Even the most clueless wine drinkers can generally fall back on ordering a house red with dinner. In Portugal, it’s not so simple.
The nation’s most iconic wine, port, is fortified with an unaged brandy. Then there’s vinho verde, or green wine, a lightly fizzy, lightly viridescent summer staple from northern Portugal. Add in the fortified wines moscatel and Madeira, sparkling wine, and rosé, and you’ve got your glass full before even considering the country’s vinho tinto and vinho branco, or red and white table wines.
That isn’t to say Portugal’s wine culture is inaccessible. Like everything Portuguese, the enotourism scene is easy and inviting, anchored by the terraced vineyards and quintas, or estates, of the country’s top-producing wine regions.
Grapes grow everywhere in Portugal: up in the hilly north, along the coast and interior border with Spain, down south in the beachy Algarve. There are over 250 native varieties total across 31 wine-producing regions. So, while most who wax on about their idyllic escapes to Portugal’s wine country are referencing the Douro Valley, dedicated connoisseurs and travelers can see more of the country than they might realize through rosé-colored glasses.
Here’s the best of Portugal’s wine routes, a handy guide whether you drink chardonnay like it’s a part-time job or you’re just as happy DDing if it means a trip to Europe.
Vineyards tumble down hillsides throughout the Douro Valley, their trim, tidy grapevines embroidering the earth on both sides of the Douro River. Viticultural traditions have existed here for millennia though the Alto Douro wine region wasn’t officially demarcated until 1756. Among the oldest in the world, it was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2001.
Port wine was a coveted export in the 18th century, much as it is now, but travelers are increasingly keen on sampling the region’s famous fortified wine from the source. Many are surprised to find solid table wines that are improving by the season, as well. Plan a side trip from Porto in spring or early summer for milder temperatures and thinner crowds than July or August. To participate in the harvest, come between late September and early October.
Getting there and around
From Porto, you can tour the Douro Valley by car, train, or cruise.
If you rent a car, start by driving a little over an hour to Vila Real, home of the 18th-century Casa de Mateus palace made famous by Mateus rosé labels. Continue on to Alijó and neighboring Favaios, then hit Pinhão and Provesende. The stretch from Pinhão to Peso da Régua on the N222 is a highlight of the drive with Régua itself often called the gateway to the Douro. Time permitting, squeeze in the wineries around São João da Pesqueira, Trevões, and Barcos.
Make a final stop in Mesão Frio on the way back to Porto. As you drive, keep an eye out for miradouros, or scenic lookouts, like the Miradouro de São Leonardo da Galafura outside Régua.
Trains are an even more picturesque, albeit less comfortable, option. Board the Linha do Douro, or Douro Line, from the Campanhã or beautifully tiled São Bento train station in Porto. Debark in Régua or continue on to Pocinho via Pinhão for unbeatable river views.
Cruises depart from Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, a city across the Dom Luís I Bridge from Porto filled with cellars where port is aged and tasting rooms where it’s enjoyed. Cruises can last a day, a week, or longer. More extensive itineraries generally include Douro staples and Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Coimbra, as well as outside trips to Madrid or Salamanca in Spain. Book with Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Emerald Waterways, or Riviera Travel.
Where to taste
Quinta do Bomfim: Run by the Symington family for five generations, this estate in Pinhão famously makes Dow’s ports, which get rave reviews much like the winery’s tastings. Take a self-guided tour before sampling some port or call ahead to arrange a picnic.
Quinta das Carvalhas: An expansive quinta opposite Pinhão on the left bank of the Douro River. Guided and self-guided tours of the estate’s vineyards, garden, and farmland are possible, as are birdwatching and hiking to the hilltop Casa Redonda. When you’re ready for vinho, enjoy a private tasting of table wines capped off with vintage ports, then hit the wine shop.
Quinta da Pacheca: A grand, pristine property perfect not only for day trips but also weddings and other special events. Tastings include red and white table wines, as well as the estate’s better-known ports. Guests can enjoy bicycles, cooking classes, wine lunches, and more.
Where to stay
The Yeatman Hotel: Relais & Chateaux property in Vila Nova de Gaia with a two-Michelin-star restaurant and massive cellar. Wine-themed artwork graces the walls, books on wine line the bookshelves, and the spa incorporates grape extracts in its treatments. Rooms are equipped with private terraces or balconies with views over Porto and the Douro.
Six Senses Douro Valley: A stately, 19th-century manor greets guests of this eco-friendly hotel just outside of Lamego, the first Six Senses property in Europe. Expect farm-to-fork dining, spa treatments with locally sourced ingredients, and yoga sessions, plus nightly wine tastings.
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo: An early wine hotel in the region, Quinta Nova is an excellent place to learn about farming and winemaking. The 100-acre estate is near several wineries, including Quinta do Crasto, but also houses vineyards of its own.
The Vinho Verde Route
Tourists rarely travel farther north than Porto, leaving some of the prettiest, ruggedest, most traditional pockets of Portugal to locals. In the northwest, the Minho region rewards those who do visit with the Vinho Verde Route, a winery trail that loops around a quieter slice of wine country and brushes up against Spain’s Galicia wine region above.
Portugal’s most iconic wine after port, vinho verde can be red, white, or rosé. Although some white vinho verdes do appear greenish, the moniker refers to the grapes being picked early, producing young, or green, wines. White vinho verde is the most popular, especially to help quell the heat on summer days. Reds are tannic and fruit-forward; rosés are light and fruity.
