A Tour of Portugal's Finest Wines

Portugal is rapidly becoming sought not only for its abundant sunshine and historic cities, but for the 11 regions which produce some of the most unique and flavoursome wines of the so-called 'Old World'. With a range of sub-climates around temperate coastal cliffs and drier inland soils, Portugal's famous names like Port, Vinho Verde and Alentejo are found on labels the world over. It's possible to get a genuine taste of the Portuguese vines by stopping at Porto or Lagoa, but once in this beautiful country, it's tempting to tour as many as you can find.

By far the easiest and most cost-effective way of doing this is by getting your own transport. Car hire in Faro, Lisbon and Porto is available from the respective airports and city centre rentals. Unless you have a specific route in mind, a good suggestion is starting in the south, where the enticing shores of the Algarve may persuade you to holiday by the sea for a few days before you begin wending your way up the country.

Though principally known as a tourist hotspot, the Algarve has some pleasing stops on the wine tour; by way of Lagos in the fresh climes of the Atlantic coast or the warmer Mediterranean vibe on the border with Andalusian Spain. Wines here are high in sweetness and dominated by red grapes like Syrah and Castelão.

Northwards to Alentejo and the largest wine region in the country also boasts affable reds and some top-notch whites like Antão Vaz. Head through the hot, dry plains for wines you'll often see in the Lisbon street cafés, or travel north-east towards the magnificent São Mamede mountains for cooler, more verdant countryside, growing complex Trincadeira varieties. Stay at nearby Portalegre for a glimpse of the Roman and Moorish ruins of the area, including an impressive aqueduct near Elvas.

Onwards and upwards to the varied limestone, granite and slate beds of fertile Beiras.  Spanning from the Spanish border to the west coast, there are several demarcations, notably the Bairrada for its sparkling wines, high in acidity and the extreme seasons of the Beira interior to the east. Here you'll find the regional white Fonte Cal, not grown anywhere else.

A choice of routes from here can lead you north to the compact Duriense region where the well-known Douro and Port varieties are found. Drive westwards and Porto will be a welcome stop; classified as a World Heritage city for its patchwork of hilltop townhouses, medieval staircases and plazas. A quick trip north will end your tour with a sample of the young wines of Vinho Verde, drinking in the lush, green landscape that produces these semi-sparkling whites.

A country flush with this many flavours merits a decent chunk of your time and if you get chance, take in the vine-fields of the wild north country of the Tràs-os-Montes and the recently-christened Lisboa region around the capital Lisbon. Make your own itinerary and combine your visit with walled border villages in the south and the national parks of the north. Wine may be one of the brightest stars of Portugal, but there are certainly many more reasons to visit this Iberian land.

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