When you think of visiting the great wine countries of Europe, France, Italy, and the Rhine lands may spring to mind. The time has come to add a Portugal wine tour to that elite list, and to experience it on Vantage’s unforgettable Douro River cruise through the heart of Portugal’s most renowned wine region.
Wines of Portugal — More Than Port
Proof of Portugal’s “next big thing” status can be found in the reviews of influential oenophiles like Robert Parker, of the Wine Advocate. In January 2012, when Parker and his associates rated 302 Portuguese vintages, more than a third of them earned scores above 90 points.
That ranking was a feather in Portugal’s cap, to be sure. But not the first…. Portugal has a proud winemaking heritage that dates back 4,000 years. Historically, the wine most closely associated with Portugal has been Port. Centuries ago, seafarers added brandy to wine to stabilize it during long voyages. Port was among the fortified wines that were born from this tradition. When the British developed a taste for Port in the mid-17th century, the city of Oporto became the wine’s export center, which it remains to this day. Travelers on Vantage’s popular Portugal wine tour (Portugal & the Douro River Wine Country river cruise) will sample Port during a city tour of Oporto and a visit to the cellars of the Quinta do Seixo estate.
In 1942, another iconic Portuguese wine was introduced when Fernando van Zeller Guedes created a light, slightly effervescent rosé wine, packaged it in a distinctive flask-like bottle, and called it Mateus. Today, Mateus is recognized as an international specialist in rosé. Vantage’s Portugal wine tour cruise includes a stop at the Mateus Manor House and Gardens.
Portugal has always produced a wide variety of red and white table wines. When Portugal joined the European Union in 1986, industry regulations that were introduced in the mid-18th century were brought in line with the rest of Europe. Portuguese wineries began embracing new technologies, loans and grants from elsewhere in Europe spurred development, and winemakers benefited from new global knowledge and training.
Today, Portugal has over half a million acres under vine, producing more than 250 varieties of grapes. Although American tastes run toward varietal wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.), Portuguese winemakers tend to favor blended wines. And, as in many other European countries, wines are usually labeled by the region in which grapes are grown rather than by grape variety.
The Douro: Portugal’s “River of Gold”
Among the country’s more than 20 distinct DOC wine regions is the Douro Valley. This region is an important source for the grapes used for Port, and also produces rustic fruity reds and dry and aromatic white wines. (Of the Portuguese wines scoring above 90 points in Parker’s list, 54% of them came from the Douro region.)
Of course, even if you are not a wine lover, you will drink in the scenery should you join Vantage on a gorgeous Douro River cruise through this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site. No Portugal wine tour would be complete without a visit to this premier center of viniculture.