Summer sun, golf and beaches galore might spring to mind as soon as Portugal gets a mention. But the landscape is actually far more varied than you'd imagine, with the northern mountains, cork forests, wetlands and coast all creating fascinating backdrops for making a huge variety of wine styles. As far as vino is concerned, Portugal is still Europe's best kept secret with wines of immense character, diversity and value for money. How come?
Part of the reason is the wealth of local grape varieties - hundreds of them, all of which offer a unique flavour, texture and scent to a wine, whether it's made from a single grape variety or blended from a number of different ones. But there also headline grabbers. Along with Mateus Rosé, Port is probably Portugal's most famous example of a wine adored the breadth of Britain. But there are some splendid ways to branch out from pairing a glass of Late Bottled Vintage with Stilton cheese to trying a Tawny Port (such as Wiese & Krohn on the a Hotel du Vin's wine list) served chilled with salted almonds, or how about good value Ruby Port with a square of dark chocolate? And the next time you're making a G&T, try using white port instead of gin - it's summery, sublime and scrumptious. Colares is also worth looking out for - their stunning unique and very dry white wine tastes similar to a Manzanilla from across the border in Spain which manages to be both savoury and seaside fresh at the same time. Incredible with a bowl of green olives instead of a dry Martini. With ancient vines snaking so close to the beach you could pretty much surf into the vineyard, it's amazing how the character of the ocean is locked into each bottle like a precious keepsake. The Douro, where Port comes from also produces the most incredible range of non-fortified whites and reds from grapes such as zippy white Viosinho or scented and red Touriga Nacional - have a crack at the red from Quinta do Crasto on the Hotel du Vin's wine list, a great price for a top drop. Up the coast, the white wines of Vinho Verde are electrifyingly fresh and I'd also point to the little known Siria grape grown in Beira Interior or the splendid white Arinto of Bucelas down near Lisbon for further examples of white wines with piercing precision. Encruzado is another white grape you can find both oaked and unoaked - the richer oakier styles are splendid paired, for example, with creamy fish dishes.
As for reds, you're spoilt for choice but I'd say that Dão is the most exciting potential for creating seamless savoury and age-worthy red wines that compete with the biggest names on the planet. Julia Kemper is a name worth looking out for when you're next out shopping for top red treat. Blending grapes together to create a unique red wine is a massive skill in Portugal and with such character in the different grape varieties themselves, it's a bit of a playground for winemakers and also makes pairing them with food an absolute delight. But alongside those outstanding reds and whites, you can also find fizz, the famous fortified port wines and even beautifully sweet Moscatel - Moscatel de Setúbal, for example, is a sticky sweet wine so divine it tastes like the pudding of the gods and will make you grin for a day. With so many styles on offer, next time you pop into the Hotel du Vin, why not take your tastebuds on holiday and dive into a dose of Portuguese splendour!
I'll be hosting a wine dinner at Hotel du Vin Brighton on 8 June talking all about the Hidden Gems of Portugal, so come along and see for yourself! For more details click here.