With 837 km of coastline(1), sumptuous forests (oak, pine, carob), cities one more beautiful than the next (Porto, Lisbon, Madeira, Sintra) and a generally temperate climate with an Atlantic influence, Portugal is a country that you can only fall in love with.
Currently the 11th largest producer of wine, the Portuguese vineyard covers 190,000 hectares of vines(2) and represents some 600 million liters of wine (2.24% of the world production). Let’s embark together on a journey from north to south – between the 42° and the 36° parallels north – aboard our motorhome, also ready for adventure.
The vineyard of the Upper Douro valley, a student’s dream
Known all around the world for its Port wines – of which France is the world’s largest consumer by volume by the way – the Upper Douro produces two appellations of origin, Port and Douro (for still wines).
Why did we stop here you might ask. Because since I entered the world of wine ten years ago, I dreamt of discovering the magic of the first delimited and regulated wine-growing region in the world, classified as a world heritage site by the UNESCO since 2001, with its steep terraced vineyards, plunging into the water of the Douro.
So if you are in the area, stop at Vila Nova de Gaia, just in front of Porto. In addition to its old pedestrian streets, its small hidden restaurants and its colorful port, visiting a cellar is unavoidable here.
Indeed, the large estates of the Douro – the quinta – have always had a cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia for the aging of their wines. Its strategic position, along the river, has been the main route of the wine trade since the 17th century, under the impetus of the British.
We visited the Ferreira wine cellar, the only Porto winery to remain in Portuguese hands since it was founded in 1751. Built on the foundations of a former convent, Ferreira is one of the most special cellars to visit. A bewitching smell of wet wood, mixed with that of very sweet wine, reigned in the atmosphere throughout our visit. A nice addition to the pleasure of tasting the white and red Port wines of the domain.
There are many ways to discover the Upper Douro region: by road, like us, by train, by boat, or even by helicopter. Arriving from the north, we stopped on the right bank of the river, between Regua and Pinhão, at Quinta do Crasto.
A magnificent property of 135 hectares overlooking the Douro, 74 of which are planted with vines. Dating back to 1615, Quinta do Crasto enjoys exceptional conditions for the production of fine wines (and extra virgin olive oils).
The tasting of the wines had shown us that the region is not only a land of Porto, but also a great terroir for the production of elegant, solar and well-structured red wines.
Bucelas, prince of Portuguese wine
Going down to the south, we stopped in Bucelas, near Lisbon. Here, the vineyard is nicknamed the “prince of Portuguese wine” and is famous for its production of dry white wine from the Arinto grape variety.
A grape cultivated and developed locally by the Romans for more than 2,000 years. It was also the only white wine in Portugal for many centuries.
Welcome to Quinta Da Murta, a small paradise of 27 hectares, lost in the hills of Bucelas. “The land of Bucelas is unique, with its limestone and marl soils and a hill facing south-east, ideal for the production of fresh and tense wines”, Franck Bodin, the owner of the estate, explained. Quinta Da Murta favors biodynamic and natural winemaking, using indigenous yeasts. The grass grows naturally between the rows of vines.
And only the manure of the neighbor’s horse is used to improve the health of the vines. The Arinto wine of the estate, crispy and fresh, was delicious. You can even book the venue for your wedding.
The Setúbal peninsula, a promising oeno-touristic destination
We could not visit Portugal without going along its coastline. Nothing better than a sea breath full of iodine, mixed with the caress of the sun and a glass of wine in hand, to recharge your batteries!
We decided on visiting the peninsula of Setúbal(3). This region, whose vineyard has gained renown in recent decades, also has a unique nature, with the Arrábida and Marinho Luis Saldanha National Parks, as well as the Sado Natural Reserve. All the ingredients to make it a favorite oeno-touristic destination.
Grape seeds dating from the eighth century BC. J.-C. have even been found there, attesting to the ancestral culture of wine in the valley.
We discovered Serras de Grândola, a family estate of 6.5 hectares, just 13 km from the beaches.
Here, Jacinta, the oenologist, and Manuel, her husband, combine wine and tourism to the delight of visitors. “Slightly hilly soils made of sand are perfectly suited to the production of white grapes”, Jacinta explained. Their Verdelho, a delicate white wine aged in stainless steel vats on its lees, is a delight.
Then discover the six rooms of the complex, for a change of scenery guaranteed. No neighbors for miles around, the place is perfect for a moment of relaxation out of time.
Quinta dos Vales, “the winemaker experience“
Welcome to Estombar, in the south of Portugal where we met with Karl Heinz Stock, founder of Quinta dos Vales.
Former banker in real estate, of German origin, Karl completely changed his life a few years ago, becoming a recognized artist, with his sculptures of generous curves and bright colors. In 2006, he had the idea of combining art and wine and planted a vineyard of 20 hectares on his property ; where many of his art pieces are exhibited. A very nice idea! Quinta dos Vales was born.
But the concept does not stop there. “We all have to be proactive and stay ahead of the market, so I have been working on a new project”, Karl said. A concept he named The Winemaker Experience.
The idea : to give the possibility to any person having no prior knowledge of wine to produce his own wine by attending classes throughout the year… living on the estate, in his own individual residence!
“The concept is for any budding winemaker whose dream is to wake up in the morning with a view of his vines, in an atmosphere that only a vineyard can offer, and to relax at the end of the day, with a glass (or two) of his own wine ».
The concept has just been created. To follow.
Quinta Do Francês, the nice story of the French of the Algarve
We ended our stay at the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, to discover a French couple as passionate as they are charming. Fátima Santos and her husband Patrick Agostini, are the founders and owners of Quinta Do Francês, created from scratch in 2002 with 8 hectares of vines.
Patrick, the oenologist and winemaker of the estate, has a fascinating history. Being a doctor specialized in research against cancerous diseases, his specialization (rare in Europe) led him a few years ago to move his suitcases to Portugal with his wife. A country from which they never left. “It’s a country we both love for its calmness and joie de vivre, and where I come from”, Fátima told us.
Very quickly – and as passionate about wine as he was – Patrick decided to look for a plot to plant a vineyard. He found a valley with unique soils for the region: clay, limestone, sandstone and shale, perfect for the elaboration of great red wines.
With perseverance and learning, he became a talented winemaker… and at the same time succeeded in keeping his activity as a researcher in cancer diseases. Impressive! His iconic red wine, a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, is a delight. A wine made for aging many years.
Portugal is definitely a great player in the world of wine and is full of wines as generous as they are varied. So go (re)discover this vineyard with a thousand facets.
Without forgetting to lose yourself in the oak forests, these trees with a famous bark, which alone, produces the corks of 75% of the bottles of wine in the world using this material.
Thank you to Quinta do Crasto, Ferreira, Quinta Da Murta, Serras de Grândola, Quinta dos Vales and Quinta do Francês for their warm welcome.
(1) The Portuguese coast has 837 km of coast without the islands, but 1,793 km with Madeira and the Azores.
(2) Source OIV 2017 – Portugal had the world’s 11th vineyard in 2016 and the 5th in Europe with 190,000 hectares. The cultivated areas are in strong reductions as the country still had 231,000 ha of vines in 2012.
(3) The peninsula of Setúbal includes the Appellations of Origin Palmela and Setúbal and the designation of regional wines “Península de Setúbal”. The name “Setúbal” is reserved for Moscatel wines from Setúbal and Moscatel Roxo.