A beginner's guide to Portuguese blends

Written by Jamie Barrow

Portuguese winemakers have long understood the role of blending in creating interesting, balanced, and consistent wines. 

Most of us are familiar with the nation’s famous ports, which are a blend of different grape varieties, usually grown in different years, or “non-vintage”. But what of their still wines? 

Despite rubbing shoulders with its next-door neighbour Spain, a global powerhouse in both wine production and reputation, most of the wines of Portugal remain relatively under-the-radar. This paradox is, in part, due to geographical isolation but perhaps more due to the political and economic turmoil that separated Portugal from the rest of Europe through most of the 20th century.  

There is a silver lining here, in that this diminutive country offers us a fascinating cornucopia of indigenous grapes and wine styles rarely seen beyond its borders. And better yet, they’re often fantastic value-for-money to boot. 

Branco (white) blends 

Perhaps after port, the most well-known wine exports from Portugal are those from the Vinho Verde region. Although this translates as “green wine”, it is referring to the youth, rather than the colour of the wines as wines of all types and colour are made here. The whites from this rainy, northern region are steadily increasing in popularity; they’re light and wonderfully refreshing, often showing their trademark spritz as a result of a little amount of post-fermentation CO2 dissolved in the wine. These tend to be blended from grapes such as Arinto, Loureiro and Alvarinho, the latter grape being one of the rare few varieties to succeed over the border in Spain too (where you’ll know it as Albarino). 

It's worth venturing further south for white blends too, Bairrada being the home to the crisp Bical grape which can gain Riesling-esque characteristics with age, or Lisbon, where blends based on the widely grown Fernao Pires display fresh floral and citrus fruit.  

Tinto (red) blends 

In the regions of Dao and Douro Valley (where port originates) tinto wines will often be based around the grape variety Touriga Nacional. This highly regarded vine produces small quantities of tiny berries, which give deep colour, high tannins, and concentrated flavours. Many winemakers will look to tame these intense characteristics with the addition of varieties such as Touriga Franca for rich, perfumed fruitiness, and Sousao to provide a zip of refreshing acidity. Tinta Roriz, better known as Spain’s Tempranillo, is widely planted across Portugal and also features in many tinto blends. 

Some top picks 

When it comes to whites it’s hard to beat Douro producer Quinta de la Rosa’s Branco Reserva, which is based on a trio of varieties normally used for white port: Viosinho, Rabigato and Gouveio. A short period of barrel ageing adds richness and texture, and the resulting wine is a stunning example of the potential of indigenous Portuguese blends. 

Casa de Mouraz produce wine across Portugal, but their Tinto from their Dao vineyards is a real standout. A seven-grape blend, partially aged in used French oak, has elegant bramble fruit with subtle earthy spice. It’s a really versatile wine that shows that there’s more to Portuguese reds that the sweet fortified port wines of the Douro Valley.