4.0 Climate/Soil/Wine Regions

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Climate

Climate is at the forefront of every media,  including newspapers, and is the most pressing concern. Its importance cannot be stressed enough. As climate has a major impact not only on a global scale that affects our lives, certainly we must understand how climate effects the grapes which in turn contribute to the quality of the wine.

An explanation of climate:

Climate is not weather but includes weather and refers to the overall conditions of a specified area over a long period of time. It refers to conditions for at least one year and typically refers to conditions for a period of 30 years. Climate is more than just temperature and includes average rainfall, average amount of sun, humidity and any natural conditions for a specified area.

Climates can be classified in many different ways but, as far as growing wine grapes goes, there are three main climates that concern us:

*While there are many other classifications for climate and different sources divide the worlds climate into different categories, climates such as boreal climate, arid climate and polar climate are not ideal for grape vines.

Mediterranean Climates

Regions with a Mediterranean climate enjoy long growing seasons with mild winters and mild summers. Usually, in this kind of climate, there is little change throughout the seasons. One of the biggest challenges facing grape-growers in these climates is drought. For this reason, irrigation is common in regions with this kind of climate.

Continental Climates

In a Continental climate, there is usually a dramatic shift in temperature in the year. Regions with this kind of climate often have hot, dry summers and very cold winters. The challenges facing grape-growers, in this kind of climate, change throughout the year. However, cold winters, early frost, hail and drought are all major obstacles in regions with a Continental climate.

Portuguese climate

  • Mediterranean climate
  • Southern Portugal is warmer
  • Portugal’s far south is called the Algarve. It is a dry region with small arable fields, grazing land, fishing and coastal cities
  • The ocean regulates coastal temperatures, but the Alentejo’s interior can be quite hot, with temperatures in the summer months often above 40 °C
  • Most of Portugal’s rainfall occurs in winter due to its Mediterranean climate, with the north receiving much more rain than the south
  • There are winter snows in the Serra da Estrêla (includes the highest peak of Portugal at 1,986 metres) and the Serra do Gerês near the northern Spanish border
  • The north’s mountainous regions are much colder than the south

Maritime Climates

Regions located near large bodies of water usually have a Maritime climate. Characteristic of this kind of climate is the way in which these large bodies of water (oceans, lakes, estuaries) tend to moderate temperatures. Maritime climates experience dry summers and mild winters, with a much lower annual temperature range.

This is because water has a much higher capacity for thermal energy than soil and rock. Seawater takes a long time to warm up in summer, but once warmed, it maintains the strength even after the surrounding land has cooled down, helping to balance the atmosphere.

For this reason, these regions don’t usually experience extreme heat or extreme cold. A major challenge for grape-growers in these regions is excessive moisture which can lead to mold and mildew.

Soil

An explanation of soil types

Sandy Soil

This kind of soil retains heat but not water. For this reason, sandy soils are great for areas that experience a lot of rainfall. Grapevines that like warm soil thrive in sandy soils. This type of soil tends to produce aromatic wines.

Clay Soil

This soil retains water but tends to stay cool and not retain heat. In drought conditions, this kind of soil can be ideal. Grapevines that like to cool down at night can benefit from this kind of soil. These soils are known for producing bold, flavorful wines.

Loam Soil

A mixture of sand, silt and clay. These soils tend to moderate the conditions of an area and are, therefore, ideal for a variety of vine-growing climates. This soil retains some heat and drains well but retains a moderate amount water.

Volcanic Soil

This kind of soil tends to reflect heat and drains well but holds some water. Volcanic soil is rich in many minerals. These soils are not always ideal for grapevines but, with the right grapes and ideal conditions, these soils can produce excellent wine.

Limestone Soil

Soil rich in limestone is known for producing stunning wines. This tends to drain well in wet conditions and hold water in droughts. This kind of soil reflects sunlight and, therefore, does not become too hot. The high pH levels in the soil aid photosynthesis and are ideal for some grape varieties. This soil tends to result in wines with high acid levels.

Silt/Loess Soil

Good water retention is a characteristic of this soil so it is ideal in really dry conditions. For a region with a lot of rainfall, this can mean too much water-retention which can lead to disease. Often silt soil can be too fertile to make good wine.

Slate Soil

Known for both reflecting and retaining heat, this well-draining soil is excellent for ripening grapes in regions with a short growing season. This soil is also less susceptible to weather damage and erosion, meaning it can remain ideal for growing vines for a very long time with little interference from humans.

