I just returned from a lovely 3 day trip to Lisbon with the family. Gorgeous, beautiful, amazing city. We couldn’t find anything striking on the gastronomy side, outside of maybe the delicious Pasteis de Belem and the amazing food court Time Out Market, but I *did* discover how amazing the Portuguese white wines are!
Portugal has long been a world leader is supplying some of the worlds finest fortified wines, in Port and Madeira. These are incredible wines of incredible longevity, but with rare exception are not world leaders in terms of demand. In response, some newer producers have started making un-fortified red wines, and have tried to capture international awareness of these style of reds. They’ve worked hard and have had some success to date. They are generally clean, modern, bigger styled reds, often quite dark and tannic from the varietals used. But the international market has seen very little white wine creep out of Portugal, with the exception of maybe seasonal consumption of Vinho Verde.
What are these Portugese whites all about?
While we were in Lisbon I needed a guide through the wine lists, as the regions and varieties are so new to me. I would only ask that they be traditional Portuguese varieties. I don’t need to drink Sauvignon Blanc from Portugal – they may be good, but I’m more interested in traditional Portuguese wines.
Generally labelled “Vinho Branco” (white wine), the wines I tried were made with varieties that were completely unknown to me, and likely to you. Siria, anyone? How about some Arinto? Bical? Maria-Gomes? Even the most planted white grape in Portugal, Fernao Pires, is pretty unknown in the international market.
The wines I tried were all quite clean, showing professional winemaking, albeit with a definite traditional style. They were generally not showy blousy wines, but rather wines steeped in history
What’s not to love
The wines we drank in Lisbon were very food friendly with high acid and great mineral complexity. But more importantly, they were delicious! This is an absolute essential for me with wine – it must be delicious! Unfortunately, especially with hipster somm wines-du-jour, unusualness is often prioritized over deliciousness. I’m totally down with unusual and unknown wines, but they better taste good! And these Portuguese whites are definitely tasty!
The other nice thing about these whites is that the prices were totally reasonable. Sitting on a terrace on a hot day, enjoying the gorgeousness of Lisbon while eating some grilled squid, I don’t need to be drinking any super expensive wine. These Portuguese whites definitely overdelivered for the price.
Potential in the international market
Trend setting sommeliers are constantly searching for the next great thing. The prerequisite of these somms is that the wines must be high acid, mineral, have a good story, be traditional and historic, and be weird varietals no-one has ever heard of. Portuguese whites check all these boxes! Somms in New York, London, San Francisco should be jumping all over these wines!