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Portuguese Wine Sales are Booming. Here is Why…

Frederico Falcao

Frederico Falcão is a man on a mission : to spread the gospel of Portugal’s diversity of high quality wines from the Douro to Alentejo and beyond.

After studying agronomy and oenology, Falcão worked a winemaker for 18 years before becoming the youngest ever president of Portugal’s Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (Institute of Vine and Wine). In his current role heading up Wines of Portugal, Falcão has ambitious plans.

He shared his vision with me yesterday over a cool glass of Vinho Verde at the bustling Wines of Portugal trade fair in Montréal.

Frederico, with so many terroirs and grapes, how do you explain Portuguese wines to newcomers?

We call ourselves “a world of diversity” because it is the only way to sum up our rich mosaic of wines. You go to Vinho Verde, you have granite soils, cool temperatures, a rainy climate. Then you drive just one and a half hours, and you are in Douro, with its schist slopes. It is hot and very dry. The grapes are different, everything changes. You go to Dão, Bairrada, Alentejo, they are all completely different.

Its very complex because it is not one single grape, one single style of wine, but that is what makes Portuguese wine so fascinating.

Wine lovers must agree because your international sales are booming! I recently read that Portuguese wine exports grew by 8% (to over 925 million euros) in 2021; doubling the growth seen in 2020. What is driving this trend?

Twenty years ago, people didn’t know that Portuguese wine existed. It was only Port. And in many cases, they didn’t even realize that Port wine came from Portugal. It was like a brand, a style of wine, and not a Portuguese appellation (PDO). We have been working hard to promote Portugal in the past twenty years and I think we have done it well.

Portugal is becoming very trendy when it comes to tourism. A lot of people are visiting. When they travel to Portugal, not knowing much about the country, they are always surprised – with the food, the wines, the landscape, the people, with everything.

Wines in Portugal are not expensive. In Canada, an everyday wine costs 10 dollars minimum, closer to the 15 – 20 dollar mark for a good wine. In Portugal, you can buy well-made wines for 4 euros. The quality available for such inexpensive prices is a surprise for a lot of tourists. So when they go back home, they start buying more Portuguese wine.

Portugal is the leader in wine consumption per capita in the world. We drink a lot of wine! But it is not only the Portuguese, its also the visitors. People are getting fed up with just drinking Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. Portugal has grapes you won’t find anywhere else, that are reasonably priced, and great quality.

As you say, international audiences have only discovered Portugal’s table wines relatively recently. Have you seen a big improvement in the quality of these wines over the course of your career?

Absolutely. I have seen a dramatic improvement in the style of wine and in winemaking.

There is a younger generation of winemakers now who travel outside of Portugal, who taste wines from around the world, and compare their wines with their peers. My generation were the first to do this. Beforehand, winemakers never left their regions.

Twenty years ago, most wineries were making wines for the domestic market. Now they are making wines that are easier to appreciate for international consumers less familiar with Portugal.

We have a huge range of grape varieties and an equally large diversity of grape growing terroirs. It gives us so much scope to experiment, to innovate, and to improve the quality of our wines.

How is the Portuguese wine industry working towards greater sustainability?

The Porto Protocol was an important kick-off to get the wine trade talking more seriously about climate change and sustainability. Many of our wineries have strong sustainability practices in place, not only environmental, but also social, and economic, but there wasn’t a structure in place.

Alentejo has established their own certification system, but before we ended up with 14 regional programs, we decided to create one national certification through ViniPortugal (Wines of Portugal). We are very near the end of the process, so it is an exciting time.

Our goal is to have all of Portugal’s wineries certified in our program and really be leaders in this domain.

If you could send one message about Portugal to international wine lovers, what would it be?

With Portuguese wine, you get more than you pay for. You can taste this in our 15 dollar wine, but it is equally true of our 50 dollar wines. The value is there at every quality level. It really is worth exploring our diversity of grapes, wine regions, and styles.

