Citrus and vineyard at Quinta da Nespereira, Dao – Tim Pawsey photo

Vineyard detail, tiles at Caves Sao Joao, Beiras – Tim Pawsey photo

Just back from Portugal, and we’re playing serious catch-up! After a week of tasting a wide variety of sometimes unfamiliar table wine varieties—from Siria and Encruzada (whites) to Baga and Afrocheiro, in Beira, Dao and Bairrada, we’ve come to a few conclusions.

Bottles resting at Sao Joao, Tim Pawsey photo

Portugal has been long known for its value wines. Entry level reds from Dao and Barraida are familiar to most budget shoppers. However, a new generation of winemakers is reshaping traditional perceptions; occasionally, passionately pursuing organic and even biodynamic practices; and, in some cases (unthinkable to most cork-proud Portuguese) even turning to screw caps. All in all moving things very much up the quality and interest scale.

chouriço and cheeses, Tim Pawsey photo

One of the biggest obstacles to British Columbia wine lovers, the province’s punitively high tax levels / bottle mark ups remains a considerable disadvantage. This means that producers looking to export may be more likely to turn their attention first to Ontario and Quebec, or Alberta.

Roofs in Povoa Dao restored medieval village, Tim Pawsey photo

However, rather than price, stylistic distinction and character should be the primary consideration. With its broad and varied network of both public and private stores as well as a ‘rubber stamp’ ‘spec’ item approval process, given the right importer, B.C. is an easier market to enter, compared to the eastern provinces.

Alheira Cordiniz (sausage with quail egg) – Tim Pawsey photo

What struck us most about this tour was the way in which Portuguese wine and food–and, by extension, local culture–are all inextricably intertwined. For the most part, the best experiences, flowed from occasions where food was on the table with the wines—not to mention the sincerity and warmth of the people.

In so many ways, Portugal’s strength is its point of difference. What’s unfolding is a balancing act that aims to make the wines (and often some pretty challenging sounding varieties) more approachable to unfamiliar ears and palates—while at the same time retaining a very entrenched—and honestly Portuguese—sense of individuality.

You might have to work a little harder to familiarise yourself with Portuguese wines but the effort will be worth it, if for no other reason than to explore alternatives to ‘new world’ styles.

Like any other wine region, Portugal has its share of large, more commercially oriented operations, balanced by smaller, family owned producers, as well as a few also-rans. With plenty to recommend, we’ll be profiling some of the better wineries and wines in the coming days and weeks … in the hope that some might find a home here in B.C.

More to come shortly …


Tunas (a form of troubadour) serenade at Solar do Vinho do Dão – Tim Pawsey photo