Explore / Expertise

The Ultimate Guide to Portuguese Wine


Expertise Expertise

Portugal has a great tradition of winemaking with a wealth of characterful (if sometimes unpronounceable) indigenous grape varieties as well as a wonderfully varied climate and topography.

Like its neighbour Spain, Portugal has been undergoing something of a quiet revolution over the last twenty years or so. A reluctance to follow trends and plant international grapes is now paying dividends and the new breed of full-blooded, fruit-filled wines are more than able to compete on the world stage. The unique flavours that are the hallmark of Portugal's indigenous grape varieties have become its trump card. Good news for those looking for a change from wines made from ubiquitous international varieties.

Map of Portugal - Click to enlarge

Want to be part of the ‘Wine Club of the Year’? Join now and receive a £20 credit.

Join The Wine Society

Vinho Verde

Portugal's verdant north west, just south of the border from Spain's Galicia, is home to the light, traditionally delicately spritzy Vinho Verde. Alvarinho (Spain's albariño) is king of the north and a base to many blends; loureiro predominates further south. Inexpensive and traditional styles will have that typical spritz but many newer wines and especially single-vineyard or varietal styles do not.

Just inland from the Costa Verde (or Green Coast), the region has the dubious reputation of being one of the wettest and most fertile locations for vine growth. As a result, grapes ripen with moderate sugar levels and it is this characteristic which sets the wines apart. Crisp acidity and lively fruit flavours, combined with lowish alcohol (usually around 10-11%) make this one of the most refreshing styles of dry wine. Excellent wines for the local fish and charcuterie.

Red Vinho Verde is also produced but though popular in Portugal it doesn't often make it out of the country, the naturally low alcohol and rather astringent flavour is not to everyone's taste.


This remote region in the north-east of the country is bound on one side by high mountains and on the other the border with Spain (the name means 'behind the mountains'. The schistous soils are similar to those of the Douro and grapes grown here are similar too. The climate can be extreme here with harsh winters and low rainfall in summer. Reds are often lighter and more aromatic than those of neighbouring Douro.


One of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, and deservedly Portugal's best known, the Douro has quickly emerged to lead the way as the country's premium wine region and there is a real pioneering spirit amongst the winemakers here. No longer is the production of unfortified wines seen as a distraction from the 'real business' of making port though it is often the port shippers who have seen the potential of their grapes to make exciting full-flavoured reds and fresh dry whites. Although there is an enormous variety of different terroirs within the Douro Valley, this is essentially a sparsely populated, hot, arid region where grapes are grown on spectacularly steep terraced slopes. Wine grapes are the same as those that go into Port - the fragrant touriga nacional is probably the best known, along with touriga franca (francesa as was), tinta roriz, tinta cão and tinta barroca. Wines tend to be high in tannin and flavour; the skill of the winemaker is to keep fruit and freshness in the finished wine.


South of the Douro on granite slopes protected by high mountains and pine forests, the Dão region produces one of Portugal's better-known reds of the same name. The last twenty years have seen a sea of change in the wines of this region too. Once dominated by rather lack-lustre co-operatives, the area now has a whole clutch of dynamic, small producers making approachable, enjoyable wines with elegance.


Between the mountains and the coast, on fertile clay soils, is Bairrada (barro is Portuguese for clay). Better known for red wines, this is one of the only wine regions in Portugal to be dominated by a single grape variety, baga. The grape is high in acidity and is pretty tannic, making wines that can be tough and astringent in their youth but which soften with age, becoming beguilingly perfumed. These days many blend baga with non-indigenous grapes to make a friendlier style, but the greatest Bairradas are pure baga. The area also benefits from late-afternoon breezes which favour the production of fresh, food-friendly whites and sparkling wines that are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the enthusiasm of a younger generation of producers.

