The Explainer: Wines of Portugal

Here at Humble Tumbler HQ, we LOVE Portugal! Portuguese wine has an individual character shaped by a complex combination of an enormous array of native varieties (reportedly over 250!), traditional techniques and tumultuous history.

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The range of Portuguese wines in Melbourne is relatively limited, with only a couple of major importers – although it appears to be on the increase. Start with an alvarinho based white wines which have immediate appeal. The blends from Alentejo show finesse and structure, which are generally blends made from roupeiro, antoao vaz and arinto. The versatile fernão pires is one of Portugal’s most planted grapes. It grows more or less all over the country, but is particularly important in the regions of Tejo, Lisboa and Bairrada – and produces wine which ranges from tense & dry right through to dessert styles, in addition to producing sparkling. The Dao region is producing interesting whites made from the encruzado grape – the best of which show roses and violets, light citrus notes, a touch of savoury resin character. It is worth noting that the vast majority of Portuguese whites available in Australia currently are blended.

Vihno Verde Alvarinho Medium bodied, good intensity & flavour
Porto/Douro Malvasia Fina, Arinto, Verdelho Aromatic, fresh, honeysuckle, lemongrass
Dao Avesso, Bical, Encruzado Aromatic, light-med, floral, mineral
Bairrada Maria Gnomes, Bical Spicy, aromatic, exotic, some lees , spk.
Estremadura Arinto, Muscat (sweet wine) Crisp, high acid, lemony
Alentejo Roupeiro, Antão Vaz Firm, fuller bodied styles
Madeira Secial, Verdelho, Malmsey Unique hot aged   fortified style
Algave Arinto, Roupeiro High acid, waxy, apple, often blended



The red wine landscape of Portugal is dominated by five varieties – all of which have been traditionally used in Port production and are now being managed for use in table wines. They are tinta barroca, tinta roriz, tinta cao, tinta franca and the most significant variety touriga nacional. Tinta roriz is a synonym for tempranillo (as is aragonês –which is used in Dao). Touriga nacional is considered the most noble given its ability to produce densely flavoured, age-worthy wines with raspberry & liquorice flavours supported by a certain floral finesse. Douro favours tonta cao and tinta franca blends for big flavour and big tannin – while the northern region of Vihno Verde produced lighter blended wines, the better ones feature the red-fleshed variety souzão which lendsgood acid and dark colour.

Vihno Verde Amaral, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Souzão. Lighter, high acid, sometimes green in character
Douro Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, Table wines – bold, dense, structured
Porto Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Franca, Roriz, Cao (VP) Fortified red wine style, long age
Dao Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Aragonez, Jaen, Tinta Cao Range from soft & juicy to full and age worthy
Bairrada Baga, Touriga Nacional Tannic, rustic, structured
Estremadura Castelao, Syrah, Arogones Medium weight, earthy, juicy



Broadly speaking, worldwide there are two categories of what we call ‘port’. The classic sweet style known as Tawny Port is a fortified, long wood aged style championed by traditional Australian & Portuguese producers. Tawny is pre-oxidised in oak so when the bottle is opened, it will keep for many months. Vintage Port is a different beast – a style native to the Douro region in Portugal and home of the protected name ‘Port’. From a single year only, it is less sweet and much more wine-like despite being fortified. It is aged in oak only for two or three years and then bottled for further ageing between 20 to 30 years.

Made only from the top vineyards and vintages, fermentation of red grapes is stopped by the addition of brandy spirit, demanding a vigorous maceration process to extract the colour, tannin and flavour out of the skins before fortification. Traditionally foot-stomping was the preferred method, however this has been largely taken over by mechanisation. Decades old vintage port is one of the world’s great wine experiences – these wines throw a heavy sediment and are layered, complex, finely structured with a fascinating balance of structure, sprit and sugar.


The Atlantic island of Madeira produces a fortified wine of the same name which holds historical and stylistic significance in the world of wine. In the 17th century, ships en route to Asia & India would collect wine for the voyage. It became known that the wine actually tasted more appealing after the long, hot trip which led to the practice of fortification and hot ageing. Heat catalysed the development of tertiary characters and so the flavour profile of sweeter style Madeira often includes descriptors such as almonds & roasted nuts, caramel, dried fruit, oak, smoke, vanilla, orange citrus and molasses. Dryer styles are also available – where the flavours are more in line with dry sherry and can be quite simple, yet beguiling.

The four grape varieties used are sercial, verdelho, bual and malmsey – which in order from left to right produce dryer through sweeter wine respectively.


The quality control system is very similar to the French system. At the top, Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) or VQPRD – Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Demarcada. These are the most protected wines and are labelled as D.O.C. (Denominação de Origem Controlada) which secures a superior quality. Wines that have regulations placed upon them but are not in a DOC region fall under the category of Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada (IPR) or Indication of Regulated Provenance. Regional Wine or Vinho Regional carries with it a specific region within Portugal where no other factors are regulated.

Where to buy Portugese wines in Melbourne….


Happy drinking!