Portuguese Wines

Like France and other Mediterranean countries, Portugal enjoys a great diversity in the type of its soils. They range from the sandy soils near the ocean to the varied soils exposed by the many rivers that begin in the mountain range that separates Portugal and Spain. Gravel, slate, shale, and other soils are terraced along the river’s path to the more fertile valleys closer to the ocean. Although the country’s weather is governed by the harsh winds off the Atlantic, it enjoys many days of sun and a dry climate during the growing season.

Foundation

Portugal’s viticulture has its origins from the Mediterranean basin, with two routes disputed by the experts. On one hand, it is believed to have come through Gaul, brought by the Romans. On the other, it is believed to have been brought by the Greeks and Phoenicians who sailed out of the Mediterranean and set up trading villages there. In any case, the history of vines in Portugal goes back more than two millennia, and the Portuguese were adept at both viticulture and wine making. As evidence, the sarcophagus of Reguengos, over 2000 years old, has detailed figures treading grapes represented on it.

Ancient Popularity

Italy, in Roman times, was so alarmed at the popularity of Portuguese wines, that the Emperor Domitian had vines uprooted and replaced with cereal crops so as to not compete with the Italian wines. In the twelfth century, when Portugal was developing into the size and shape we know it today, an English knight errant during the Crusades, had praised the wines of the Douro. A few centuries later, the English-Portuguese bond was reinforced when the English were pushed out of Bordeaux by the French. The English were able to write the Treaty of Methuen in 1703 that allowed all Portuguese wine to go to England in return for English wool. This export monopoly allowed wine exports from Portugal to England to rise annually from 632 barrels in 1687 to over 17,000 barrels by 1757.

By the Numbers

Although Portugal is a small country, it has a large amount of acreage planted to vines. Portugal has over 600,000 acres of vineyards and is thus ranked eighth in the world in total acreage planted. Despite a population of just over 10 million, Portugal is ranked fourth in wine consumption per capita (excluding the very small sovereignties of Vatican City and Norfolk Island in the South Pacific). And that doesn’t include what doesn’t show up in the production figures: a large number of family-run farms that grow grain, vegetables, fruit, and grapes for their own consumption.