About a decade ago, Portuguese table wines were hard to find in Edmonton. Port was commonplace but, if you were after a bottle of regular red or white wine, you’d be lucky to find a couple dusty bottles tucked away beside the Spanish section.
Now, Portuguese table wines offer one of the best values on the market and command a section of their own. “For the longest time, Portuguese wines have been underrated internationally,” says Annabelle Evaristo, partner at deVine Wines & Spirits. “Portuguese wines represent good value because the quality-to-price ratio is high. There are a lot of wineries producing very good wines at every price range.”
Evaristo grew up in the Vinho Verde region of northwestern Portugal and came to Canada 29 years ago. For years, deVine was one of the only places in town where you’d find more than a scattering of Portuguese wines, thanks in large part to her knowledge and expertise.
The store noticed a big uptick in customer interest in Portuguese wines about five or six years ago, which Evaristo attributes to a few factors: An increase in favourable reviews from international wine critics; more tourism to Portugal; and the public’s general interest in exploring new and interesting wines and grape varieties.
“In the last 30 years, the Portuguese wine industry has changed much and for the better,” Evaristo says. “A lot of investment has been done in both wineries and in the vineyards. Nowadays, wineries are more interested in quality than quantity.”
Most Portuguese wine is made from the country’s hundreds of indigenous grape varieties. Some of the major red grapes include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Trincadeira, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Baga. Portuguese reds are rich and flavourful, with earthy, herbal qualities and dark red and black fruit. Fans of hearty red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec will love reds from the Douro Valley, which is the heartland of Port production but also home to many delicious, full-bodied red table wines.
Major Portuguese white grapes include Alvarinho, Arinto and Maria Gomes (yes, that’s a grape name). If you’re looking for an easygoing and extremely refreshing white, look for a bottle from Evaristo’s home of Vinho Verde. These whites are made from a blend of grapes, primarily Alvarinho, and offer refreshing acidity, lemony and mineral flavours, low alcohol (around nine per cent) and often a slight spritz of effervescence.
The best part about Portuguese wine is the price tag — you can find superb wines between $20 and $40, and a few steals that are even less than that.