Major Red Wines from Portugal
Wine lovers may be familiar with many of the major varietals from other acclaimed winemaking regions in Europe (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, which make up the majority of Bordeaux blends, or Tempranillo, which creates Spain’s famous Rioja wines). Yet few recognize the names of Portugal’s major red wine varietals such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga France, and Castelão. From the Douro Valley in the north to Algarve in the south, Portugal is filled with winemaking regions that produce crisp white wines and stunning, age-worthy reds. Read on to learn more.
Aromatic, complex, and full-bodied Touriga Nacional is originally from the Dão region in the north of Portugal, yet it is now widely planted throughout the country. The grapes are thick-skinned, which leads to bold wines that are rich in tannins and age tremendously well. Touriga Nacional has beautiful and intense flavors of blueberries, black currants, and raspberries and often has notes of herbs (such as rosemary) and licorice.
Touriga Nacional’s boldness and complexity make it a great pairing for foods you would traditionally eat with wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Grilled red meats, stews, and roasts hold up well to the rich tannins, and glazes or sauces such as teriyaki and char-sui complement the natural fruits in the wine.
Castelão is not only one of Portugal’s most widely planted grapes, it is also one of the most versatile. Although it thrives in the country’s hotter and drier regions, it also fares well elsewhere in the country. The differing climates create wines with a variety of characteristics: some are easy-drinking, and some can be rich, intense, and meaty. Castelão is firm with raspberry fruits (and cedar when aged) and has excellent tannins and acidity.
Castelão may vary in flavors, but regardless of its style, it tends to have fantastic acidity. This makes it incredibly food-friendly. The floral notes often found in the wine pair well with bright herbs: try it with a seared ahi tuna steak, grilled salmon, dishes with grilled peppers, spicy Korean-style short ribs, or Mexican dishes such as mole and enchiladas.
Touriga Franca is one of the staples of blends from the Douro Valley (and also one of the five official grapes used for port wine). In the Douro Valley, it accounts for roughly 20% of planted grapes; it also makes up a large portion of grape production through Portugal’s northern regions. Touriga Franca is known for producing dense, elegant, and fragrant wines with velvet tannins. It has floral and blackberry notes and is full-bodied and rich.
Touriga Franca is excellent with meats roasted with garlic and herbs or herbaceous marinades and sauces (such as chimichurri). It is also excellent with game (like squab and venison), porcini mushrooms, and meats marinated in soy sauce.
Baga is a small, thick-skinned grape that produces firm and intense wines. It is prone to rot and thrives only in soils with high quantities of clay, which makes it difficult to grow; its dense foliage makes it labor-intensive for field workers who must carefully prune the vines to ensure the grapes receive sunlight. Despite these difficulties, Baga wines prove that grapes are worth the effort: wines are deep in color, yet have high acidity and notes of berries, black plums, coffee, tobacco, and smoke. Aged wines can have elegant notes of cedar and dried fruits. Wine lovers often liken Baga to Italian Nebbiolo (which also has smoke notes and strong tannins) and to Pinot Noir (which is elegant and lean).
Baga’s acidity makes it pair incredibly well with many dishes. Try it with roasted pork belly, seared duck breast, sausage and lentil stews, samosas, and octopus and lentil stew with chorizo.
Aragonês is one of few Portuguese grapes commonly grown outside of the country. In Spain, it is known by a name more commonly used throughout the world: Tempranillo. (This is the grape used in Spain’s famed Rioja wines). In Portugal, it is known as Aragonêsz––except in the Dão and Douro regions, where it is called Tinta Roriz.
Aragonês/Tinta Roriz/Tempranillo is known for their combination of elegance and boldness. The full-bodied wines have rich berry flavors and aromas and hints of pepper and spice. Wines will vary in their degrees of tannins, acidity, and oak, but classically this wine pairs well with roasted lamb, suckling pig, sausages, and other pork products. It is also excellent with roasted or grilled meats topped with aged balsamic vinegar.