Tom Cannavan’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines

50 Great Portuguese Wines

Tom Cannavan Wine Writer of the Yearn 2010 I was honoured to be named as Portuguese Wine Journalist of the Year at a ceremony in the Portuguese Ambassador’s residence in London (right). One year on, and I returned to the Ambassador’s residence in June 2011 to present 50 wines that represented the culmination of my year of holding this title: my personal selection of 50 Great Portuguese Wines.

Choosing the 50 Great wines was both a huge challenge, and an enormous pleasure. In six trips to Portugal between July 2010 and February 2011 I visited dozens of estates and tasted over 1000 wines. So narrowing down that 1000 to just 50 was a bewildering, difficult and at times exasperating task. I set some ground-rules for myself: one was to find examples of both the best ‘traditional’ and ‘original’ styles to include. I focused on wines from indigenous grapes, but did not to exclude blends or even varietal wines from international grapes if I felt they deserved their place. I also decided that I would include a maximum of one wine from any producer (even though there were often two or three wines in a range that were contenders), and that I would try to cover the gamut of table wine styles and regions that Portugal has to offer.

Remember this list is my declaration of 50 Portuguese wines that I think are ‘great’. It is not a list of the ’50 best wines in Portugal’. Inevitably people will say “But how could he include X and not Y?” but that would entirely miss the point: Portugal has many more than 50 great wines, but this 50 is the selection that I wanted to put my name to. Another theme was to find freshness in the wines – red and white – to help dispel a somewhat outdated image that Portuguese reds can be rather hot and heavy in style.

the 50 Great Wines

Note that Port and Madeira wines are not eligible for this selection. Some of these wines are not in the UK at present, but where known, links to retail stockists are given. Click the map for a larger, more detailed and more accurate version.

white wines

portugal-regions Julia Kemper, Reserva Branco 2009, Dão
Malvasia Fina and Encruzado. Organically farmed, this is fresh, fragrant and open, with some passionfruit and elderflower lift and pungency and a nutty element to the fat lemon fruit beneath. On the palate this has deliciously forceful fruit that is herbal, but ripe: it has a Sauvignon Blanc-like vegetal quality mixed with tropical fruit sweetness and displays masses of flavour. Big, powerful, but in the end, gracious.

Casa de Mourraz, Branco 2009, Dão
Malvasia, Encruzado, Bical, Sercial. Certified organic and grown biodynamically. Emerald green hue, fresh lemon and pear skin fruit. Fantastic intensity and punch on the palate, with real mineral streak and some skin contact giving grip. Orangy, bright with lovely tang and vibrancy, that gripping concentration of the fruit offset by ripeness so it does not lose charm. UK Importer: Raymond Reynolds.

Quintas de Melgaço, Castrus 2009, Minho
Alvarinho. Very rich, ripe quality, notes of buttered cabbage and quite exotic fruit, but all with a fine, nervy twist of dill-like herbs and minerals. The palate has a slightly oxidised, bruised fruit quality that I find Chenin-like, with lots of layered personality and a big, dry, phenolic but balanced finish. Only 500 cases made.

Quinta do Feital, Dorado Superior 2008, Minho
Alvarinho. A singular take on Vinho Verde from Galician winemaker Marcial Dorado. It spends one year in tank with lees, and qualifies as a ‘Natural Wine’, organically farmed, very low levels of sulphur and all natural yeasts. Powerful, leesy, oxidative nose showing lots of stony minerality. This is intense, with concentrated green apple fruit, lots of structure and acidity gripping the finish. UK Importer: Indigo Wine.

Adega Regional de Colares, Arenae Colares Malvasia 2009, Colares
From vines planted on their own roots in Phyloxerra-free sand dunes. The nose is all hay, straw and underripe apple fruit, a really intriguing panoply of unexpected aromas. On the palate this is bone dry with pithy grapefruit, a salty tang of minerality and an ozone freshness. Singular, bone-dry stuff, out-Muscadeting Muscadet.

