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5 Dry Portuguese Wines That Will Knock Your Socks Off

October 15, 2014 Blog » Wine Tips & Tricks » 5 Dry Portuguese Wines That Will Knock Your Socks Off

Finding a truly amazing wine at a price in the sub-$12 realm is actually pretty rare… you could say it’s mythic. When you come across one of these mythic wines you may have experienced an overwhelming sensation of irrational glee and desperation as you buy up as much of the wine as you can.

5 Dry Portuguese Wines That Will Knock Your Socks Off

This brings us to the topic of Portugal, which over the last couple of years has been slam dunking it. They continually produce great tasting, high quality wines with shockingly low prices. It’s high time you were in on the secret wine treasures of Portugal. Here are 5 dry wines from Portugal that will blow your face off (in a good way).

FACT: Although Portugal is smaller than the state of Indiana, it’s home to hundreds of native wine grapes.


1. Douro Reds

A Red Wine That Makes Cabernet Look Like a Big Wimp

A precious bunch of Touriga Nacional picked from the drought-ridden 2012 vintage at Quinta de Granja in the Douro Superior.
A precious bunch of Touriga Nacional picked from the drought-ridden 2012 vintage at Quinta de Granja in the Douro Superior.

The Douro River winds treacherously through a rugged, mountainous section of northern Portugal before it dumps into the Atlantic Ocean at Foz (‘Faj-shh’) in Porto. The Douro is famous for Port wine, but many Port producers are starting to use their port grapes to make a dry regional red wine. FYI: The region is hot and dry and the vineyards produce incredibly concentrated, red wine grapes on their schist rock and clay soils.

Taste Profile:
Aromas of plum, violet, blackberry, cinnamon and blueberry lead into intensely bold fruit flavors with high tannin that can lend an almost charcoal-like texture.
Yes. 10-20 years depending on producer and quality
What to Look For:
Wines with Touriga Nacional tend to be more lush and opulent whereas wines with higher proportions of Touriga Franca tend to be more spice and cinnamon. You can do well for less than $10, but if you want something for your cellar, expect to spend about $20-40.

Portugal Douro Cima Corgo Ramos Pinto
A view looking over Quinta do Bom Retiro, the main wine estate of Ramos Pinto, in the Cima Corgo sub-region of the Douro. The Collection series by Ramos Pinto are exceptionally valued for dry reds from this area.

2. Alicante Bouschet

Smoky Sweet Barbecue in Your Glass

Decanting Red Wine in Portugal
Be sure to decant Alicante Bouschet for an hour two, it really improves the flavor.

Alicante Bouschet (Alley-Canty Boo-Shay) is one of the very few grapes in the world with red skins and red flesh. Because of its rare red flesh, Alicante Bouschet has some of the highest levels of antioxidants found in grapes around the world. In terms of flavor, Portuguese Alicante Bouschet has similarities to the smokiness and the richness of Aussie Shiraz, Lodi Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

FACT: Alicante Bouschet is a grape crossing that was created by botanist Henri Bouschet in Southern France in 1866.
Taste Profile:
Imagine eating a pearl sugar waffle covered in blueberries, blackberries and B-grade maple syrup while sitting next to a wood smoker on full blast. You’ll find the wines range in boldness from full-bodied, with more black raspberry notes, to super full-bodied, with blackberry and blueberry flavors. Portuguese Alicante Bouschet is not for the faint of heart.
Not Really. Although Alicante may have the potential to age, most producers make wines to be drunk within the first 4–5 years.
What to Look For:
You can find great Alicante Bouschet for about $8-14 from the Alentejo DOP and the Alentejano IG in the same area located in southern Portugal.

