slightly sparkling Vinho Verde from fertile maritime country north of Oporto. Spurned by early traders, the wines are now finding a place overseas.

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