The Essential Guide to Discovering Portuguese Wine in Lisbon

May 11, 2018

The Essential Guide to Discovering Portuguese Wine in Lisbon

Lisbon has become a popular travel destination over the last few years and with good reason. One of Europe's oldest cities, situated on rolling hills and close to beautiful sandy beaches, packed with excellent restaurants, cultural spots and charming wine bars, it has everything you might want in a holiday. The gentle, Mediterranean climate means that the city is bathed in sun-shine nearly all year round, yet the temperatures never reach the searing heights of the rest of the country, which can become uncomfortably warm in July and August. Do we need to convince you further? Not only is the capital city of Portugal an increasingly popular choice for family holidays, but it's situated in an ideal spot for wine lovers as well, with three major wine regions within easy striking distance. Put it all together and it should come as no surprise to see purple-toothed enotourists wandering the city, with a glass of wine in hand and a lazy smile on their faces.

First of all, let's learn a little about Portuguese wine. Portugal doesn't produce a huge amount of wine compared to France, Italy and Spain, yet their industry may be one of the most interesting in Europe. Partly due to geographical (and political) isolation, caught between the Atlantic ocean and Spain, and only joining the EU in 1986, Portuguese wine has developed almost in a vacuum. You might think this would be a negative thing, yet it means that Portugal has completely bypassed the period of homogenisation in the world of wine, staying true to their traditional methods and indigenous grape varieties. Could wines such as the crisp Vinho Verde or the heavy, sweet fortified Port be any different from one another? Yet they're both produced from Portuguese grape varieties in adjacent regions. From north to south, Portugal is full of wine regions bristling with both innovation and tradition and with over 240 grape varieties that are rarely to be found elsewhere in the world, finding something unique here is often as simple as ordering a glass of wine in a bar.

Lisbon is the perfect place to discover Portuguese wine. With three wine regions close enough to visit as a day-trip and packed full of wine shops, bars and corkage friendly restaurants, what better place to launch your own delicious exploration? Read on to discover which of the regions suits your style the most, how to track down the best wine bars and shops in the city and of course, how to make sense of all the Portuguese terminology!

Touriga Nacional Wine Grape

Wine Expeditions from Lisbon

There's really no better way to experience what a region has to offer than by getting out there, visiting the wineries and of course, tasting the delicious wines. Fortunately, Lisbon is close to 3 entirely different regions that are within a few hours drive, at most, of the city itself. Whether it's to visit the fragmented Lisboa to the north, to taste the world famous fortified wines of Setubal to the south or to journey further east to the expansive Alentejo, we're here to point you in the right direction. As with all wine tours, it pays to call ahead and make sure they're expecting you, so don't show up unannounced!

The Region: Lisboa

Directly to the north of Lisbon is a region formerly known as Estremadura, renamed Lisboa in 2009. This is the heart of Portuguese wine production, with huge quantities of simple, delicious Portuguese wines made by local co-operatives and sold in 1.5/3L flagons known as 'garrafoes'. With 9 different sub-regions to immerse yourself in, you could spend an entire holiday here alone! However, we recommend you hire a car and make the short journey to the Atlantic-cooled vineyards of Adega Mae.

The Winery: Adega Mae

A relatively recent addition to the Lisboa landscape and certainly one of the most eye-catching is the stylist Adega Mae. A stunning, modern winery designed to emulate the rolling hills in which it's situated, yet the real beauty of Adega Mae is in its vineyards, cooled by sea breezes from the nearby Atlantic coast. Adega Mae is planted with a mixture of both indigenous Portuguese varieties, as well as the well known classics such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. They've recently started an admirable sparkling wine production and offer tours and tastings across their entire range; why not head there early and combine it with their home-cooked brunch? However, when it comes to tasting their vision and something truly Portuguese, we head to their single-grape line-up and pick out a bottle of....

