When the Romans reached the southwestern point of the Algarve, they thought it was the end of the world, where the waters of the ocean boiled at sunset. Yet despite the impending sense of doom (or perhaps because of it), they planted vines in the region, finding the temperate climate and fertile terroir a nirvana for wine-growing.
Fast forward to present times and it isn’t just the grapes that relish soaking up the rays, as beach lovers, walkers, cyclists, golfers and water sports enthusiasts all bask in their share of a reputed annual 300 days of sunshine. At first, the coastal vineyards lost out to the consequent package holiday boom of lucrative hotels and seaside resorts developed from the 1960s onwards. But in a land deeply rooted in winegrowing traditions, artisanal viticulture is re-emerging in a flourishing revival of indigenous red and white grape varieties, especially the revered Negra Mole (meaning ‘black soft’).
‘In a land deeply rooted in wine-growing traditions, artisanal viticulture is re-emerging’
As enterprising estate owners become increasingly recognised for award-winning results, a new set of adventurous wine tourism thrill-seekers is fast being drawn to Portugal’s south. This final frontier of western Europe still has so many grapes yet to be tasted and explored, along with the region’s rich gastronomy, culture and dramatic landscapes.
Many vineyards are concentrated inland in what is known as the barrocal, bookended between the Atlantic and the rugged uplands with soils of sand, limestone, clay, shale and alluvium. Producers are working hard to safeguard the distinctive properties of the Algarve’s wines, particularly in the region’s four DOCs (or DOPs, west to east): Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira.
Warm, velvety reds include Negra Mole, Castelão and Trincadeira, while top DO white wines such as Arinto, Malvasia Fina and Crato Branco (Síria) taste delicate and smooth. A significant number of Algarve Vinho Regional wines also allow producers even more versatility, with sparkling and late-harvest wines recently released.
Although harvest can start as soon as late July, early September is a good time to catch it. At family-run Quinta dos Vales in Lagoa, the enterprising Winemaker Experience package includes the opportunity to rent or even own a vineyard along with the facilities to make your own wine at this colourful, art-loving estate decorated with voluptuous sculptures amid rolling vines, stylish villas, tennis courts and pools (private and shared).
For a slightly less ambitious start to a career in winemaking, the three-hour bottle blending workshop allows you to handpick grapes before sitting down with experts to glean tips on tasting and combine different proportions of native and international varieties. You can create your own blend (I chose 40% Touriga Nacional, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Aragonês), before hand-corking and labelling bottles, mine since set aside for an impending special birthday…
A private bash at Morgado do Quintão would be idyllic, and tours, tastings, lunches, weddings and authentic farm stays in vineyard cottages are popular here. To spend time sitting in the shade of a 2,000-year-old olive tree overlooking Negra Mole, Crato Branco and Castelão vines at a farmer’s table of Algarvian delicacies paired with excellent estate wines is truly memorable.
First founded in 1810 by the Count of Silves and located in a wine-rich region sandwiched between the Monchique mountains and Lagoa, this historic winery is still owned by the fourth generation of the original family. Their passion for preserving the inherited indigenous grapes is undiminished, championing centuries-old styles such as palhete and clarete – both light, pale-hued reds, the former made by mixing with up to 15% white grapes. Yet a modern vision to return to organic production has resulted in prize-winning wines which, since first being produced in 2016, have already won annual awards from Revista de Vinhos magazine for ‘Best Wine in Portugal: Algarve’ in 2019 and 2020.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the wines at Quinta do Barranco Longo have reached the top division, as owner Rui Virgínia’s two footballing sons have both had stints in the English Premier League! Located in rural Algoz, the winery’s use of modern technologies combined with innovative winemaking methods have resulted in fine wines from blends of native and international grape varieties, such as the vibrant Grande Escolha (Arinto, Chardonnay, Encruzado) or refreshing Aragonês Touriga Nacional rosé. This year, a new tasting room will open with a rooftop restaurant, which promises to be an incredible place to drink in both spectacular wines and scenery.
Ancient and modern
You can lap up grape views while taking a dip in the infinity pool during a tasting tour at Quinta da Tôr, now owned by Mário Santos, local-ladmade-winemaker, who as a boy used to go swimming in the nearby river. The historic Roman bridge that leads to Tôr village, just north of Loulé, adorns the labels of the estate wines, which are known for their unusually high alcohol content, such as the robust 17% Syrah.