Gravel Soil

Soil with high-gravel content, drains extremely well and reflects and retains heat. This tends to make it an ideal soil for regions with lots of rainfall and cooler conditions. The heat-reflecting and heat-retaining properties of this soil can result in wines with a higher alcohol content.

  • Portugal’s soil systems are usually sandy, arid, and acidic, generally reflecting the Iberian Peninsula soils
  • The north’s soil can be rugged. Because of ample rainfall, Northern Portugal is better suited for farming than the south, but with adequate irrigation, the south could accommodate more intensive farming
  • Approximately one-fourth of Portugal is covered by forests (mainly pine and oak); approximately one-third of the country’s area is covered by trees
  • In the central region, the vegetation is more varied, including citrus trees and cork oak
  • In the moist, dry south, there are many areas of abundant cork oak

Regions

  • Portugal includes a total of 14 wine regions (Portugal mainland, Azores and Madeira archipelagos)
  • In the north, the Douro Demarcated Region, with approximately 1.5 Mhl of total wine production and 45,000 ha of vineyards, is the oldest and one of the country’s most significant wine regions
  • The Duoro is responsible for one fourth of all wines produced in Portugal
  • The Minho wine region produces mostly white wines in the northwest, Portugal’s most maritime sector, characterised by its freshness and higher acidity
  • In the south, the Alentejo wine region has experienced remarkable growth rates over the past decades, with typical Mediterranean climates, and it is currently the leading non-fortified wine production region
  • From the Beira-Atlântico region’s sparkling wines to the fortified Madeira wines, plenty of other regions in Portugal have distinctive wines from their specific terroirs

Vinho Verde:

  • Vinho Verde is Portugal’s largest DOC, in the cool, rainy, green northwest
  • The vines grow in fertile, granite soils alongside the rivers that flow from the eastern mountains to the ocean
  • Cool, wet weather often makes maturation more challenging
  • However, the climatic issues have long been intensified by training the vines along the pergolas on the boundaries of the fields, and even up the trees to make room and free the middle of the fields for other crops
  • Vinho Verde is distinguished by its high acidity
  • Flavour depends on the grape varieties used, for example:
  • Loureiro: Floral notes
  • Trajadura: Metallic notes, such as steel
  • Arinto: Mineral notes
  • Avesso: Creamy and mineral notes
  • Alvarinho: Herbal notes
  • Most white wines of Vinho Verde are regarded as light, crisp and aromatic, often with a light pinch of fizz, and a hint of sweetness.
  • Alvarinho has a great presence around the towns of Melgaço and Monção in the north, along the Minho River
  • The mix of grapes and climate makes wines: richer, fuller, complex and dry – as the atmosphere here is hotter and drier with its maritime climate, and it is partly blocked by the mountains
  • The DOC Vinho Verde has also permitted fully sparkling wines since 1999
  • There are also many red varietals in Vinho Verde

For example:

Vinḥo РDark, high in acidity, low in alcohol, made principally from the late-ripening, red-fleshed Vinḥo grape

  • 9 sub-regions named after rivers or towns: Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa and Paiva

Trás-os-Montes

  • In the North East of Portugal, Trás-os-Montes is cut off from the ocean by mountain ranges
  • Trás-os-Montes has poor, non-productive granite soils and some shale
  • The intense continental climate gives long, hot summers followed by long winters that make the grapes susceptible to frost
  • Divided into 3 sub-zones: Chaves, Valpaços and Planalto Mirandês
  • Chaves and Valpaços are in the centre of the region
  • Planalto Mirandês borders Spain in the southeast and is located on the plateau of the Serra do Mogadouro
  • Wines are most definitely a product of high altitude and harsh climates
  • Red varieties include:
  • Bastardo
  • Marufo
  • Tinta Roriz
  • Touriga Franca
  • Touriga Nacional
  • Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela)
  • White varieties include:
  • Côdega do Larinho
  • Fernão Pires
  • Gouveio
  • Malvasia Fina
  • Rabigato
  • Síria (Côdega)
  • Viosinho