The Wine: Adega Mae Touriga Nacional 2015

Could there be a more Portuguese grape than Touriga Nacional? From its rightful place as the heart of a Port blend to creating structured, rustic red wines across the country, this is the rightful King of Portugal. As a single varietal wine, Adega Mae harness the powerful, tannic and slightly floral nature of young Touriga Nacional, only softened slightly by its 10 month elevage in French oak, to create this limited production bottling. Enjoy now but better still, lay it down for a few years and see it blossom!

For more information and to contact Adega Mae to book a tour, visit: http://adegamae.pt/?lang=en

Portugese Wine Cellar outside Lisbon
The Region: Península de Setúbal

Another region that saw a name change in 2009, Península de Setúbal is to the immediate south of Lisbon, across the Tagus estuary. The warm, maritime climate is ideal for quality wine-making and whilst modern wine-making practices are becoming established here, this is still the location of some of Portugal's other great, traditional fortified wines. A short trip to the village of Azeitão is well worth your while, to see the north-facing slopes dotted with old, gnarled Moscatel vines, turned into golden nectar by one Portugal's most famous wine-makers.

The Winery: Jose Maria Fonseca

When a family has been making wine since 1834, you can be sure they'll have learnt a thing or two along the way! Jose Maria Fonseca is one of the most famous names in Portuguese wine and with good reason. Despite producing quality red and white wines, the real strength of the family lies in their unique, aromatic and beautifully balanced fortified wines. Today, a team of wine-makers with experience and education from across the world come together to produce these long-lived gems. If you're lucky enough to visit the estate, taste as much as you can. However, if you really want something special to take away with you....

The Wine: Trilogia

A special, special wine. Made exclusively from the oldest vines of Moscatel de Setúbal in the country, this was created by Domingos Soares Franco to celebrate the turn of the millenium in 1999. Only 13,926 bottles were ever made from a blend of three of the families greatest vintages; 1900, 1934 and 1965 with stunning results. Intense and honeyed, with bitter citrus, dried peaches and a delicate nutty bitterness to balance the richness of the wine. Not likely to be part of an organised tasting anytime soon but if you spot a bottle, snap it up!

For more information and to contact Jose Maria Fonseca to book a tour, visit: http://www.jmf.pt/index.php?id=111

Alentejo landscape. Vast and spacious!

The Region: Alentejo

Alentejo is Portugal's largest and most sparsely populated wine region; covering over 1/3 of the country yet home to barely 7% of the population. Needless to say, it's a wild, beautiful place and the 3 hour drive from Lisbon should be no obstacle for anyone looking to experience the rugged wildnerness of the country. Almost half the worlds cork supply hails from the trees of Alentejo, yet over the last two decades, quality wine production has sprung up to add a whole new reason to visit.

The Winery: Herdade do Esporão

Herdade do Esporão is by far the most impressive project in the region, led by Dr Jose Roquette and head winemaker, David Baverstock. Covering almost 700 hectares of rolling slopes in the region and farmed under organic principles, the cost of maintenance alone is enormous and yet the sole focus is on producing high quality wine and olive oil. Focusing almost exclusively on indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, these wines are a clear expression of the open, disorganised terrain of Alentejo. It's hard to pick a single wine, but if we had to it would have to be their flagship expression...

The Wine: Torre de Esporão

A wine built to last, and a testament to the quality of Portuguese wine at the top end of the market. A mixture of Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Franca, with just a splash of Syrah for spice and suppleness, this is only produced in the best vintages and isn't released without ageing for at least 3 years in their own cellars. Packed with ripe, powerful dark fruits, menthol, violets, baking spice aromas and structured to last for years, this is very much a special occasion wine; the sort of wine you'll open 5 years later and feel the memories of your trip flooding back the moment you put your nose in the glass.

