10 Top Portuguese Wine Experiences

Where to taste wine in Portugal Turismo dos Açores
For a small country, Portugal produces an astonishing variety of wine: fresh and frisky “green wines” from the far north, sultry Port and Madeira dessert wines, wonderful reds and whites from banks of the River Douro or the sunbaked plains of the Alentejo region. Recently the industry has undergone a revolution, improving quality without diluting traditions that date to the Romans. “If you miss Portuguese wines, you will be missing out on what is arguably the most exciting new wine chapter in 21st-century wine modernity,” wrote Wine Spectator critic Matt Kramer. “The best … are gorgeous.” Fortunately for travelers, Portugal also has plenty of gorgeous places to experience them.
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Sipping with Dolphins SadoArrabida
The Setúbal Peninsula is a hilly triangle just south of Lisbon with great beaches and a Mediterranean microclimate. It makes excellent red and white table wines but is best known for sweet Moscatels. For an unforgettable introduction, take the small boat that sails from Setúbal port every summer Saturday for a “Wine Sunset Party.” Regional producers rotate to provide refreshment as you cruise the broad Sado river estuary. You’ll pass white-sand-beaches, Roman ruins, and fortresses built against 16th-century pirates. As the sun dips below the Atlantic, top-deck dancing warms up. Dolphins often swim alongside.
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Art in the Cellar Aliança Underground Museum
Several places in Portugal bring art and wine together. None is as striking as the Aliança Underground Museum in the Bairrada region near Coimbra, between Lisbon and Porto. In cellars containing countless casks and bottles, you’ll discover the phallic funeral markers of an ancient desert civilization, tunnels lined with African masks, and ceramic sculptures of gigantic crustaceans. It all belongs to billionaire Joe Berardo. Wine tastings feature the sparkling bubbly and fruity reds for which Bairrada is renowned, plus tipples from Berardo’s vineyards around the country.
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Full immersion in the Alentejo Paul Ames
Hit the Vila Santa winery at harvest time and you’ll experience a full immersion into the production process of João Portugal Ramos, one of Portugal’s most renowned winemakers. Visitors to his beautiful estate in the southern Alentejo region can help gather in the harvest, crush grapes underfoot, create their own blends, give the estate cook (named Dona Paula) a hand rustling up lunch of partridge or salt cod, and of course, taste the wonderful food and wine on offer. All this surrounded by a sea of vines overlooked by the spectacular medieval fortress town of Estremoz.
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Exploring history on marvelous Madeira Paul Ames
The founding fathers of the United States raised glasses of Madeira wine to toast their Declaration of Independence, but the British managed to keep a grip on this sweet nectar, which is made on a Portuguese island found west off the coast of Morocco. The Blandy family set up their trading post on the Portuguese island in 1811, one of several British families that ran the wine trade. Blandy Wine Lodge is still among the leading producers of this unique fortified wine. A tour of it in the island capital, Funchal, is a step back into the past of Madeira wine and a fine introduction to its varieties, from dry aperitifs to rich, dark dessert pours. Sample them in the tasting bar decorated by murals (pictured above) painted in the 1920s by German-born artist Max Römer to record the island’s tradition.
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A gourmet train ride into Douro wine country Paul Ames
The Douro Valley is often described as the world’s most beautiful wine region: Endlessly overlapping vine-covered hills, each dotted with historic estates, are linked by the meandering Douro river. There is no more luxurious way to discover it than a ride of the Presidential Train, built in the 19th century to carry Portugal’s heads of state. The nine-hour trip isn’t cheap (around €500 a head), but it includes servings of the best regional wines accompanied by a lunch cooked by Michelin-starred chefs who take turns at the catering. There’s a stop at the Quinta do Versuvio, one of the most picturesque and prestigious riverside wineries. 
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Volcanic vintages in the Azores Turismo dos Açores
Pico Island is a dramatic sight, topped by a conical volcano soaring 7,713 feet out of the waters of the Atlantic in the Azores, a two-hour flight west of the mainland. The mix of mid-ocean climate and volcanic soil produces special wines once favored by Russia’s czars. Vineyards are divided up into tiny plots by black stone walls to protect vines from wind and spray, creating a unique landscape recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A walk through this stunning scenery should be followed up by a visit to one of the little white-washed wineries to taste the island’s dry and dessert wines.
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In the capital, wine with a view Paul Ames
One of Lisbon’s great pleasures is enjoying a glass over dinner as you look out over the sweeping views of hilltops and quaysides. Fabulous panoramic restaurants include The Insolito, commanding jaw-dropping rooftop views over downtown; Chapitô à Mesa, just below the walls of the medieval castle; and Ibo, by the riverside, serving dishes inspired by the Indian Ocean cuisine of Mozambique. While you’re in the capital, try the excellent but little-known reds and whites of the Lisbon wine region that stretches over the hillsides north and west of the city.
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Losing your head in Cabeção Paul Ames
Almost every village in Portugal holds a festa, or festival, in homage to some cherished local product. In Cabeção, a tiny place in the Alentejo region west of Lisbon, they put on a party in December to celebrate the year’s new wine. Serious revelry gets underway in the early afternoon, when a horde of locals and visitors trails around the village, accompanied by a raucous band, to tour the dozens of artisan adegas (wineries). Each stop means a complimentary cup of wine and a plate of petiscos—Portugal’s version of tapas. The wines may not be the most sophisticated, but for an authentic experience well off the tourist track, it’s hard to beat.
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Escaping to the quiet life in a quinta Paul Ames
Outside of harvest time, Portugal’s wineries can be peaceful retreats. Many are centered around historic manor houses amid some of the most attractive countryside. Increasingly, these estates are open to visitors with top-class accommodation and restaurants for regional cuisine. Special places include the Torre de Palma Wine Hotel, built around a 14th-century fort, which combines gourmet food, riding, and luxury spa treatments; the Quinta do Portal, high in the Douro valley and noted for its contrast of cutting-edge architecture in the winery and old-world charm in the boutique hotel; and the Parador Casa da Ínsua, built in the 18th-century by a former governor of Portugal’s Brazilian colonies, which stands amid the hills of the central Dão region and produces both award-winning wines and creamy sheep's milk cheese.
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Port in Porto Paul Ames
If any city can lay claim to be Portugal’s wine capital, it’s Porto. Located near the mouth of the Douro river it has, for centuries, been the hub of trade in port, Portugal’s most famous tipple. These sweet, fortified wines are made mixing product from the Douro with brandy. As the blends ripen in the venerable cellars across the river from the city’s historic center, they take on the special character that has made port an international symbol of fine living. Many cellars were set up by British traders back in the 18th century. On a tour, you can soak up history, watch barrel-makers at work, and sample the famous wares. Those offering the most complete and historic visitor experiences include Taylor’s, Graham’s, and Cockburn’s.

For more complete information on vacations in Portugal, turn to our excellent and up-to-date book Frommer's Portugal, on sale right here at www.frommers.com/store.
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