I sat down to talk with Sónia Vieira, Head of Promotion and Filipa Anunciação, Senior Area Manager of Wines of Portugal on a visit to San Francisco this past Spring (2019). I have been a perennial attendee of Wines of Portugal tastings here in San Francisco year over year. I wanted to a more in depth exposure on the pulse of what is happening in the Portuguese wine scene.
I have been a long time fan of Portuguese wines, food, culture and history. Wines in Portugal is a story woven four thousand years ago beginning with the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and continuing with the Romans. And then the reconquest (12th century) of the Iberian peninsula followed a period of renewal and increased planting of wine grapes in Portugal that has been foundational for Portuguese wine.
Portugal thought not the largest country in Europe is in the top five of world wine grape producing countries. Portuguese wines are vibrant and it is not a story of fortified Port of Madeira wines only; it is a story and spectrum of non-fortified and sparkling wines also.
Portugal has 250+ wine grape varieties planted and each has found a great home in Portugal’s 14 wine regions. While there are many great indigenous varieties like Baga, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Antão Vaz, Arinto to name a few. I have tasted very nice and sometimes dazzling non-indigenous varieties like Syrah and Alicante Bouschet. This year and last year I have tasted through a good number of Alicante Bouschet wines (where I had always thought of Alicante Bouschet as not a terribly exciting variety) but I had tasted Alicante Bouschet from Alentejo where I was nicely surprised. This wine characterized so vividly and it was the land and vision for this variety that made for a stellar wine.
I am a fan of all styles of wine coming from Portugal and I am glad to see many more available both on and off premise. While I think it is vital to taste Portuguese foods with Portuguese wines I also believe in normalizing wines insofar as tasting Portuguese wines with Pizza, American food, seafood and other cuisines.
If you are on a tour of Europe I would at least recommend a tour to Lisbon (Lisboa) to get a toe dip of this wonderful country. There is of course great wines to be tasted in this beautiful city. There are several Port bars to hone in on your favourite Port wines and of course plenty of non-fortified wines at bars and restaurants. Lisbon is a walkable town and one where there are many vistas to enjoy this romantic Atlantic city. There are many historic sites to visit like the 12th Century Sé Cathedral, Castelo Sao Jorge, Torre Belem or Jerónimos Monastery to name a few. The Manueline style is a unique architectural design that is so representative of Portugal’s history and experience. The city has plenty of cultural experiences such as Fado (a Portuguese musical style) and a city that I found to be quite friendly. I can’t wait to go visit again.
Here is my interview questions from Sónia and Filipa:
JTWG #1 – What are the top Portugal wines and regions imported to US?
SV/VA: Wines from the Douro, Alentejo.
JTWG #2: What regions are least known in US?
SV/VA: Lisboa, Dão, Açores, and Algarve
JTWG #3: What was 2018 harvest like?
SV/VA: 10% decrease, even in the worst years In terms of decreased harvest the wines were quite good.
JTWG #4: Will we see more Portuguese sparkling wines in the US? I love Portuguese sparkling wines and get to taste rarelly— I have enjoyed all that I have tasted.
SV/VA: We consume a lot of the sparkling wine we (the Portuguese) make. Many come from Bairrada (south of Porto) look up Tavorsa
JTWG #5: What is the Easiest Portuguese wine region if you are visiting Lisboa?
JTWG #6: What is total exports and how much has that increased in the past 10 years?
SV/VA: The US is the main market for us. 5% increase in this period. And we hope to continue to incread volume and bottle price point over time
JTWG #7: What is Portugal’s signature dish and what wines to pair with that
SV/VA: Each region is perfectly matched for each of its regions wines—as there are many wines of Portugal and lot of great and baited styles – not just seafood, but also pork and beef.
JTWG #8: If someone is new to Portuguese wines-where should they start?
SV/VA: There are many places to start. Some very nice and approachable wines that are easily to enjoy like Vinho Verde, Lisboa, Alentejo, a lot of blends (red and white) at great price points that allow for tasting many different Portuguese wines. 75% of wines are red and 25% white.