Surrounded by cork, carob, olive and pine trees, Herdade Barranco do Vale offers stunning panoramas of the Caldeirão mountains when you take a tour of the estate on foot or by tractor. Owner Ana Chaves still tends the Negra Mole vines that were first planted here by her grandfather in the 1960s, as well as 20-year-old Aragonês and Castelão vines, but the latest family generation has now also introduced first-class white grape varieties such as Antão Vaz, Arinto and Alvarinho.
While the fine wines in northern Portugal have long been internationally revered, the Algarve wine-producing region is only now coming of age. It’s an exciting time for discerning wine lovers who will undoubtedly relish heading to the ‘ends of the earth’ for the dawning of a new wine era – and perhaps stock up on some bargain bottles in the process.
My perfect day in the Algarve
An al fresco breakfast of a still-warm pastel de nata with a freshly squeezed orange juice and hot, strong coffee is, in my books, obligatory in the Algarve. The spectacular, golden cliff coastline is best appreciated from the sea, so set sail from Albufeira marina with AlgarExperience on a thrilling two-hour speedboat tour, with fun commentary on the bays, caves, dolphins, lighthouses and celebrity homes.
Lunch & Afternoon
Keep the adrenalin going with an Extremo Ambiente Jeep Safari to the breathtaking Monchique mountains – you can be picked up from Albufeira, and opt to stop off for an atmospheric lunch and wine tasting near historic Silves, at fascinating family cellar Vila Sodré. It’s a treasure trove of fortified and still wines dating back as early as 1890. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic sommelier Andre will pour glass after glass of Portuguese wines, from a local Al-Mudd Negra Mole rosé 2020 to a Messias 1966 vintage Port from the Douro, at tables laden with Algarvian cheeses, homemade bread, sausages, olives, sardine pâté, carob cake and almond tart. On the steep, winding uphill climb, fortify yourself with the local brandy Medronho and Melosa liqueur, made from honey and wine, at a mountain village cave before enjoying one of the most stunning panoramic views at sunset.
For a memorable menu paired with the best vintages, Restaurante Veneza is in Paderne, an 11km drive inland from Albufeira. You’ll be surrounded by 2,000 different fine wines, on sale by the glass or to take away by the bottle. Each delicious wine and dish is described and served by knowledgeable staff in this friendly, family-run establishment which started out as grandfather Manel’s grocery store. If you don’t want to drive, dinner here can also be added to the action and winepacked Extremo Ambiente Jeep Safari.
Your Algarve address book
The first five-star boutique property in the Algarve capital with a rooftop infinity pool, cocktail bar and gourmet restaurant with panoramic views. Only 15 minutes by taxi from Faro airport, there are stylish rooms and a modern spa.
A contemporary five-star hotel in Albufeira with spacious rooms and a spa as well as direct beach access and three outdoor pools in its tropical gardens. Breakfast can be enjoyed on the terrace, with pancakes and other treats made freshly for you.
This five-star resort on the coast in Porches offers private tastings in the exclusive wine cellar or dinner in 10 different restaurants, including Michelin two-star Ocean. Many of the rooms, apartments and villas have sea views; others look out over the lush gardens with fountains, pools and resident swans.
Head to coastal Carvoeiro for delicious seafood. This is one of the oldest and best restaurants in the area. The original water well has been converted into a wine cellar.
Don’t miss another signature Algarve dish, piri-piri chicken. This friendly, family-owned restaurant in Guia, Albufeira, has been serving it since 1964.
Doubles as a restaurant and cooking school in Faro. Learn to cook a traditional seafood stew in the iconic, clam-shaped cataplana, enjoying the fruits of your labour afterwards on the sunny terrace.
Shopping & Leisure
The winery museum near Aljezur is housed in an early 20th-century winery. Visitors can discover the history of wine production through antique tools of the trade.
Head to this vibrant market in Olhão with your friendly Portugal4U guide before catching a water taxi to Culatra island in the Ria Formosa lagoon, where you learn about oyster harvesting. Wine tours are also available.
Trail Hike the seven-mile track from Praia da Marinha to Praia do Vale de Centeanes in Carvoeiro above some of the world’s best beaches with cliff-edge viewpoints. For longer routes, walkers and cyclists should follow the Coastal Ecovia (along the whole southern Algarve coast) or the inland Via Algarviana, as many lead to wineries.
How to get to the Algarve
Low-cost airlines from regional UK airports fly to Faro’s international airport. Rent a car on arrival for the approximate hour-long drive to the heart of the Algarve wine region. For more information go to visitalgarve.pt