Filipa Pato, Nosa Branco 2009, Beiras
Bical. From chalky and clay soils, this has a toastiness on the nose with notes of sesame seeds and honey over nutty apple and pear. Elegant and fresh on the palate, the oak influence is layered over the pristine, cool fruit at this stage, but that will settle down. Beneath, this is shimmering, taut and mineral, with mouth-watering nerve and considerable length. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Fita Preta, Palpite Branco 2008, Alentejo
Antao Vaz, Verdelho, Arinto. Refined oak just adding honey and cashew qualities to pristine melon and orchard fruit, hinting at more tropical notes. The palate is beautifully balanced, with lemon fruit and a cleansing apple and citrus acidity. This wine is all about elegance and restrained power, that nutty finish the only trace of the well-integrated oak. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Herdade dos Grous, Reserva Branco 2010, Alentejo
Antao Vaz, Verdelho and Viognier. Plenty of spice and honey, lots of cashew nut richness beneath lemony fruit with just a hint of the peachy, tropical quality of the Viognier. The palate has weight and texture, lots of tropical fruit and very good freshness in the finish too. Loaded with flavour and vividly orangy acidity in the finish. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Sogrape, Quinta dos Carvalhais Colheita Seleccionada 2006, Dão
Encruzado. A real speciality from the giant Sogrape company, aged four years in oak. Filled with custard and nutty aromas, with white fruit concentration beneath. The palate has that creamy textured richness from the oak and lees ageing, but what a delightful marzipan sweetness of the oak, ripe fruit and almondy flavours beneath. On the palate the waxy weight of the wine is cut by vivacious tangerine acidity. UK Importer: Stevens Garnier.

Esporao, Private Selection 2009, Alentejo
90% Semillon with Marsanne and Roussanne. Beautifully toasty nose of buttered toast and lime, little floral glimpses. The palate has fabulous texture, with masses of lemon marmalade flavour and the oak just disappearing into the weight and texture of the fruit. Deliciously focused and layered. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Alves de Sousa, Reserva Pessoal Branco 2005, Douro
Old vines. From a 70-year-old vineyard, picked late. The nose has massive creaminess and has a marzipan element to it with leesy pear skins, a touch of herbs and real purity despite the bruised fruit oxidation. Fantastic mouth-feel with tannins giving grip and spice and the smoothness of the sweet fruit flowing through. Decant and serve not too cold. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta Sant’ana, Riesling 2009, Lisboa
Lifted, waxy, delicately paraffin character and cool Asian pear fruit on the nose. A fantastically fresh palate with a big burst of fresh-squeezed lemon and lime, a nice parsley-like herby influence and cool, shimmering length. The pithy grapefruit dryness of the finish is mouth-watering. Riesling with genuine character and style. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Valle Pradinhos, Branco 2009, Tras-os-Montes
Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Malvasia. There’s an exotic, smoky and spicy character with some herb and nettle beneath, and then some of Malvasia’s breadth begins to underpin. On the palate nectarine juiciness is layered with a smoky, mineral note, giving an intriguing combination of juicy sweetness and decisive clarity to the acidity. That herb and mineral note pushes though.

sweet wines

Quinta do Ameal, Special Harvest 2007, Minho
Loureiro. A passito wine, the grapes dried for five months. Fabulous nose, with cream and vanilla and lots of barley sugar and crème brûlée touches. The palate has absolutely delicious balance – the sweet, full fruit has a real sense of clarity with creamy texture and glycerine richness. Toasty, orangy, delightful. UK Importer: Raymond Reynolds

Horácio dos Reis Simões, Moscatel de Setúbal Superior 10 Anos, Setúbal
Subdued, older character with little of the Muscat’s floral exuberance. Aromas are more of stewed tea and nuts, a little caramel. The palate has full sweetness, the marmalade orange tang and cappuccino richness of the wine giving huge depth and intriguing layers of contemplative complexity. A profound and deliciously alive wine. UK importer: Castas.

red wines

portugal-regionsHenrique Uva, Vinhas da Ira 2006, Alentejo
Alfrocheiro, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional. Wonderfully exotic nose, where a hugely floral and herby perfume includes notes of sage and dill, with a bright raspberry top-note to much darker, more chocolaty fruit and oak. On the palate this has huge presence too: there’s a sweet, fleshy fruit concentration, but tight, sinewy tannins and keen acidity pushing it through the mid-palate. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta Donna Maria, Tinto 2004, Alentejo
Alicante Bouschet. Absolutely beautiful fruit on the nose, the sweet, elegantly minty blackcurrant soaring from the glass. A jammy ripeness, but such supple, lightly cedary and smoky elegance too. Deliciously drinkable, with plenty of tannin and biting acidity, but the sweetness and creaminess of the fruit overcomes it. International in style perhaps, but beguiling.