For more information and to contact Herdade do Esporão to book a tour, visit:https://www.esporao.com/en/

Wine Bars and Shops in Lisbon

A row of bottles in a wine shop

Lisbon is a gastronomic city and people like to eat and drink! Whether it's a quick pastel de nata with strong coffee to keep you going as you climb and descend the hills of the city, or a luxurious dinner, the city has you covered. You may be unsurprised to hear that we spend most of our time in wine-bars and wine shops, grabbing some freshly grilled seafood, searching through the racks for hidden gems and generally watching the world go by as we delve deeper into Portuguese wine. Here are some of the best the city has to offer:

Alfaia Garrafeira
Rua do Diário de Notícias, 125

If there's a more charming wine bar in Lisbon, we haven't found it yet! Opened in 2003, this cosy little spot has become the heart and soul of its local neighbourhood, Bairro Alto. The focus here is very much on quality, whether it's the constantly changing wine list or the selection of artesanal snacks to go along with it. Grab a seat, sit down with that glass of mature Portuguese red wine and don't leave without trying at least one of their delicious cheeses!
http://garrafeiraalfaia.com/wines-snacks/

Wine Bar do Castelo
Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmão 11-13

A little more off the beaten path, we find ourselves in Bar do Castelo, a wine bar ran by enthusiastic wine lovers and home to over 150 different Portuguese wines, many of which are available by the glass. More of a day-time retreat than a night time hang-out, this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon with a good book, some tasty snacks and an endless procession of quality Portuguese wines. A lazy afternoon has never looked so appealing! The best thing about it? A lot of the wines are from older vintages, so if you ever wanted to see what a glass of 2001 Touriga Nacional tastes like, go there as soon as you can!
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189158-d1792131-Reviews-Wine_Bar_do_Castelo-Lisbon_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html (No website available)

Garrafeira Nacional
Rua de Santa Justa 18

Garrafeira isn't just the best wine shop in Lisbon, it's the best wine shop in Portugal. Established in 1927 and stocking an awe-inspiring selection of wines from across the world, the heart of their selection is, as you might expect, Portuguese wine of every stripe, from every corner of the country. How many wine shops can you expect to stroll into and find quality wine from the 1960's and 1970's? Not only that, but they have an array of excellent New World wines, Cognacs, Whisky and even an entire section dedicated to Champagne. Every time we visit, we end up losing track of the time and wander around wide eyed, like children at Disney Land. We're particularly proud that Garrafeira Nacional stocks the Lazenne Wine-Check, allowing visitors to transport these vinous gems back home safely, to be treasured and shared at some future point. This is a must-visit for any wine-lover visiting Lisbon!
https://www.garrafeiranacional.com/en/

Garrafeira de Santos
Rua Santos-O-Velho 74

The city of Lisbon is dotted with boutique wine bars and wine shops, but one of the best independent wine shops is Garrafeira de Santos, located in the Lapa district. Portuguese wine reigns supreme here, with a mixture of different prices and rarity levels. The one thing you can be sure of is whatever you buy is going to be very good indeed as Francisco, the owner, only ever stocks wines he drinks himself! This is the sort of shop where you can spend a full hour chatting about the nuances of the world of wine without ever feeling pressured to buy something. A real gem.
http://www.garrafeiradesantos.pt/ (Website not currently available in English)

Portugese Wine Bar in Lisbon

Portuguese Wine Terminology


Unless you speak Portuguese, some of the terms you may encounter around wineries, wine bars, shops and even on bottle labels may seem a little confusing. Here's a quick break-down of some of the most important terms to be aware of, and their translation into English:

Adega – Winery
Amarzem – Cellar
Branco – White
Colheita – Vintage
Doce – Sweet
Engarrafado (na origem) – Estate bottled
Garrafeira – A merchant, or merchant's blended wine
Maduro – Mature
Quinta – Estate
Rosado – Rosé
Seco – Dry
Tinto – Red
Verde – Young
Vinha – Vineyard
Vinho Espumante – Sparkling Wine


With so much going on in the city, is it any wonder that wine-lovers from around the world are flocking to Lisbon? Whether it's to use the city as a launching pad for trips to the local wine regions, to wander and sip your way up and down the gently undulating hills or to sit down for a long night of mature Portuguese wines and great food, Lisbon is the place to be. Don't forget that you can bring your vinous experiences home with you, but be sure to bring them back safely! Saúde!

For more on our specially designed wine luggage and more detailed information on how to travel with alcohol, check out the links below:






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