Boiling Portugal down to a simple here-there-that, well, it's not so simple. That hasn't stopped me from translating the kick ass map from the peeps at Wines of Portugal into something overly simplified. Take a look. The first is theirs, the second includes my own, um, edits.
Unless you've got blinders on, two things will strike you about these maps:
- It looks like they grow wine EVERYWHERE
- It's kinda hot
So, ready for a deep dive into the subregions of the 14 main Portuguese DOCs? Sorry to say, my learning of Portuguese wines is still in its infancy and will likely take a (happy) lifetime to emerge into adolescence. Which makes this a great source for exploration. Still, I did learn a thing or two while there...
Demand for Port has been decreasing for some time, forcing formerly mostly-port-only houses to branch out and emphasize table wine production. This translates to some interesting and not altogether fortunate impacts on US consumers:
- There is finite appetite for Portuguese wines and the attention bandwidth is being consumed by incumbents. Port houses have long had in-roads to distribution channels here in the US, so guess who has first dibs on getting table wine into the US market? You got it: Port houses. Forget whether they're worthy or not - the skids of commerce have been greased for decades.
- For the aforementioned reason, the overwhelming majority of table wines hitting US shores are from the Duoro Valley. Port grapes - Touriga Nacional, Franca, Tinta Barroca, Roriz, etc. - are being reappropriated for table wine. What kind of table wines do these grapes make? They're all over the map, but many of them are of the rough-hewn, jaw-stiffening, jagged sort, and still figuring out what they ought to be.
So, it's complicated. But exciting.
We met Pedro at a restaurant where he's worked for eleven years, four as the sommelier. In his "I only speak a little" English (which is better than you'll hear spoken at any mall in the Midwest), he explained what the mind-blowing red was that we were drinking: a field blend from the Alentejo subregion of Vidigueira made by a cooperative of growers. We marveled at the wine (which was being poured by the glass for €4.50) and told him so. When he returned to check on us, he asked if I'd be interested in meeting his best wine supplier - a guy who handles only small producers.
If I've leaned anything from international travel, it's to accept invitations.
Two afternoons later I found myself in the cramped warehouse space of Decante Vinhos with Sergio Santos surrounded by towers of wines I'd never heard of and jerobams of wines I had. Sergio is a hell of a nice guy who knows his way around Portuguese wines and the business. No sooner had I walked in than a bottle was corked and my education of Portugal began in earnest. Two hours later, the bottle drained and my brain overflowing from newly acquired information, Sergio insisted on driving me back to our apartment (through rush hour traffic). We laughed and argued and told stories about our families the whole way. As I jumped out of the car he said, "Please call me if I can help with anything while you are here. Oh, wait! Did I tell you about the restaurant around the corner that serves the best leitão in Porto? Wait! I will write it down for you!"
These are the Portuguese people Obrigado, Pedro. Obrigado, Sergio. Muito obrigado.