Portuguese wine

But according to CVRVV president Manuel Pinheiro, value increases don’t necessarily mean expensive wine. “The internal market is in recession and will remain so all though 2013. The good news for the client is that, given the recession, labour costs are being reduced and therefore interesting wines will have an excellent value in the near future.”

With 85% of production now white wine, the bulk of exports will continue to be classic Vinho Verde blends of local indigenous varieties, although Alvarinho is one grape that could make a name for itself. A potential ager for up to 10 years, it is at its best from the sub-region of Monção-Melgaço where a microclimate and the region’s granitic soil lend a Chablis-like minerality.

Some of the groundwork has already been done. Across the Minho river and the north border to Rías Baixas in Spain, where the grape is known as Albariño, much progress has been made in global markets. “Spain has made a name for Albariño, but there are far more producers there, about 200 [versus 50 in Monção-Melgaço]” says Antonio Cerdeira of Soalheiro. “But we want it to be the reference point for Portuguese wine. The national image of Alvarinho is already very good and the international recognition is growing,”

Small berries and a high skin-to-pulp ratio may ramp up aromas and flavour but it also makes for an expensive, low-yielding vine. But this hasn’t stopped producers in the wider Vinho Verde planting the grape, and indeed other areas of the country. Oenologist at the Monção based Solar de Serrade Antonio Souse says the grape variety may prosper elsewhere but it changes as it travels. “They are very different wines. Vinho Verde has granitic soil, in other regions the freshness and minerality disappears.”

At Vinho Verde’s largest wine company, Aveleda – where brands include the Portuguese market-leading white Casal Garcia and the not-far-behind Aveleda Vinho Verde – the burgeoning reputation of Alvarinho has been noticed.

“We have come to realise Alvarinho has great potential, even when planted outside of its sub-region,” says sales manager Pedro Costa. “We’ve been increasing our vines because we think Alvarinho is understood to be premium to Vinho Verde.” Indeed, Alvarinho is very much the couture end of the offering and, outside of its traditional sub-region, is often prioritised as the name on the front label, ahead of Vinho Verde.

For winemaker Vasco Croft the spectre of Vinho Verde’s former reputation still looms. At his biodynamic winery, Aphros, in the sub-region of Lima, he majors on the bluish-red Vinhão and the white Loureiro, but prefers to not display the appellation on his bottle label. “Vinho Verde does not help me to sell wine because people expect something of lower price and I do not have low price or low quality [wines].”

It’s true that some Vinho Verde wines, such as Afros, which have received international recognition ( including from Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding) and can fly as high as £35 a bottle, would probably not benefit from the association. But the large majority, those positioned in and around the sweet spot of south of £10, will want to stick together. Vinho Verde is poised for its breakthrough moment.


For reasons of historical association with Port, the Douro is the most exportable word in the Portuguese wine lexicon. Depending on whom you talk to, the valley’s passage from fortified towards table wines is either a creep or a lurch. Indeed, according to Symington Family Estate, sales of port are up 3.7% for the year ending May 2012, and port remains an estimated 40% of production.

But whatever the speed of the transition, the direction from Douro port to Douro red is indisputable. “It’s the biggest story in Portugal,” says Oakley. “There was a big movement in Port production in the Douro valley when it was recognised that people buy one bottle of port a year and 200 bottles of wine. Douro is opening doors in a lot of countries. It’s a battle we’ve fought for 20 years in the south of Portugal and banged our heads against the wall. Douro is not the best wine region – I think that’s Dão – but it has the strongest resonance in driving the market.”