JTWG #9: For wine professionals, is there a Portuguese Wine Scholar (like the French Wine Scholar or Italian Wine Ambassador programmes)?
SV/VA: We, ViniPortugal, have developed a Wines of Portugal Academy Program. It is being taught on some of our international markets and it consists of two Levels for now, The Initiation ( 3h and 10 wines to taste) and the Intermediate (6 h and 20 wines to taste) Levels. In these Levels we explain main wine regions (soil, climate, etc) and main grapes. In the USA it is not being taught for the moment.
JTWG #10: What is the best source of information for people visiting Portugal’s wine countries–basic information, how to get there or at least cluster visits to see several producers? Are there specific routes or wine trails that your organization has developed for each of Portugal’s wine regions for ease of visiting?
SV/VA: There are different pages showing some of the wine tourism units available but not a one page where all are listed. I put below the link to the wine tourism page of the Wines of Portugal website and also to the page of the Portugal Tourism.
Also, if you go to the Regional wine commissions’ websites, you may be able to find some information regarding the producers and sometimes wine routes. Unfortunately there have been some defined wine routes for each region but not updated anymore. Some regions will have better information than others. You can see the contact details for each wine commission at our ViniPortugal website:
There is also a recent book in English which is a Guide to Wine Tourism Units, by Journalist Maria João Almeida:
JTWG #11: Are there any wine glass silhouettes (designs) that have been created for any Portuguese wine region/varieties?
SV/VA: Yes, the Port Wine Glass created by famous and awarded Portuguese Architect Álvaro Siza Vieira
JTWG #12: Is there a Portuguese certifying body for wines attesting to sustainability? And if so can you describe the level of sustainability or perhaps point to where one could get more information?
SV/VA: Regarding your question about the certifying body, I put below the reply given by the Vine and Wine Institute of Portugal (IVV):
In the case of wine, there are 6 certifying bodies for organic wine: Sativa, Ecocert, Certis, Naturalfa, Codimaco and Certiplanet.
These entities are generally designated by Control and Certification Organizations (in Portuguese, OC) and must also be accredited by IPAC (Portuguese Institute of Accreditation) , under the NP 17065: 2012 Standard.
The DGADR is the National Authority that manages the Organic sector, among others and in the case of wine, in articulation with the IVV (the Vine and Wine Institute of Portugal). Properly certified Organic products shall bear the Community Logo and the OC logo certifying their products on the labelling.
Operators are required to notify the DGADR website (https://www.dgadr.gov.pt/sustentavel/modo-de-producao-biologico ) of the activity and indicate / highlight the OC that will provide them with the control and certification of the products.
There are only some producers exclusively certified organic; but for the most part, existing BIO (organic) wines are also wines with GI and / or DO (with double certification, one given by the respective regional Wine Commission and the other by a OC.
Concerning the BIO products, all the vine and wine producers (both conventional and BIO) must be registered in our system (IVV).
You can consult a list of producers who have organic wines (alphabetic order) at:
https://www.viniportugal.pt/OrganicProducers (please keep in mind these are only producers that participate in our promotional actions)
JTWG #13: And lastly can you talk about 2018 harvest?
SV/VA: 2018 Harvest in the Douro region by ADVID, The Association for the Development of the Douro Viticulture (from October 2018):
The wet spring caused the mildew to produce sharp declines in production, compared to the year’s production potential, in the vineyards that were not treated in a timely manner, which was observed in a significant number of farms due to a lack of labor force, a problem which is being checked for all cultural operations. Also, hail, although localized, the heat wave felt in the first days of August and the high temperatures combined with the absence of precipitation during the month of September, contributed to the production loss, respectively by destruction and loss of weight of the berry, and in this way production is expected to decline by around 20% compared to 2017.
On the other hand, as far as quality is concerned, from the sanitary point of view the grapes that arrive at the winery, grapes are exceptionally healthy and the musts very balanced and of great phenolic wealth, with a year of high quality wines.
I appreciate the perspectives of Sónia and Filipa about the wonderful world of the wines of Portugal.
Stay tuned for more interviews, reviews and content to come.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
Top photo is courtesy of Wines of Portugal.
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