After our chat, I spent some time tasting through a wide range of wines and Frederico Falcão’s words rang true. At every price point and in every wine style, I found fresh, balanced wines that are definitely in tune with an international palate.

The wines photographed above are just a small sampling of favourites from the tasting.

Portuguese Wine Fast Facts (source: Wines of Portugal):

  • Portugal boasts over 250 native wines grapes
  • The top five red grapes are: Aragonez, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional,  Castelão, and Trincadeira
  • The top five white grapes are:  Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Arinto, Síria (aka Codega), and Alvarinho
  • Wine styles range from still whites, rosé, and red, to sparkling wine (vinho espumante), to fortified wines: Port, Madeira, Moscatel
  • Total vineyard area is: 192 028 hectares (2.7% of world’s acreage)
  • There are 31 DOC appellations and 14 Vinho Regional areas in Portugal
  • DOC wine production is: 59% red wine, 24% white wine, 7% rosé
  • Major wine production regions include: Douro, Lisboa, Alentejo, and Minho (Vinho Verde territory)
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Casa Ferreirinha: Quality Wines for Every Budget

wines of Casa Ferreirinha

The wines of Casa Ferreirinha are versatile, to say the least. From their every day Planalto and Esteva wines to the storied Barca-Velha cuvée, Casa Ferreirinha has cemented a solid reputation as a leading still wine producer in Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Casa Ferreirinha was borne from the fruits of the labour of the Ferreira Port family. In the 1950s, wine production in the Douro Valley was dedicated to the sweet, fortified Port wine. Meanwhile, at Ferreira, technical director Fernando Nicolau de Almeida was hard at work crafting a high-quality still red wine. His creation, Barca-Velha, remains a reference among Portuguese red wines to this day.

Casa Ferreirinha is the proprietor of five wineries (or Quintas) throughout the Douro, and is part of the powerful Sogrape Vinhos group. The wines of Casa Ferreirinha run the gamut, from dry white, rosé, and red table wines to heady Port wines.

In early May, I had the pleasure of tuning in to a virtual tasting with current head winemaker, Luis Sottomayor. He lead us through a fascinating tasting of eight emblematic dry wines of Casa Ferreirinha.

Casa FerreirinhaPlanalto” Reserva, Douro, Vinho Branco 2019 – 87pts. VW

The Planalto cuvée is named for the high altitude plateaux vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. These sites are selected for the refreshing acidity of their grapes. Produced at Casa Ferreirinha’s Villa Real winery in the Baixo Corgo this light, dry white wine is a blend of local grapes Viosinho, Codega , Gouveio , Rabigato, and Malvasia fina.

This is light, easy drinking white wine made to be drunk rapidly after bottling. Its cool temperature fermentation and brief maturation in stainless steel highlights this style. On the nose, discreet notes of lemon and hints of yellow pear feature. The palate is crisp and smooth, with a lively, dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($12.10)

Casa FerreirinhaPapa Figos”, Douro, Vinho Branco 2019 – 86pts. VW

Grapes for the Papa Figos wines are sourced from vineyards in the Douro Superior. Here the nutrient-poor soils yield far lower volumes than the Baixo Corgo, giving more complex, concentrated wines according to Sottomayor. Rabigato is the major grape in this blend. Considered one of the Douro’s finest white varieties, Rabigato brings lively acidity, firm structure, and floral notes to white wines.

Delicate hints of chamomile, orchard fruit, and lemon play across the nose. The palate is fresh, medium in body, and rounded, with hints of stone fruit on the soft, slightly warming finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95)

Casa FerreirinhaEsteva”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2018 – 89pts. VW

Sourced from estate vineyards in the Cima and Baixo Corgo, this easy drinking red is fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel to maintain its bright, fruity personality. It is a classic blend of mainly Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca, with Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional in supporting roles. 

