The Wine & Gastronomy of Portugal
Iberian Traveler offers exclusive 2 to 7-day private guided tours of Portugal's premier wine growing regions for small groups (minimum of 4, maximum of 16) from early March through late November.
Custom designed self-guided wine and gastronomy tours of Portugal's most popular wine touring destinations are available year around for individuals, small groups of friends or families. Contact Iberian Traveler for additional information or to request a custom tour package.
Wines of the Alentejo
With it's gently undulating plains and endless horizons, the Alentejo covers about a third of the country and is divided into eight DOC sub-zones. Once regarded simply as a poor agricultural backwater, the 'bread basket' of Portugal, it is a land of large estates or "Latifundios" and has recently come into its own as an internationally acclaimed wine producing region. While much of its vast surface is still given over to the production of cereals, wheat being the most important crop, the poorer soils are reserved for olive trees, cork forests and more and more now, vineyards. The region's climate escapes the influence of the Atlantic, allowing for hot summers and cold winters, perfect extremes for producing the bold reds the Alentejo has become noted. Favored by Lisbon cafés, bars and restaurants, the rich reds can be found on wine lists throughout Portugal. Whites are more difficult to grow in this hot climate, but some excellent ones are being produced by select vineyards. Wines from this region could have been among the first to be exported to ancient Rome.
One out of every two bottles of wine sold in Portugal today comes from the Alentejo. They are smooth, full bodied, generously fruity, accessible and very affordable. Although white wine is produced, the Alentejo reds are leading the way, forging the region's reputation for outstanding wines and putting it firmly on the world map. Along with a dozen traditional indigenous grape varieties, wine here today is being made with such international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Chardonnay and the ever popular Tempranillo grape, known locally as Aragonez
The region is populated by horses, goats, sheep and the famed acorn-grazing black pig of the Alentejo, and boasts highly photogenic fortified hill towns, each with its own defensive fortress or castle sitting high atop the hill, built during the Christian re-conquest of Iberian. Early spring, when the land is blanketed with fields of colorful wildflowers, would be the best time to visit, before the stifling heat of summer arrives.
Exploring the Alto Douro Wine Region
The Alto Douro Vinhateiro is both a Unesco World Heritage Site and the oldest demarcated wine region in the world (1756). The Douro appellation encompasses 64,250 acres and is crossed by the winding Douro River, running some 900 kilometers from Spain's Old Castile province to Porto. Although long famous for its fortified wines, the Douro has come into its own during the last decade to become known as a producer of world-class dry table wines, especially its reds. There are now an astonishing 33,000 wine growers in the region, and surprisingly, its brittle, schistous granite soil sustains a wide spectrum of grape varieties. Tending to the vines on these vertiginous terraces is exhausting physical labor as all the work is down by hand. And many estates (quintas) still maintain the tradition of grape treading by foot in granite tanks called lagares.
In addition to its multitude of wine estates dotting the stepped hillsides, the Douro is endowed with some of Europe's most spectacular scenery and exhilarating hairpin drives, making it a world class wine tourism destination. The river valley boasts a luxurious 5-star hotel on the banks of the river, hip Asian-style spa hotel, gracious manor homes, top flight restaurants, scenic river cruises and slowpoke train rides. Here you'll also find graceful Baroque churches, Cistercian monasteries, an abundance of olive, orange and almond tress planted alongside the vines, and even prehistoric outdoor rock carvings.
The village of Pinhão is in the very heart of the port wine producing area, where you will find the most beautiful and best known wine estates like Quinta do Seixo, which belongs to the iconic port producer Sandeman. The estate sits on one of the most breathtaking scenic sites along the upper Douro and its "robotic" lagares simulate the rhythmic movement of the worker's feet, as it's now difficult to find enough workers to perform the arduous work of crushing the grapes. Quinta da Pacheca's avant-garde 15-room Wine House Hotel, a restored 18th-century farmhouse, sits in the center of the vineyard, across the river from Régua, and is one of the Douro's best known country houses. Quinta de La Rosa, with 14 rooms in the main house, is within walking distance of Pinhão. It's situated in the middle of the vineyard on the steep bank overlooking the Douro. The Quinta do Vallado estate, one of the oldest and most famous "Quintas" in the Douro Valley is celebrating its third century as a wine producer. Situated on the banks of the Corgo River tributary just east of Régua, the estate still belongs to the descendants of the legendary Doña Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, one of the great personalities in the history of Port Wine and the Douro.
The Upper Douro by Boat
You can cruise the waters of the upper Douro by boat from Pinhão all the way to the Spanish border, if you have the time, but we highly recommend a three-hour cruise with a winemaker, tasting the wines from each Quinta while passing by them. The tasting is accompanied by a tasting menu. Or opt for the four-hour lunch among the vineyards of the estates between the Régua and Valeira locks. Lunch includes a buffet by chef Rui Paula and tasting.
Northern Portugal, from the Minho to the Douro
Crossing the Miño from the Ribeiro, in the Ourense province of Galicia, you will feel like you stepped back 30 years in time. The Portuguese Minho, far more pristine that its Spanish counterpart, is endowed with a number of highly photogenic fortress towns, their defensive walls and watch towers intact, magnificently restored churches, beautifully manicured gardens, Quintas (noble estates), cobblestone squares, and thermal spas. Vila de Cerveira, Caminha, Monção and Melgaço all delight visitors with their Old World charm. In Melgaço, gateway to the Peneda-Gerês National Park, you can taste the areas crisp, refreshing and slightly effervescent Alvarinho, the most prized variety of the Vinho Verde grape. Sampling here couldn't be more pleasurable then in the village's Solar do Alvarinho wine center, a showcase of the fresh white wines, along with local cheeses, sausages, honey and handicrafts, including exquisite embroidered linens. The Alvarinho Wine Route was created because of the importance of the wine and includes the Adegas Casaboa Alvarinho, Adega de Monção, Provam, Quinta de Soalheiro, Quintas de Melgaço, Reguengo de Melgaço, and the wine estate of Solar de Serrade (SAVAM. Lda).
A visit to the northern Minho Valley wouldn't be complete with an unforgettable gourmet lunch at the family run restaurant Adega do Sossego in Peso-Paderne. A tucked-away charmer, it serves gargantuan portions of local specialties such as grilled trout stuffed with country ham, washed down with the house Alvarinho wine, ending with a complimentary miniature vat of their homemade digestif.
Following the Vinho Verde Route, which runs from the Minho south to the Douro, you will encounter the historical cities of Guimarãs and Braga, and the smaller villages of Ponte de Lima (the oldest village in Portugal), Viana do Castelo, and Barcelos, with their palaces, manor houses and vineyards worth discovering. The Feira de Barcelos, dating from 1412, held each Thursday, showcases regional products, is one of the best known trade fairs in Portugal. There is also the Medieval Fair (Barcelos Cidade Medieval) held each year in early June, considered one of the best in Northern Portugal. Ponte de Lima's Feira Quinzenal de Ponte de Lima is held every two weeks on Monday throughout the year. It is the oldest fair in Portugal, dating from 1125.