Beira Interior

This rather disparate region covers a vast swathe of inland Portugal south of the Douro and east of Dão. Vineyards are grown at altitude on granite soils. In the north, grapes are similar to those of the Douro while the south has a whole mix of varieties. Great potential here for making some exciting wines.


A large, coastal region that runs north from Lisbon. Onshore breezes from the Atlantic help cool the vineyards and maintain the fresh acidity and aromatics in the mostly white wines. North of Bucelas, on the Atlantic west coast above the town of Lisbon, lies the strip of rolling countryside that contains nine separate DOCs under the umbrella name of Lisboa. This is Portugal's largest wine producing region in volume terms.


The first wine The Society ever sold! This tiny DOC is one of the closest to Lisbon. Loved by the British in Wellington's time, it now produces breezy dry whites which are popular locally.


This region lying either side of the River Tagus and formerly called Ribatejo is known for good, everyday drinking wines in a range of styles from a wide range of permitted grapes.

Península de Setúbal

Lying across the mouth of theTagus river, this is largely a flat, sandy region with the exception of the Serra da Arrábida a short chain of mountains with clay and limestone soils. There are two DOCs within the peninsula.


North-east of the Setúbal peninsula where the castelão grape is ideally suited to the sandy soils.


Setúbal is a sweet fortified wine made primarily from muscat de Alexandria.


The Alentejo province stretches south from the Tagus to the Algarve and east to the border with Spain and covers almost a third of continental Portugal. The vineyard area is now divided into seven diverse sub-regions and the undulating hills are home not only to vines, but to olives, cork oaks, wheat and sheep. Despite the challenging climate here (summer temperatures regularly reach 35°C and often more and droughts like those experienced in 2005 are not uncommon), this is a dynamic region, referred to sometimes as Portugal's 'New World'.

Want to be part of the ‘Wine Club of the Year’? Join now and receive a £20 credit.

Join The Wine Society

Grape file

Portugal has at least 250 indigenous varieties, more than any other country and these are what make the wines so wonderfully different and interesting. Confusingly, many go by different names in different regions and some are hideously difficult to pronounce too. Below we identify key characteristics of the most important grapes.


alvarinho - mainly grown in the Minho (known as albariño in Spain), this produces crisp, aromatic wines with notes of peach, apple and citrus fruits with a mineral character.

arinto - widely grown in northern and central Portugal producing dry, tangy wines with plenty of citrus fruit. Known as padernã in Vinho Verde.

fernão pires - known as maria gomes in Bairrada, this is a versatile grape making crisp, aromatic wines with lowish acidity and floral notes.

loureiro - the most fragrant of the grapes used to make Vinho Verde.

verdelho - the same grape behind medium-sweet Madeira also makes soft, savoury full-flavoured dry table wines. A success in Australia and now also in Australian hands (David Baverstock at Esporão and Peter Bright at Terras d'Alter in the Alentejo.


aragonez/aragonês - known as tinta roriz in northern Portugal (and tempranillo in Spain), this is one of the principal Douro grapes prized for its rich tannins and aromatic, raspberry, red-fruit flavour.

alfrocheiro - though not especially widely planted, this is a very promising variety beloved of winemakers for its deep-coloured, well-balanced wines, but not liked by vine growers due to its susceptibility to rot.

baga - mainly grown in Bairrada but found also in Dão this late-ripening variety can make lean tannic reds but in the right hands, dense reds with bright cherry fruit are made which are capable of long ageing. Also used for the base for sparkling wine.

castelão - one of the most widely planted varieties, particularly in the south where it is often called periquita, making fleshy, fruit, sometimes gamey reds for short or long-term keeping.

touriga nacional - the backbone of many Ports and now appreciated for the quality of its red wines too. Small grapes give a high concentration of colour, extract, sweetness, and aroma, which can make it ideal for longer term ageing.

trincadeira - one of the most widespread varieties making flavourful, dry reds with blackcurrant fruit flavours and herbaceous, floral aromas.

View Portuguese Wines >

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.