Portugal’s best wines to get you out of a rut

Portuguese red wine in the Douro Valley
'Some of the best table reds now come from the Douro Valley,' says our expert - Getty

Portugal is often described by wine lovers and pros as a “treasure trove” (yes, guilty, I’ve said it many times). It’s a reference to the diverse, often fascinating wines made throughout the country, mostly from lesser-known local grapes. Why then do so many think only of port or big-brand rosé (here’s looking at you, Mateus) when you mention Portuguese wines? I think it is, unfortunately, down to these same local varieties. In a world where it’s oh-so easy to ask for malbec or chardonnay in a restaurant or wine merchant, grapes with names like esgana cao (translates as “dog strangler”, referring to its grippy acidity), rabigato (means “ewe’s tail” or “cat’s tail”, depending on which part of the country you’re in, because of its long clusters of grapes) and tinto bastardinha (well…) don’t trip off the tongue so easily – or have the same appeal.

But Portuguese table wines really can be wonderful, and they do – like that treasure trove – open the lid on a world of glinting gems. If I ever feel stuck in a wine rut, pouring the same predictable labels every time, I often turn to Portugal to shake up my taste buds. I’m talking wines with refreshingly different flavours and textures, not too far removed from international styles, but just that bit unusual.

Portuguese whites are mostly dry, deeply refreshing and lean, with exotic floral and spicy notes adding to a mouthwatering ping of citrus peel, so perfect for late spring and summer drinking. It’s a mistake to generalise about the reds, such is the range of local grapes, either used on their own or blended with international varieties. But do expect lots of ripe, rounded textures (it’s no exaggeration to say that Portuguese reds are a lot softer than they were 20 years ago). Some of the best table reds now come from port country, that beautifully steep-terraced, arid northern Douro Valley, and are made from the same mix of grapes as port, only unfortified.

Here are five Portuguese wines to pluck, jewel-like, from this barely discovered cache of delights:

potuguese wines
potuguese wines

Animus 2021, Douro (13%, Aldi, £6.49)

Made from the same blend of red grapes used for port, this red table wine is quite the bargain. At its core are ripe, juicy red plums, there’s a whiff of violets and a rounded, easy-going texture. A Portuguese party red, it has a more food-friendly sister wine in Animus Douro Reserva 2021 – (13.5%, Aldi, £6.79), which tastes similar but is more structured and tannic.

Morrisons The Best Alvarinho 2022, Vinho Verde (12.5%, Morrisons, £9.50 or 25% off on any three The Best wines until April 28)

Banish all thoughts of medium-sweet, stumpy-bottled Vinho Verde, this is a very dry, more sophisticated take on the whites of that cool-climate, damp north-west region. It is a little spritzy, as many VVs are, but has racy acidity and tangy splashes of lemon and lime. Excellent with grilled sardines. Among the major retailers, Morrisons has a notably good bunch of Portuguese wines.

Quinta Vale do Olmo Golpe 2022, Douro (12.5%, Tanners, £14.90)

If you like zingy sauvignon blanc, give gulpable Golpe a try. A blend of three Douro Valley white grapes: viosinho, gouveio and rabigato, it has deliciously fresh and zesty flavours of lemon and white grapefruit, with a little orange blossom sprinkled in, ending crisply. Chill it for white fish and new-season asparagus.

The Wine Society Generation Series Portuguese Red 2021 (12.5%, The Wine Society, £17.50)

Interesting, convincing new wine conjured from a cross-regional blend of grapes grown in the Bairrada, Alentejo and Dao regions. Made by the renowned Niepoort family to celebrate 150 years of The Wine Society, it’s elegant, fresh and full of juicy red fruits with a subtle sprinkle of woody herbs. I admire its fine balance; don’t expect a blockbuster but an unoaked medium-bodied red. Could be chilled lightly.

M&S Lisboa Bonita 2021, Lisboa (13.5%, M&S, Ocado, £11)

Some interesting reds are made around Lisbon; this is a blend of 25 per cent syrah with five Portuguese grapes. It’s fairly robust with rich blackcurrants and prunes and some wood spice from barrel ageing. Match with grilled red meats.