Getting there and around
Rent a car in Porto and drive to Braga, the historic capital of the Minho region and a good base for winery visits. Stop in Guimarães, called the birthplace of Portugal, on the way. From Braga, visit romantic Ponte de Lima 30 minutes north. In another half hour, you’ll hit the rolling hills of Valença do Minho, one of which is topped with a historic fort. Then, hug the Spanish border through the Monção and Melgaço region, renowned for its alvarinho grapes.
To close the loop, head south on the N101 from Monção to Ponte de Barca. Detour at the fabulous Peneda-Gerês National Park for a hike or nearby Vieira do Minho for a meal if you have time, then return to Braga. On your way back to Porto, hit up Penafiel for a final tour, tasting, and toast to your Vinho Verde Route road trip.
Where to taste
Quinta da Aveleda: Centuries-old estate in Penafiel and major name in vinho verde exports. Taste wines from Vinho Verde, Douro, and Bairrada with cheese and chocolate pairings; choose a more food-focused program with regional snacks like cod fritters and blood sausage; or stay for lunch and a stroll through the site’s parks and gardens.
Quinta de Soalheira: A family-run winery and pioneering Alvarinho brand in Melgaço. Tour the organic vineyard, sparkling wine cellar, and ageing rooms, followed by a tasting of fresh, acidic whites, rosés, and sparkling wines. Expect to be treated like family, too.
Quinta do Ameal: Specializing in white wine made from Loureiro grapes, this 30-hectare estate in Ponte de Lima dedicates 12 hectares to vineyards. It doubles as a hotel where guests can kayak down the Lima River or cycle through the countryside in their free time.
Where to stay
Hotel Minho: Pair wine and wellness at Hotel Minho in Vila Nova de Cerveira, where you can unwind after a full day of drinking with spa treatments like a barrel bath, honey massage, and de-stressing grape-seed treatment that celebrate the local bounty.
Carmo’s Boutique Hotel: An intimate retreat in Ponte de Lima, Carmo’s has just 15 suites and three luxury tents, plus a long list of organized activities centered on food, wine, and nature.
Meliá Braga: Sleek, modern, and central, Meliá Braga offers great value at a reasonable rate if you plan on making Braga home base. Count on clean, spacious rooms and a long spa menu.
Foodies sniffed out the Alentejo region years ago, discovering a cuisine that can be sopped up with fresh bread: silky olive oils and gooey cheeses, soups, stews, and delicacies like carne de porco à Alentejana, a juicy dish made with pork and clams. Locals wash it all down with wine, which outsiders are quickly learning to appreciate as more than just a mealtime complement.
The Alentejo region covers about a third of Portugal, starting northeast of Lisbon and running south until it meets the Algarve. Its capital, Évora, is a tourist hub and World Heritage site since 1986 that UNESCO calls a “museum city.” Much of the rest is countryside where indigenous grapes like Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional grow alongside non-native varieties like Syrah. Fans of full-bodied reds will adore the Alentejo’s wineries. Visit even if you prefer whites, which around here are mostly made from the Antão Vaz grape.
Getting there and around
Again, we recommend renting a car, only this time in Lisbon. Drive an hour and a half east to Évora to see the Roman temple, Gothic cathedral, and bone chapel. From there, head northeast to Redondo and Borbo, then swing by Estremoz, a marble town decked out in the material that made it famous with a few good lunch spots. Drive another 45 minutes to Portalegre, a subregion with a cooler climate centered on a sweet little town of the same name.
Southeast of Évora, Reguengos de Monsaraz deserves a lengthy visit. Outside of its wineries, there are dolmens and other megalithic relics nearby, as well as pottery hub São Pedro do Corval and the hilltop village of Monsaraz. From there, continue on to Granja-Amareleja, Moura, and Vidigueira. It’s only 45 minutes from Vidigueira back to Évora or two hours to Lisbon.
Where to taste
Herdade do Freixo: An underground winery in Redondo, literally built beneath the vines, with a minimalist yet expansive feel. You’ll appreciate the spiral core, reminiscent of the winding walkway in NYC’s Guggenheim, and the winery’s focus on nurturing its grapes without sullying the 300-hectare landscape. Book your tour and tasting in advance.
Herdade do Esporão: A blocky, stark white estate poking out from swaths of vineyard near Reguengos de Monsaraz like a lego house. Founded in 1267, the winery grows more than 40 grape varieties over 700 hectares and makes olive oil, as well. Visit the cellar and onsite museum, book a barrel or blind tasting, or follow a heritage walk with lunch at the seasonally focused restaurant.
Quinta de Dona Maria: Tastings at this estate near Estremoz range from a basic rosé, red, and white sampler to special reserves and a nine-wine tasting. Regional cheese pairings are included. Visit the site’s 18th-century chapel and gardens before you go.
Where to stay
Convento do Espinheiro: Nineteenth-century convent turned luxury hotel and spa outside Évora’s city center. Your choice of 90 rooms and suites split between the historic convent and a new addition. Enjoy an award-winning spa, tennis court, and nearly 20 acres of gardens. The restaurant, Divinus, serves upscale local fare like black pork tenderloin and octopus carpaccio.
L’AND Vineyards: Retractable roofs in the rooms of this 26-suite hotel in Montemor-o-Novo promise optimal views at all times. Indulge in regional and Mediterranean flavors at the two-Michelin-star restaurant or focus on wellness with yoga, meditation, massages, or a detox.
Torre de Palma Wine Hotel: Boutique hotel housed in a restored 14th-century structure in Monforte at the doorstep of Serra de São Mamede Natural Park. When they aren’t sipping wine from the hotel’s vineyard, guests can enjoy the spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and stables.