In my mind, Portuguese wines are wildly underrated. It is not straightforward as to why, however, I suspect it has something to do with how well the winemakers of the country have been at marketing their wines. In Portugal, it seems that many producers are small, and lack the language skills to market abroad. And why should you, if you can sell your whole production to your neighbors. It provides a decent life. I found Portuguese wines about five years ago, when we started importing them to Sweden, and a visit to Douro Valley rocked my world. It is one of the most beautiful wine regions I have ever visited. Additionally, there are some nice fresh trends in Portugal towards natural wines, so I thought I would share with you a little manual to finding good wines when you are in Lisbon.
The two indigenous grape varieties to should know are Touriga Nacional and Encruzado. Touriga Nacional is a fruity red grape that produces quite strong and jammy wines. Not my favorite, but there are a few progressive producers doing lighter reds from Touriga Nacional, so dont be prejudice. It also works very well for me when mixed with other varieties, and in field blends. Encruzado is a white grape that produces aromatic, fresh whites. Its a real treat! I warmly recommend Encruzado, also to accompany some light dishes, like sea food. Portuguese wines are very often field blends. Meaning, several grape varieties, even up to 50 different, are grown and picked from the same field without separating at any point in the production. Portugal has some amazing old vines that date back up to a hundred years. Portugal was one of the countries least hit by the wine plague due to its southern location, and the have some of Europes only vineyards that are not based on American root stock. Exiting!
If you want to buy local wine on your trip, I recommend visiting Comida Independente wine store. They have an amazing selection of natural wines from Portugal and Europe. You can find some real treats: even wines produced in Lisbon. For a broad selection, including Port wines, Garrafeira Nacional is a chain of wine stores with a truly local selection. There is one at Time Out Market, and another right on Rua de Santa Justa. They also sell Winesleeves for a ridiculously good price – just 2€ a piece (usually up to 4€). The sleeves will solve any packing problem you might have. The true wine warriors head to Os Goliardos, an importer that opens up his warehouse for consumers on Thursdays and Fridays between 17-20. Os Goliardos has an amazing selection of natural wines from Portugal. A lot of the selection is also available at Comida Independente, but if you want to find some older vintages or other rarities, this is the Eldorado of any wine geek.
Drinking good wines in Lisbon is easy. Most restaurants have a nice local bubbly by the glass. But the best places are always harder to find. We actually asked around at restaurants, where would the sommeliers go for a glass of wine if not their own restaurant. This led us to three amazing places. Firstly Prado, which is an ambitious restaurant serving mid sized dishes and natural wines in an old fish factory. The food here was perhaps the best on the whole trip.
Our next stop was Os Gazeteiros in Alfama. It was a more relaxed space with a six course chefs menu (for a ridiculous 30€) and wine package (for just 35€ more). The matching of food and wine here was superb, and the service was like being in a friends kitchen.
Last but not least, I would like to mention Cafe Tati, a wine bar and restaurant right next to Time Out Market – a very cozy place with local cuisine and natural wines. We only wandered in here for a glass, after shopping at Time Out markets Garrafeira Nacional for some local wines. It was such a charming space, that I would have really liked to try the food here. Next time then – the wines were delicious.
Lisbon is south, far from the most famous wine regions in Portugal: Douro, Vinho Verde and Dao. But there is some local production, and some of the most interesting vineyards in Portugal are just 30 minutes away from the city on the Atlantic coast. Colares, is like a step back in time, with some of the oldest vines in Europe. It was not effected by the wine plague of the 1940s, as Phylloxera does not survive on the sandy soil. The grapes are grown today just as they have been for centuries, except far fewer of them can be found. Only about 50 acres remain west of the Sintra area, where the royal families of Portugal escaped the steamy Lisbon summers. Much of the vineyard territory was lost in the 1960s and ’70s to suburban expansion.
Colares wines can be characterized as interesting. The reds, made of the Ramisco grape, are acid and powerfully tannic. They actually need from 10 to 40 years to mature. After 10 years the wines begin to soften, however the most interesting tones can be found from bottles way back from the late 60. A bottle of Colares red from 1967 or 1969 sets you back only around 50-60€, so if you are at all interested in collecting wines, this is where to spend your money.
There are only 3 producers in Colares, and one of them, Adega Regional de Colares co-op, ferments virtually all of the grapes in the region. The two other Adega Viúva Gomes, and Casal do Ramilo. Contact them in advance to arrange a visit.