Portugal has undergone whirlwind modernazation since joining the European Union in 1986. This is reflected nowhere more dramatically than in the Portuguese wine industry where upgrading has become the norm. Among the innovations: stainless steel fermentation tanks and small, new oak barrels. Gone are the days when most wines were anonymously labeled.
Now the region of production is slated on every bottle, estate bottling is catching on, and vintners everywhere are selecting only the finest grape varieties. For centuries, Portugal has been recognized for certain regions and wines. Port (or Porto as the Portuguese call it) was demarcated and celebrated in the mid-18th century. Madeira was the favorite wine of Colonial America. A few other regions received official appellations at the beginning of this century such as Dão, Bucelas and Moscatel de Set bal. Portugal then took a long snooze from promoting its wine regions – only to reawaken with a jolt in the last decade. In 1985 there were 10 demarcated wine regions; now there are 55.
Wine comes to Portugal – Early!
The Portuguese people first encountered wine when the Phoenicians entered the southern part of the country around 600 B.C. They brought grape varieties with them that became so well established that many survived for 2,500 years and are not grown elsewhere. When the Romans invaded in 219 B.C. their activities extended as far north as the Douro River Valley, site of the present-day Porto Wine Region. Roman artifacts can still be found there, including stone vats for crushing grapes by foot and large clay amphoras for fermentation and storage. Even after the Romans were forced out by succesive waves of Swabe, Visagoth and Arab invaders, wine continued to flourish. The year round care that vineyards required tied the native people to a permanent locale, providing an incentive for the invaders to encourage wine production. Vineyards at the Lorvão Monastary in central Portugal are recorded as early as 950 A D. The region is very verdant and the wines are traditionally drunk as soon as possible after the harvest. All of this combines to suggest youth and freshness – in a word “greenness”.