Probably when you think of the beautiful Portuguese capital, you would think of the wine country. But yes, Lisbon indeed has its own wine region and it’s the 3rd biggest wine region in size!
Originally known as the Extremadura, the Lisbon wine region encompasses a number of subregions, each with its different characteristics. Some of the best known are Alenquer and Arruda, which produce excellent red wines, Lourinhã, which is one of the few in Europe that produces wine spirits, Bucelas, that gives us the delicious white and sparkling wines from Lisbon, and Óbidos, that is known for having some of the best sparkling wines in the Iberian Peninsula.
The region produces a wide variety of wines due to the existence of both national and international grapes, as well as the diversity of soils and microclimates in the region.
A few years back, the region was known for producing wines in great quantity but little quality. And it’s true that the region is one of the most productive regions in the country, being the 2nd biggest producer in the country. However, the quality has increased a lot ever since they modernized the region and restructured the vineyards and now the region is known for its good price-quality ratio.
Even though it is yet not linked with the Portuguese wine country, Lisbon wines are a great choice if you want a good wine for a relatively cheap price. And if you are ever in the Portuguese capital, it’s great for wine tourism since the vineyards are pretty close to the city!
History of Lisbon Wine
The Lisbon wine region started off by being named ‘Extremadura’, an old name for the region of Lisbon, Leiria, and Setúbal in 1993. The region didn’t at the time encompass all the territory it has now. It slowly started to incorporate nearby DOCs, such as Óbidos, Alenquer, and Torres Vedras.
The category ‘Vinho Regional Estremadura’ incentivized the producers to study even more the different grape types and their potential in the region. This made this region have many noble national and international grape types, giving it great wines!
Having already incorporated all other DOCs, Colares, Bucelas, and Carcavelos were integrated and it changed its name to ‘Lisbon’, one of the reasons being the confusion with the Spanish region of Estremadura, which is also a wine region.
The region suffered a gradual growth, in part due to the idea that Lisbon produces wines in a huge quantity but little quality. However, nowadays, Lisbon has great wines, especially in terms of price/quality ratio! This was because the producers completely modernized the region and restructured the vineyards. New grapes were introduced that were chosen for their quality instead of yield and these made the region grow in quality while keeping its known great quantity production.
It soon became a big wine exporter as well, with a production of 1 million hectoliters (around 15.4% of the total Portuguese production), 70% of which are exported. There is only one region that produces more than Lisbon, which is the traditional Douro region, and Alentejo is usually tied with Lisbon.
Nowadays, most of the wines produced in Lisbon have the ‘Vinho Regional Lisboa’ seal, since the DOC laws for the region are very restrictive in the grapes used and the places planted. There are 185 registered producers, with 30 of these producing it, bottling and selling themselves and the others selling to the region’s cooperatives.
However, this only accounts for certified, regional (‘Vinho Regional’) or DOC wines. This means that there are many more producers of other non-certified wines in the region since in Lisbon only 30% of the produced wines have any of these seals.
Therefore, we can see that even though the region was little known and fairly recent, it soon became one of the largest producers and a region with very good wine with its particularities.
Lisbon Wine Region
The Lisbon wine region has approximately 18 thousand hectares, in which the IGP Lisboa (‘Indicação Geográfica Protegida’ or Protected Geographical Indication) and 9 DOCs are situated. These DOCs are:
- Bucelas: Created in 1911, this region only produces white wines, mainly from the Arinto grape. These wines were very sought after internationally, especially by the English nobility and monarchy. They have a balanced acidity, floral aromas and they do not lose their qualities as the years go by.
- Carcavelos: This region is known for its fortified wines, known for being dry, tawny colored, and having a nutty aroma and flavor.
- Colares: In the south region of Lisbon, this area is very close to the sea and its vineyards are placed in calcareous or sandy soils. The wines are usually made from the Ramisco grape.