Adega Cartuxa, Pera Manca Tinto 2007, Alentejo
Aragonez and Trincadeira. A sense of tight composure, a blue-black fruit intensity, developing a little floral and cedary character. The fruit is beautifully focused, with tightly-wound, liquorice depth, spice and espresso darkness melding soulfully with the rich black fruit. Needs several years to unwind and loosen up, but pretty magical stuff. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Terrenus, Reserva 2007, Alentejo
Old vines. A barrel selection from two of the best vineyards, this has a sweet balsamic nose, but subtly layered with something wild and herbal, a touch of mint leaf and caraway. Sophisticated, lean, sinewy palate but the tannins are so elegant and gently effective, not detracting from those balsamic and garrigue notes. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Scala Coelli, Tinto 2007, Alentejo
Touriga Nacional. Big, meaty, minty nose, with huge cassis ripeness and fragrant, spicy edges too. It has fine sweetness and ripeness on the palate, with solid black fruit that has a cassis note, and the meaty depth playing against massive tannins and plenty of plum skin roughening grip. Long and fabulously focused. Uk Importer: Atlântico.

Herdade Do Mouchao, Tinto 2006, Alentejo
Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet. Absolutely delicious fruit, with sweet, enveloping chocolate tones, the smoky and gamey notes of the Alicante Bouschet playing against hints of herbal character. The palate has real structure: gentle extraction that has plenty of fleshy substance, but sweet, generous and well balanced, suggesting real longevity too. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Silveira e Outro, Solar dos Lobos Grande Escolha 2008, Alentejo
Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional . Hugely intense, with a blood-streaked concentration of red fruits, the violetty lift and graphite minerality just easing the impression of impenetrability. On the palate this is serious, chewy stuff. There’s a big, dry, savoury backbone of extraction with plum skin bite to the tannins but on the finish the purity of the fruit – and its concentration – is fantastic. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Malhadinha Nova, Marias da Malhadinha 2007, Alentejo
Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon. From the best lots that go into the regular Malhadinha cuvée. Big, creamy, ripe cassis fruit but also has a cedar and incense complexity and the light gamy, earthy notes are deliciously complex. The palate has rich, thick, sweet fruit with creamy density, the tannins chocolaty and the finish spicy yet elegant too. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Francês, Tinto 2008, Algarve
Aragonez and Trincadeira, as well as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. From schist slopes, this is bold and sinewy, with vine fruits and lots of chocolate-edged, plum and cassis. There’s a pencil-shaving quality of French oak layered nicely on top. The palate has delicious sweetness and ripeness, the mouth-filling espresso and cassis ripeness set against the creamy texture and silky tannin. International, but terrific. Uk Importer: Enotria Winecellars.

Luís Pato, BTT 2009, Beiras
Baga, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao. Hugely deep coffee and almost minty, menthol nose. A certain wild gaminess, and plenty of complex, lifted aromatics to entice. The palate has an almost Beaujolais sappiness, with that earthy, green-tinged quality to the black fruits, but such a lovely sense of freshness too. Juicy and vital, with glimpses of smoky, meaty depth. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta das Bageiras, Garrafeira 2001, Bairrada
Old vine Baga. Slightly closed at first, the black fruits and some supporting older oak add a little more giving roundness. There’s meatiness too. The palate bursts into life, with really sweet, punchy fruit that has a fleshy, creamy density. Touches of spice and liquorice from grainy but fine tannins and very good acidity. Fleshy, charming intensity of old vines.

Quinta dos Termos, Seleccao 2007, Bairrada
Trincadeira, Rufete and Touriga. Wonderfully inky, vinous nose, extremely muscular and sinewy with such solid black fruit, but edged with touches of kirsch and violet. There’s a little coffee and game adding yet another layer. Delicious palate, the pin-point accuracy of the fruit continues, with tight, glossy depth and that edge of muscular, tight tannin. Long through precision, not brute force.