3. Three Whites: Arinto, Encruzado & Antão Vaz

Portugal’s Answer to Creamy Chardonnay

These 3 Portuguese white wines all seem to have this subtle resinous quality to them that ranges in aroma from honeycomb and beeswax to vaseline. As unoaked wines, Arinto, Encruzado and Antão Vaz usually have quite a bit of phenolic bitterness which makes them zippy and tasting a lot like grapefruit pith. However, when they are oaked they become ethereal. The richness that oxidation and oak adds, contrasted with the obscene acidity, lemon, and honeycomb flavors, is incredible. Perhaps I’m a oak nut, but I sat in a room with 45 other wine professionals who all oggled at the one oak-aged Arinto that was served in a lineup.

Taste Profile:
Expect lemon flavors with faint bitterness in the realm of grapefruit pith backed up by waxy honeycomb, peanut skin and creamy hazelnut.
Yes. Great quality wines have shown to age for about 10-15 years due to the high acidity.
What to Look For:
Keep your eyes peeled for ‘Branco’ wines from Baírrada and Alentejo. Pay close attention to oak usage in order to find the flavor profile listed above. Three producers we’ve found in the US include Esporão, Quinta dos Carvalhais and Quinta das Bágeiras… Since acidity is so high in these grapes, seek out older vintages for more nutty and lush flavors.

4. Jaen (aka Mencía)

If This Grape Was French, It Would Be Famous Already

The Dão region of Portugal at Quinta de Lemos
Quinta de Lemos in the Dão makes a very rich Jaen wine.

Jaen (aka Mencía). In order to say the Portuguese name for this grape use the ‘Zsa’ from Zsa Zsa Gabor with ‘ine’ like ’wine’. Zsa-ine! This Iberian grape is grown throughout the north central parts of Spain and Portugal. The Dão region in Portugal is high in the mountains with many pine forests (snow!) and feels very un-Portuguese. You might already be familiar with the Dâo for its Estrela Mountain dogs and an incredible cheese called Serra da Estrela.

For those in the know, Jaen is kind of like if a Grand Cru Burgundy met a nice Hermitage and made a baby. Jaen has all the qualities of other noble grapes in terms of it’s age-worthiness potential but it flies way under the radar.

Taste Profile:
Brooding flavors of plum and raspberry fruit that’s subtly earthy and peppery with oaky notes of baby diaper (in a good way) and fresh motor oil (also in a good way). The wines are rich and very dry with succulent acidity and generally offer medium level fine-grained tannin and a smooth finish.
Yes. 10-20 years depending on the producer.
What to Look For:
Expect to spend about $30 for a great bottle from the Dão DOP.

The Dão is a mountainous region with pine forests.

5. Vinho Verde

The Endless Summer Wine

Vinho Verde is the boozy dry limeade you’ve always wished for on a hot day (or if you’re lucky: a high class night club). Not only is this stuff crazy refreshing, Vinho Verde wines also typically have low alcohol (around 9% ABV) making them an ideal quenching beverage. Vinho Verde is grown in the Minho region in far northern Portugal where the climate is more like northern Italy. Just so you know, Vinho Verde is actually a blend of several white grapes including Alvarinho (a.k.a. Albariño), Loureiro, Azal, Arinto and Trajadura (a.k.a. Treixadura). You can also find Rosé wines from the region which are made with the red grapes of the area. One of these red grapes, Padeiro, (‘Pah-deh-yhid-row’) is so pale in color, it makes a rosé naturally.

Taste Profile:
Zippy and often slightly spritzy with flavors of limeade, lemonade, gooseberry, apple blossom and yellow grapefruit. Great examples have a slightly clingy, chalky sensation on the palate and notes of honeycomb, Ruby Red grapefruit and lemon.
No. Most of Vinho Verde should be drunk as young as possible, although higher-end Minho wines are worthy of 10+ years.
What to Look For:
Less than $10 will get you great Vinho Verde. Wines with higher levels of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Azal tend to have less phenolic bitterness.

The cobblestone road to Quinta de Azevedo in Barcelos, Portugal makes Vinho Verde Wines in Minho
The Quinta de Azevedo estate in Barcelos, Portugal looks and feels more like a Tuscan Castello.


By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards. Find me at @WineFolly