– a tradition rooted in the soil
On the Silver Coast of Portugal you are never far from someone involved in wine making. In every family there will be at least one person who either makes their own wine or knows someone who does. Wine making here is entrenched in the culture – fertile soils and the Atlantic climate combine to make it a region of distinctive wines that have been produced in one form or another for well over a thousand years.
At the domestic level wine making is a great thing to see. The grapes are brought in from the fields and every member of the family gathers to help with the crushing of the grapes. The wine making production goes on all night, aided with the drinking of coffee and the last of the wine from the year before, and by morning the juice is in the tanks and the yard is littered with grape skins and vines. And the Portuguese people are very generous with their wine. If you live here you will be offered bottles of home-made wine and when you express your appreciation of the wine you will be given more.
On the Silver Coast wine making is also a very serious business, and there are parts of this region which have earned world-wide fame for the wine they produce. It used to be called Estremadura wine, but has been incorporated into the Lisbon (Lisboa) wine region, now one of the biggest wine regions in the country. Wines from here were sold in bulk for many years, with the exception of the famous Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares regions which produced wine that gained national and international recognition.
Colares (known as sand wine for the soil in which the vines grow) is grown near Lisbon and is becoming increasingly rare as the city expands and eats up the vineyards. The grape variety, the soil and the unique climate of Colares make this a very special wine which is still made from vines grown ungrafted in sandy soils near the sea.
Although rooted in centuries of tradition, wine making in the Silver Coast region has undergone a revolution in recent years thanks to large scale investment in the modernisation of techniques and processes. The goal has been to improve the quality and style of the region’s wine making while retaining its traditional characteristics.
The wines from here are distinctive – the whites are aromatic, fruity and very fresh. Some are slightly acidic with citrus undertones due to the influence of the Atlantic climate on the ripening of the grapes. The reds are light, smooth and lively coloured, astringent when young but increasingly smooth and velvety as they age.
Sadly production of the famous Carcavelos, a favourite of Wellington’s troops, is now almost extinct. The area has, however, turned its wine making skills to the production of a velvety, topaz coloured dessert wine which has the aroma of almonds.
Bucelas in the south of the Silver Coast region produces one of the most famous white wines in Portugal – another highly prized wine brought back to Britain from the Napoleonic Wars. This light, dry wine is produced from the Arinto grape and is characterised by its colour – shades of lime and lemon – and fruity aroma and flavour. It is a light and dry wine and becomes golden yellow in colour as it ages.
For red wine to be awarded the Bucelas label it must contain at least 80 per cent of the Ramisco grape. This is typically combined with other grape varieties such as João de Santarém or Molar. Bucelas red can be harsh and astringent when young and is best laid down to age, becoming softer with complex aromas as the years pass.
The Silver Coast is an important centre of wine making in Portugal, a country that is well known for producing some of the world’s finest, oldest, most unique and highest value-added wines. The country has a long history of success in international wine competitions and the Silver Coast has played a key role in this wine making success.