Lisboa on wine map Portugal

(Map: Wines of Portugal)

Lisboa is ‘Lisbon’ in Portuguese. But it refers also to the wine region to the north and west of the city (known until recently as ‘Estremadura’).

Lisbon itself is 29 kms, inland from the coast, which sports a rugged landscape, with a mountain range running parallel, north to south.

Much of the region borders on, or is close to, the Atlantic.

Winemaking here dates back to around 2,000 B.C. and it mirrors Portugal’s fascinating history of a succession of cultures. Tartessians, the Iberian peninsular’s earliest known, ‘iron age’ inhabitants, were the first to introduce viticulture. The Phoenicians followed, around 1,000 BC, bringing winemaking techniques from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Romans greatly expanded the vineyard areas. Even today it’s not unusual to see Roman stone presses in many parts of Portugal. They were followed by the Celts and barbarians (yes, even they drank wine!) and the Goths, before the early Christians arrived, in the 9th century AD. But it was in the middle ages that Portugal’s wine industry flourished. In the 18th and 19th centuries the British love for fortified wines helped immensely the success of Port and Madeira.

Today, Lisboa is Portugal’s third largest producer by volume. While overshadowed by Douro, Dao, Barraida  and others, its history is just as fascinating. And its wineries are spreading their wings. Wine tourism is on the rise, with most wineries hosting tours and some offering excellent dining.

 

 

Recent history

To get a handle on the modern table wine industry in Portugal it pays to know a little background. The Salazar regime and Second Republic (1933-1974) promoted cooperatives on a grand scale. Over the years, outside of Port, most production was bulk wine, with much exported to Portugal’s colonies. But things started to shift with Portugal’s entry in the European Union.

Even now a large portion is still classified as ‘Regional Wine’ or lesser ‘Table Wine.’ However, increasingly, wineries are focusing on quality over quantity. Several are in the process of massive upgrades. There are nine Lisboa DOCs producing good quality wines. Also, many ‘VR’ wines we tasted are comparable to DOC wines.

We visited a wide range of producers, from small boutique wineries to historic family quintas and large co-ops. Yet there was one common theme. Each was in some way dynamic, building and sometimes expanding on a dramatic scale. Styles roam from well made sparklers to the full range of table wines. Not to omit Aguardente Vinica, the region’s excellent brandy from Lourinã DO, as well as others.

 

Lisboa Regional Wines & DOCs

Lisboa old windmill

Windmills dot the landscape, this one near Vale Zias, high up on Serra Montejunto

Lisboa stretches up the Atlantic coast, which means it gets lots of wind from the west.  In contrast to giant, modern wind machines elsewhere, romantic windmill relics dot its mountains. Some more exposed sites can be challenging for ripening. But the mountain ranges provide shelter for a few DOCs, especially in the east of Lisboa.

Some Lisboa DOCs are quite storied. If you’re visiting the city of Lisbon itself, the wine region is easy to reach. Several wineries are within an hour of the city. And a few are much closer.

Carcavelos is a sought after fortified and barrel aged wine. Nutty and raisin toned, it’s produced in a tiny, historic DO just west of the city. Most of its former vineyards have vanished under intense development. But you can book a worthwhile tour. The program starts with a visit to the Oeiras Vineyard and winery at the Agronomy station. It concludes with a tasting at the stately Villa Oeiras cellars nearby.

Exterior of the Marquis de Pombal's impressive cellars at Carcavelos

Exterior of the Marquis de Pombal’s impressive cellars at Villa Oeiras

These impressive, above ground barrel cellars were built by the Marquis of Pombal.  They’re a superb example of early passive design. Thick walls feature high windows, while inside air that flows from a stream cools the hot south side.

Interior of the Villa Oeiras cellars

Interior of the Villa Oeiras cellars

 

The Marquis: A towering presence

The Marquis de Pombal, painted by Michel van de Loo (wikipedia commons)

When the 1755 earthquake and tsunami devastated Lisbon, Portugal’s First Minister was The Marquis de Pombal . The former ambassador to Vienna and London, he became renowned for his quick response to the disaster, executing a rapid but impressive city plan. He’s now regarded as an early pioneer of the science of seismology.

Even though he died well over two centuries ago, in 1782, the visionary marquis and statesman is still a larger than life figure. His statue presides over Lisbon’s impressive main square.

Winewise, he’s remembered for establishing, in 1756, the Companhia das Vinhas do Alto Douro. It became the world’s first demarcated wine region, and regulated the Port trade.

 

 

Indigenous and international grapes

In Lisboa, Ferñao Pires is a white grape often blended with Arinto or Chardonnay

Ferñao Pires (here shown at Quinta do Gradil) is a white grape often blended with Arinto or Chardonnay

Most of Lisboa’s production (happily) still revolves around indigenous grapes. But more producers are planting international varieties to blend in or make as stand alone wines. Even though the latter are not what might come to mind when you think of Portugal, they do enjoy a following among local drinkers.  After all, there is something strangely alluring about “Europe’s most westerly planting of Sauvignon Blanc.”

The main varieties grown in Lisboa are: Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia and Vital (whites). Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Naçional and Trincadeira (reds). ‘Modern’ grapes include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

Once celebrated Colares wines (with reds made from Ramisco, whites, Malvasia) are now harder to find.  Sadly, many of the unique, sandy vineyards close to the ocean have eroded or been developed. Ramisco tends to be quite tannic. They usually spend several years in barrel and bottle before release. One wine bar told me they were out of the previous vintage and waiting for the current release—2007!

Older vintages of Colares at Garrafeira Naçional

You can track them down at better Lisbon wine stores, such as Garaffeira Naçional (in Time Out). You can also taste them occasionally at top wine bars, like BA Wine Bar in Barrio Alto.

 

This post is the first in a series. I’ll post my highlights shortly from the producers visited. A few are already represented in Canada, while others are definitely looking.