Lisboa might have been off your radar, since output from its three historic, quality-focused DOC sub-regions (Bucelas, Carcavelos, Colares) is minuscule. What’s more, for most of the last century, the region was predominantly an engine room for the supply of bulk wine to the colonies and cheap drinking for Lisbon’s traditional tabernas.
However, led by boutique estates and artisanal winemakers, a quality revolution is identifying, or resuscitating, top terroir, wine styles and grape varieties. With more than 100 different permitted varieties for Vinho Regional wines, it is work in progress.
Just as the waterfront and Lisbon’s hills help differentiate its neighbourhoods, so Lisboa’s windswept coastline (a surfing mecca) informs this long, skinny, Atlantic-facing region’s terroir. In Colares – a narrow strip of land bookended by the Atlantic and Serra de Sintra – mountains trap cool, humid, salt-sluiced fogs, producing high-acid, high-tannin, saline wines.
Due south and also near the ocean, Carcavelos DOC’s elegant fortified wines have tell-tale salinity. Breathing fresh life into this old classic, the success of new brand Villa Oeiras (which has planted more of the unique local grapes Galego Dourado and Ratinho) has encouraged winemaker Claro to rent a vineyard there. The Carcavelos Wine Shop sells the wines, and offers tastings and visits to the vineyard, winery and Marquês de Pombal’s aesthetic 18th-century cellar by appointment.
Surveying the wider region from Serra de Montejunto, its highest point, the wind turbine-studded landscape and the beautifully restored windmill, Moinho de Avis attest to the Atlantic’s reach further inland. Windmill owner Miguel Nobre explains that the wind-whipped, western (Atlantic) side has completely different growing conditions to the sheltered, warmer eastern side. On the western face of the mountain itself, Marta Soares of Casal Figueira has won fresh respect for her old vine Vital; grown on limestone-streaked soils, it produces a limpid, mineral white.
Finely balanced mineral whites from local grapes Fernão Pires and Arinto are also a strength for new-wave producers Vale da Capucha (certified organic) and Quinta da Boa Esperança, in westerly DOC Torres Vedras. Commodity broker Artur Gama gave up the day job to follow his passion for wine, but has yet to persuade his teenage daughter to quit city living, so you can rent his stylishly renovated house and experience vineyard living first hand.
Fans of military history may know Torres Vedras. The Duke of Wellington helped devise the ‘Lines of Torres Vedras’, which repelled Napoleon during the Peninsula War. While there, he developed a penchant for ‘Lisbon hock’, a fresh, citrus-fuelled Arinto from Bucelas DOC. It is enjoying a revival of interest from outsiders – including Sogrape (Portugal’s biggest producer), which bought the region’s largest vineyard (Quinta da Romeira) – and it features in the ranges of winemakers Nuno Mira do Ó and Jorge Rosa Santos.
Discover why Arinto works so well in the Trancão Valley (as well as Bucelas’ connection with Shakespeare) at Quinta da Murta. Visits are possible by appointment.
Murta’s winemaker, Hugo Mendes, makes a delicious Fernão Pires and Arinto blend in Alenquer DOC under his own name. However, tucked neatly in Montejunto’s rainshadow, Alenquer is best known for reds. Pioneers Paulo and Alice Tavares of Quinta de Chocapalha and Quinta do Monte d’Oiro’s José Bento dos Santos lead the field (the Tavares’ daughter Sandra is a renowned Douro winemaker, while Grégory Viennois, former chief winemaker of Maison M Chapoutier, consults for Bento dos Santos). Both host private visits by appointment.
Whether it’s a two-hour session or a day with lunch, one of the family always receives guests at Chocapalha. While Chocapalha focuses on Portuguese grapes (flagship CH Touriga Nacional and new Guarita, made from Alicante Bouschet, impress), Monte d’Oiro’s calling cards are Syrah and Viognier (Portugal’s best, from organic vines). A winemaker hosts a range of visits at Monte d’Oiro and can arrange for you to enjoy estate-bought wines corkage-free at popular local restaurants Páteo Velho and Casta 85.
In Obidos DOC, you can visit leading natural winemaker Rodrigo Filipe’s bucolic estate, Humus Organic Wines, by appointment. However, most of Lisboa’s artisanal producers lack the time and resource for oenotourism. Fortunately, Lisbon’s wine stores, top sommeliers and new-wave wine bars are keen to showcase them.
In early July, Portugal’s pioneering artisanal wine supplier, Os Goliardos, co-hosts Vinho ao Vivo wine fair in the city with restaurant A Margem. Names to look for include two organic producers from DOC Encostas de Aire. Quinta da Serradinha makes the best Baga and Encruzado I have found outside Bairrada and Dão. Quinta do Montalto was pivotal in the recognition of DOC Medieval de Ourém Encostas d’Aire – a unique blend of Fernão Pires (80%) and red grape Trincadeira (20%) – made using 12th-century methods inherited from Cistercian monks.
Surfing a wave, Lisboa and Lisbon’s eclectic, unfolding wine scene has much to excite.
Henrique Sá Pessoa offers a witty take on traditional flavours at this two-star Michelin experience.
The two-star Michelin flagship of José Avillez’s empire. Exquisite dishes. Wine choices embrace both Portuguese classics and quirky gems.
Vincent Farges’ Michelin-starred eatery completes Chiado’s golden triangle of modern Portuguese cuisine. Best Sommelier of Portugal 2018, Ivo Peralata, curates an impeccable wine list.
A cosy natural and minimal intervention wine bar with open kitchen, serving organic five-course tasting menu.
This airy converted fish warehouse, a calm oasis off Baixa’s main drag, offers António Galapito’s seasonal small plates and hip organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
Areias do Seixo
Eco-friendly, indulgent 14-room boho-chic spa hotel by the coast, an hour’s drive north of Lisbon. Pared-back beachfront sister-hotel Noah Surf House for sportier types.
Casa da Nora
Pretty hotel and restaurant in a converted water mill in northern Lisboa, near famous pilgrimage site Fátima. Rustic charm encapsulated.
The Vintage Hotel & Spa
Stylish art deco hotel in a quiet location off Lisbon’s chic shopping streets. Big on comfort and hospitality; nice touches include a complimentary G&T trolley.
Sarah Ahmed is an awarded wine writer specialising in Portugal and Australia, publishing her own site at thewinedetective.co.uk. This guide appeared in full in the September 2019 issue of Decanter.