Best Portuguese red wine to buy
Our wine expert recommends which Portuguese wines to buy, from versatile reds for everyday drinking to opulent showstoppers for special occasions
Looking for Portuguese wine to buy? Want to know more about unfamiliar wine-making techniques? Read our expert guide, then check out our guides to the best Portuguese vinho verde wines to buy, the best Douro Valley wines to buy and the lowdown on Bordeaux wines. Now discover 10 things we love about the food from the Algarve.
About Portuguese wine
The Brits have been buying Portuguese wine since the 14th century (the trade was given a boost in 1667 when Charles II banned the import of wine from France). Full-bodied red wine from the Douro Valley was fortified with brandy to prevent it spoiling on the long sea voyage and became known as port, after the city of Porto.
The port trade is still going strong but Portugal’s unfortified red wines have had a more chequered past. Until recently, production was dominated by large cooperatives that tended to make cheap, chunky wines that could be hard to like. But quality and diversity have improved over the past 10 years and now Portuguese wines are some of the most exciting around.
Wine is made all over the country, from the damp, green landscapes of Vinho Verde in the north (the name of the region as well as the fresh, spritzy white wine made there), to the sun-parched regions of the Alentejo and Algarve in the south, where rich, ripe reds reign supreme. The steeply sloped Douro Valley meanders inland to remote, arid areas with altitudes of around 1,400 metres, while the up-and-coming coastal region of Bairrada has the humid, cooling influence of the Atlantic.
Bairrada is unusual in that its reds are often made only from the local baga grape – the rest of Portugal tends to make wines from what are known as field blends, where several varieties are grown in the same vineyard, then harvested and vinified together. What distinguished Portugal from other European wine-making countries was its reluctance to plant international grape varieties in the 20th century, instead continuing to grow indigenous grapes. These distinctive grapes, often grown on very old vines, have unique personalities and reflect the regions in which they’re grown.
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A new generation of winemakers is championing these grapes and taking a contemporary approach to age-old, low-intervention wine-making techniques, including treading grapes by foot in stone vessels called lagares.
There are many great-value reds for everyday drinking but it’s well worth splashing out a bit more to get the very best of Portugal’s brilliant modern wines.
Four Portuguese red wines to try
Opulent and brooding, with layers of damsons, blackcurrants and a little liquorice, this has a savoury backbone and lovely, fruity finish. Steak diane would be a fab match.
Silky and pure, with beautiful scents of rose petals and bergamot, this unoaked touriga nacional is simply sensational. A very happy partner with tagliolini with morels.
Fantastic value from the high-altitude Dão region. Juicy red fruit with a herbaceous freshness that suits simple dishes such as tagliatelle with anchovy, chilli, garlic and rocket.
An easy-drinking and versatile red from the Lisbon region, with ripe, brambly fruit and some sweet spice. Try it with ratatouille lasagne.