- Encostas d’Aire: The last region to suffer the consequences of Lisbon’s modernization. But when it came, new grapes started to be planted, like Baga or Castelão, or Arinto, Malvasia or Fernão Pires when it comes to white wine. Many other grapes were already planted in the region, like Chardonnay or Touriga Nacional, and these kept being cultivated. However, the introduction of new grape types altered the wines and they now have better quality, with more color, body, and intensity.
- Lourinhã: It’s the only DOC in the country (and one of the 3 in all of Europe, together with Cognac and Armagnac) dedicated solely to the production of wine spirits. It has unique properties due to the distillation process that it goes through, a process that every ‘aguardente’ has to go through to be awarded the Lourinhã DOC seal.
- Alenquer: The region that produces some of the most prestigious DOC wines in the Lisbon region, either red or white. This is a region that is protected from the winds coming from the ocean, which helps a lot in the grape maturation process and in the production of highly concentrated wines.
- Torres Vedras
These last 4 regions, in the central region of Lisbon, were the ones that got most of the investments in the region, modernizing the vineyards and planting new grape types. Just like in the Encostas d’Aire DOC, the wines from these regions gained a lot from the introduction of the new grapes.
The Colares, Carcavelos, and Bucelas DOCs were very important wine producing places, but nowadays they practically only serve a historic purpose. This was because these regions are too close to the Lisbon proper and the need to urbanize these places made the regions’ vineyards practically disappear, unfortunately. For example, the Colares DOC usually produces less than 10.000 bottles per year.
The wines that are produced in this region but don’t comply with the DOC norms, will be awarded the IGP Lisboa seal, classified as Vinho Regional de Lisboa’ (Lisbon Regional Wine).
The region as a whole has different terrain types which, together with the different DOC laws, makes it obvious why there are different types of wines in Lisbon.
The closeness to the Atlantic Ocean creates humidity and makes it vulnerable to ocean winds, which gives the grapes unique characteristics. The region’s mountains serve as walls to keep these conditions inside the region, which creates the amazing Lisbon wines. Therefore, the climate here is usually temperate, with fresh summers and soft winters.
However, the vineyards on the interior are protected from the Atlantic winds and conditions by the mountains, making the climate a bit colder.
Grape Types in Lisbon
In the region of Lisbon, both national and international grapes are cultivated.
From the national ones, the two fundamental and traditional ones would be Arinto (as we’ve seen, used mainly in Bucelas) and Ramisco (characteristic of Colares). In red wines, the Trincadeira, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Baga, and Touriga Nacional are some of the main ones, and for white wines, Malvasia Fina, Alvarinho, Seara-Nova, Vital and Fernão Pires are the most well-known.
As for the international grape types, the most widely known and used would probably be the Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lisbon Wine Suggestions: Best Wine in Lisbon
If you want to try these amazing wines, here are some brand suggestions according to the Lisbon Wines Contest of 2019:
- Página (Romana Vini)
- Quinta do Convento de Nossa Senhora da Visitação
- Zavial Óbidos (Vidigal Wines)
- Aproximar (Adega Coop. de Dois Portos)
- Confidencial (Casa Santos Lima)
- 5ª Lagar Novo (Luís Elias Gonçalves de Carvalho)
- Capicua (Cerrado da Porta)
- Empatia Vital (Adega Coop. da Labrugeira)
- Quinta do Boição (Enoport – produção de Bebidas)
- Figurativa XO (Adega Coop. da Lourinhã)
- Quinta do Rol XO (Sociedade Agr. Quinta do Rol)
If you are traveling through the Portuguese capital and making the most of its wonderful architecture, historical sites, and culture, booking this wine tasting tour is a must. You will visit two historic Portuguese wineries where you will learn about their history and explore the amazing vineyards and the villages nearby. You will also get the chance to try the local wines as well as artisanal olive oil and bread. See a bit more of the real Portugal while staying in the big city!