Intense dark cherry and wafts of milk chocolate on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium weight, and smooth, giving way to pleasantly chalky tannins. Finishes dry. Remarkable value for an every-day red. Chill for 20 minutes before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($12.20)

Casa FerreirinhaPapa Figos”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2019 – 87pts. VW

Papa Figos is the Portuguese name for the rare golden oriole, pictured on the wine label. This red has similar blend proportions to the Esteva, but is sourced from lower yielding vineyards of the Douro Superior, like its white counterpart. As with the above described wines, fermentation and ageing takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, with a fairly brief maturation before bottling to preserve its bright fruit and fresh acidity.

Very pretty, floral nose mingled with ripe black and blue fruit aromas. The palate is quite lively and firm, with subtle dark fruit flavours. Finishes dry and somewhat astringent, with lingering bitter cocoa notes. Enhanced by a good food pairing (grilled eggplant, mild sausages on the barbecue, subtly spiced stews would all work well).

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95)

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2018 – 89pts. VW

The Vinha Grande cuvée is a blend of Cima Corgo vineyards, prized by Sottomayor for their attractive “spice and balsamic notes”, and Douro Superior sites bringing, “riper fruit and chocolate” overtones. Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional are the star players here. The blend is aged for 12 to 18-months in seasoned oak barrels.

Fragrant nose of macerated black berries, dark cherry, violets, and baking spice. Juicy acidity gives way to a firm, yet ripe-fruited mid-palate and fine-grained tannins. Hints of well-integrated spicy oak linger on the dry finish. Very harmonious, complete wine for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.10)

Casa FerreirinhaCallabriga”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2016 – 91pts. PW

The Callabriga cuvée is made the lowest altitude vineyards of the Quinta da Leda estate, near the Spanish border. The reflective, low yielding schist soils and abundant sunshine here give ripe, concentrated wines. After a long, gentle maceration, the wine is matured for 12-months in 75% French/ 25% American seasoned oak barrels.

Touriga Franca is again the dominant variety. Whereas many Douro producers vaunt the superiority of Touriga Nacional as the region’s prime red grape, Sottomayor is an unabashed fan of Touriga Franca. When asked why, he cited the grape’s “structure, ageability, and powerful expression”. For Sottomayor, Touriga Nacional is better in a supporting role, for its floral fragrace.

Crushed dark fruit and floral aromas mingle with nutmeg and milk chocolate on the heady nose. The palate offers a nice balance of fresh acidity and vibrant dark fruit flavours to lift the rich, medium-bodied frame. Ripe yet muscular tannins define the finish. Chill slightly and decant up to an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.95)

Casa Ferreirinha, Tinta Francisca, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2015 – 87pts.

Sottomayor and his team regularly carry out experiments in the vineyards and cellars in the aim of improving overall quality. In 2015, they decided to isolate a plot of Tinta Francisca from their Quinta do Seixo vineyards in the Cima Corgo. Tinta Francisca is one of the Douro’s oldest red grape varieties, but is now lesser known; often a minor blending component.

After several months’ ageing, Sottomayor was agreeably “surprised by the harmony of the wine”. He decided to age the wine for 24-months in French oak barrels, and then bottle a limited edition volume of 3,600 bottles.

Ripe raspberry and dark plum notes feature on the nose, with undertones of toasted oak, black pepper, and refreshing eucalyptus hints. The palate is tightly wound, with mouthwatering acidity, and grippy tannins. Spice and mocha notes on the finish. Needs time to soften.

Where to Buy: Not available in Québec. Enquire with agent: Authentic Vins & Spiritueux.

Casa Ferreirinha, Quinta da Leda, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2017 – 94pts. LW

Quinta da Leda is seen as something of a second wine to the iconic Barca-Velha; though it is a remarkable wine in its own right. The Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Cão grapes that make up the blend come from the middle altitude vineyard plots, with the highest sites reserved for Barca-Velha.