Quinta dos Roques, Touriga Nacional 2008, Dão
In a rainy vintage, yields were reduced and the selection at the winery was ruthless. Meaty, chunky nose, with lots of fleshy fruit and just glimpses of kirsch and cherry brightness. The palate has a fleshy smoothness, it has a fine edges of acidity and very good tannin that is ripe and supple. The oak adds some coffee and spice. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Lemos, White Label 2007, Dão
Touriga Nacional and others. Graphite and mineral character, with tight, glossy black fruit and those little floral highlights. The palate has lovely freshness, with juicy cherry and plum skin bite to the acidity. This is deliciously poised between juicy fruit sweetness and fleshy approachability, and that more brooding, tightly wound muscular concentration.

Fontes da Cunha Munda, Touriga Nacional 2008, Dão
Very nice nose here, with lots of spices and floral notes singing out, the Parma violet sweetness of the fruit is lovely. On the palate that purity and sweetness is compelling, the racy acidity and tannins just coaxing it along as the juiciness and bursting freshness of the fruit floods across the tongue. Expressive and vibrant.

Soc Agr de Silgueiros, Quinta da Falorca Lagar Reserva 2004, Dão
Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Alfrocheiro. Expressive, deep, almost eucalyptus top note. Juicy cassis and mint, and a charry background. The palate has impressive ripeness too, with smooth, creamy tannins, a bit of plummy black fruit and the cappuccino silkiness of the oak adding another svelte dimension. Blackcurrant pastille fruit stays pert and focused into a precise finish. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Dão Sul, Cabriz Reserva 2008, Dão
Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz. Hints of fudge and tobacco join the solid, plummy fruit, but little lifted floral notes are still discernable. On the palate it is a voluptuous wine, the curvy richness of the sweet, ripe, fleshy black fruit and the smooth elegance of the tannins and acidity layered with coffee and chocolate from the barrels, but not at the expense of clarity. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta Do Corujão, Dão Reserva 2007, Dão
Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Trincadeira. This is the epitome of savoury, meaty, dark and muscular red wine with a sinewy density to the aromas, just offering glimpses of bacon fat and earth, and savoury fruit. On the palate it has real presence and structure, the taut, smoky minerality and tightly-wound tannins softened by some cherry fruit and sour lemon freshness. Ince Wines.

Lavradores de Feitoria, Meruge 2008, Douro
Old vines. Hints of green, slightly less ripe aromatics and smoky, earthy, mineral edge to the fruit. Sultry, soft strawberry and redcurrant softness, plus silky, coffee bean oak and sweet, supple tannins add polish. Utterly charming and appealing, with very soft extraction in a Burgundian style. Lovely freshness and acidity. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Vallado, Adelaide Douro Tinto 2008, Douro
Old vines. A fragrant elegance to the obvious concentration of black fruit here. Very sweetly focused, the coffee bean and cassis fruit packed into the mid palate. Huge, impressive length, the tannins super silky and naturally concentrated. UK Importer: Bibendum Wine.