The four grape varieties are vinified separately, with gentle treading and an initial maceration in lagares followed by fermentation in stainless steel. Ageing takes place in a mix of 50% new and 50% seasoned French oak barrels for 18 months. After the final blending, the wine is bottled and laid down for further bottle maturation before release.

Initially oak-driven on the nose, with an impressive array of ripe black plum, dark cherry, graphite, cocoa, and nutmeg aromas emerging within minutes of pouring. The palate is full-bodied and firm, with lively acidity, and a highly concentrated core of dark fruit, tobacco, and cedar. Ripe, pleasantly chalky tannins boulster the frame and lengthen the finish. A well crafted, ageworthy wine that will start to peak in another four to five years and then hold for at least another decade.

Where to Buy: Coming soon the SAQ, enquire with agent: Authentic Vins & Spiritueux

What does VW, PW, LW mean ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Photo credit: Casa Ferreirinha

Reviews Wines

Affordable Wine Finds from Portugal

affordable wine finds

Shopping in stores is a stressful business these days. The line ups, the distancing, the masks, the fear of touching anyone or anything…  The days of browsing liquor store aisles at a leisurely pace, hunting down great, affordable wine finds seem but a distant memory.

Our current grab and go approach to in-store wine purchasing has led to major sales increases in bag-in-box wines and budget-friendly name brands around the globe. It makes sense. Uncertain times make inexensive, known brands all the more appealing. However, as the pandemic stretches on with no forseeable end in sight, you may find yourself in danger of falling into a bit of a wine rut.

Personally, I can’t think of anything more depressing than drinking the same wine everyday. It would be like eating the same meal or watching the same movie. In this bizarre, Ground Hog’s Day-like period, I find any novelty welcome. Luckily, widely available, affordable wine finds are plentiful these days. Case in point: the Coroa d’Ouro brand from Pocas.

The Coroa d’Ouro range of Douro Valley white and red table wines were launched 30 years ago and the brand is still going strong. My regular readers will know how fond of Portuguese wines I am in terms of affordable wine finds. From vibrant, layered whites to bold, yet elegant reds and luscious fortified wines, Portugal is hard to beat.

I recently received a sampling of Pocas wines and was immediately struck by the quality/price ratio. These are clean, well-made wines with no artifice or undue pretension. To learn a little more before picking up a bottle, check out my tasting notes on these affordable wine finds below:

Pocas, Coroa d’Ouro Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

The Coroa d’Ouro Branco is a perfect everyday white for lovers of crisp, light-bodied, dry wines. It offers delicate lemon, herbal aromas on the nose and a smooth palate, with tangy, lemon curd flavours and a touch of refreshing citrus pith bitterness on the finish. 13% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (12.65$),

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

A blend of native Portuguese white grapes: Codega, Gouveio Rabigato and Viosinho. Somewhat reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc on the nose with its vibrant gooseberry and lemon aromas, differentiated by intriguing hints of spearmint. Light in body, yet quite textural on the mid-palate, with really bright acidity and tangy green fruit and dried herb flavours. Dry, unoaked and refreshing. 13.5% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (16.60$)

Pocas, Coroa d’Ouro Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

A pleasant, simple, highly versatile red that will pair well with a wide variety of dishes. If you like unoaked Côtes-du-Rhône reds, this will likely suit your palate. Ripe mixed berries and a hint of spice on the nose. Fresh, medium-bodied, and smooth with juicy red fruit flavours. It finishes dry with fine, powdery tannins. 13% abv. Serve slightly chilled (16 – 18c).

Where to Buy: SAQ (13.95$, also available in magnums!)

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

This is a typical Douro blend with a dominance of Touriga Nacional, prized in the region for its elegance, florality and bold structure. Ripe black plum, dried herbs, hints of black licorice and baked fig feature on the nose. The palate is moderately firm, with juicy acidity and attractive black fruit and dark chocolate flavours. Medium weight, chalky tannins frame the dry finish. Pleasantly warming. 13.5% alcohol. Serve slightly chilled (16 – 18c).

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.95$)