Jorge Nobre Moreira, Poeira 2008, Douro
Old vines. Big, bloody, meaty and gamy nose with delightful depth and presence. This has strawberry fruitiness, with that briary, undergrowth quality and excellent management of the dry extract, with racy, grippy tannins, savoury acidity, but the sweetness of the fruit and fine oak giving a seamless harmony and great length. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Niepoort, Batuta 2008, Douro
Majority Tinta Amarela. From north-facing vineyards. Very cedary, with dried herbs and lots of fragrant spice. Cherry fruit and a little blackberry roundness. The palate has beautiful juiciness, the creaminess and soft toastiness melding into a slick of black plum and cherry juiciness. Unforced purity, with supple fruit and a dry, savoury finish. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Prats + Symington, Chryseia 2008, Douro
50%/50% blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Fragrant nose, with Sandalwood scents in the background, fresh red and black fruits to the fore. A glint of that schisty, stony minerality too. The palate has lovely fruit and great finesse: there’s no meatiness or earthiness to this wine, no sense of more baked quality. The fruit is creamy and slicked with vanilla, but has lovely clarity and purity. Plush, but beautifully pitched. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Portal, Touriga Nacional 2009, Douro
Big, fragrant, almost overwhelming nose with buoyant aromas suggesting violet and almost lily-like lift, lots of balsamic touches, graphite and orange oil, clove spiciness. The palate has delicious fruit too: burst forward with a ripe, juicy, cherry and more plummy quality, the cedary oak adding a gentle toast and chocolate. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Noval, Douro Tinto 2008, Douro
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Cao. Tightly wound on the nose, with lots of herbal character and a certain sinewy density to the fruit. There’s plenty of oak here, but the fruit on the palate has the substance to handle it, a lovely dry extract coating the palate and a real core of juiciness that helps define and pull the finish through to a lovely point. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Reserva 2008, Douro
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Cao. Crushed violet lift to this, as well as lots of cedar in an aromatic profile where the fruit is pure. The palate shows the oak a little more, quite resinous, but beneath there is a raft of very silky fruit and silky tannin that gives this a lovely chocolaty, fine finish with sweet, sweet fruit persisting. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Wine & Soul, Pintas Douro Tinto 2008, Douro
Old vines. From single vineyard of 70-year-old, field blend vines. Charcoally concentration. Really elegant lift to the fruit, very fragrant incense like oak, lovely sweetness on the palate, with magical brightness to the acidity and very firm tannin structure. But the tight, ripe density of the fruit is superb. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Vale Meao, Douro Tinto 2008, Douro
Old vines, mainly Touriga Nacional. Charry, toasty, impressively dark nose with a plushness to the fruit and a really bold, liquorice richness. The palate has delicious juiciness, with the intensity ramped up and the fine tannins and punchy acidity giving masses of impact. I love the bold cherry fruit and decisiveness as this follows a lovely line to the finish. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta de Tecedeiras, Douro Reserva 2008, Douro
Old vines. Dark, deep, limpid and vinous with black fruits and a savoury, spice and huge natural concentration. Glimpses of something more floral and aromatic are delightful. On the palate there is nothing aggressively extracted, but there is huge intensity. The fruit is svelte and taut, the tannins supple and the acidity integrated. Oak is meshed with the fabric of the wine seamlessly. UK Importer: Clark Foyster.

Quinta do Infantado, Douro Reserva 2008, Douro
Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. Rather closed nose with a muscular density that suggests some serious concentration. Tight, ashy, dry tannic structure too – there’s a sinewy, meaty richness here that takes no prisoners and has the massive presence of a New World Syrah, but then the fruit has that mineral Douro quality that makes this an intriguing, if rather domineering force to watch for the future. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Afros, Vinho Verde Vinhao 2009, Minho
Served cold, this deep crimson, biodynamic wine has beautiful aromatics with black cherries, red liquorice and a certain caraway seed spice. Beautifully focused flavours, the black fruit has shimmering gloss and refinement on the palate, with a granite-like backbone of structure. It finishes with creaminess and that beautiful kirsch-like freshness. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

JM Fonseca, Hexagon 2007, Terra do Sado
Touriga Nacional, Tinta Franca, Tinto Cao, Trincadeira, Shiraz and Tannat. Cedary and elegant on the nose, with a certain meatiness but clear and fruity, lots of spice and subtle earthiness coming through. The palate has plenty of fruit: really bold and chewy, with big tannins adding a pleasant roughening texture. That bloody, gamey ripeness is there, with nice acidity into the finish too. UK Importer: Moreno Wines.

Vale da Mata, Tinto Reserva 2007, Lisboa
Aragonez, Syrah, Touriga Nacional. The nose is quite discreet, with a cool, graphite minerality and sheen of tight-grained, cedary oak over refined black cherry fruit. The palate has creamy density, with sinewy texture adding lots of chewy grip, the tannins supple and chalky, but decisive and the acidity giving a keen edge. An intriguing and very composed wine.

Quatro Ancoras vale D’Algares, Selection 2008, Tejo
Touriga Nacional and Petit Verdot. Vine fruits and dark, mulberry and cassis richness set against some elegant, lifted floral character and plenty of pepper and spice. Sumptuous, broad mid-palate sweetness and juiciness. The Petit Verdot adds black fruit depth and a certain spicy tannin quality, and there’s an edge to all that full-throttle stuff. UK importer: Castas.

J Saramago, Dúvida 2005, Setúbal
Aragonez, Trincadeira and Grand Noir. Aged in 100% new oak for one year, then racked into another set of 100% new oak barrels. Massive balsamic nose with, with lots of high, almost gamy aromas, intense floral glimpses, schisty notes and charcoal. Very powerful palate too, with sweet balsamic grip, but liquoricy depth, length and focus. Layered complexity, and something intriguing about it.

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