Porto & Duoro

  • Long known as the source of port wine, the Douro is now also famous for its rich red and white unfortified wines
  • One of the most mountainous wine regions in Portugal, with extreme and rough terrain
  • The River Douro traverses throughout this region
  • Vines are rooted in schist soil situated on steep slopes along the riverbanks and its tributaries
  • The wine region assumes the course of the river:
  • From the Spanish border until the town of Mesão Frio (90 km downriver from the town of Porto (Oporto)).
  • The Serra do Marão protects the region from Atlantic Ocean influences
  • Rain fall:
  • Mainly on the western side of the Marão range
  • Western end of the Douro wine region
  • Conditions near the Spanish border up the river are desert-like
  • The Douro region divides into 3 sub-regions from west to east:
  • Baixo Corgo
  • Cima Corgo
  • Douro Superior
  • Baixo Corgo
  • Nearest the Serra do Marão
  • Dub-region with the most vineyards
  • Fertile soils, cooler climate, rainier
  • Cima Corgo
  • Includes the towns of Pinhão, São João da Pesqueira and Tua
  • Heart of fine Port production
  • Also, source of many well-respected unfortified wines
  • Douro Superior
  • Very cold winters
  • Extremely hot summers
  • The biggest sub-region, but even so, does not have as many grapes planted in comparison to some other regions
  • The Douro has a wide selection of local varietals with many vineyards containing old vines that produce small but rich, complex yields, for Port and unfortified wines
  • Many different grape varieties are grown together in these vineyards
  • However, nowadays, some modern vineyards are starting to plant varieties separately
  • 5 varieties have been declared the top choice for Port:

Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.

  • Highly acidic Sousão (Vinhão) has started to be planted more and more in this region
  • Tinta Amarela (Trincadeira) can also be found
  • White varieties: Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Rabigato and Viosinho

Távora-Varosa

  • Small, isolated, mountainous
  • North of the VR Beiras bordering the Douro in the north, and the Dão in the south
  • Continental climate
  • Vines are cultivated on granite and schist soils at 500 to 800 metres above sea level
  • Grapes retain good acidity at this altitude, and are ideal for sparkling wines
  • In 1989 , it was the first demarcated region for sparkling wines in Portugal
  • Malvasia Fina is cultivated around half of the older vineyards
  • White varieties: Bical, Cerceal, Fernão Pires and Gouveio
  • Red varieties: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional
  • Significant plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
  • Top Portuguese varieties, such as Touriga Franca, are starting to be cultivated more in this region although climatic conditions don’t allow for full ripening

Bairrada

  • In the western portion of Beiras
  • Situated between the mountainous region of Dão and the Atlantic Bairrada
  • Moderate coastal climate with ample rain
  • While much of the Bairrada area is hilly, many of the vineyards are on flatter terrain
  • Vineyards are also split into small plots
  • Two major types of soil: clay-limestone and sandy soil, both influencing wine style
  • Very significant region for sparkling wines
  • The cool climate allows base wines (for sparkling wines) the high acidity needed
  • Sparkling Bairrada wines can: have the scent of Maria Gomes grapes (Fernão Pires) or be more metallic
  • The traditional local grape is Baga
  • A wide array of other grapes has been permitted in DOC Bairrada since 2003:
  • Local grapes such as Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro
  • Foreign grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot
  • White varieties: Maria Gomes, while Arinto, Bical, Cercial e Rabo de Ovelha can be made into steely, long-lived whites

Dão & Lafões

Dão

  • Surrounded by mountains from all corners
  • The Dão region is guarded from the direct effects of continental climate and ocean rains
  • Rising 200 metres above sea level, at its lowest points, to 1,000 metres in the Serra da Estrela
  • High altitude renders cooler evenings, slower ripening, solid acidity and aroma
  • The wines of Dão can usually age well. Vineyards are spread among pine forests at various altitudes
  • Granite and Schist soils
  • Red varieties: Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz (known as: Aragonez, Tempranillo), Jaen, Baga, Bastardo and Tinta Pinheira
  • The most significant variety is Encruzado
  • White varieties: Bical, Cercial, Malvasia Fina, Rabo de Ovelha and Verdelho

Lafões

  • Very small region in the northwest corner of the Dão region and the southern tip of the Vinho Verde region
  • Wines are much like those of Vinho Verde, highly acidic
  • White varieties: Arinto, Cerceal, Dona Branca, Esgana Cão and Rabo de Ovelha
  • Red varieties: Amaral and Jaen
  • Beria Interior
  • High uplands by the Spanish border include some of Portugal’s tallest mountains
  • Continental climate
  • Hot, dry summers
  • Cold, long winters
  • With summer and autumn heat, alcohol levels can soar before tannins are fully developed
  • It is easier to ripen in the southern sub-region of Cova da Beira, whose unique local white variety, Fonte Cal, produces rich, honeyed wines with great acidity
  • White varieties: Arinto, Malvasia Fina, Rabo de Ovelha and Síria
  • Red varieties: Bastardo, Marufo, Rufete, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional
  • Most vines are old, which can mean smaller yields and possibly a higher concentration of flavour

Lisboa

  • To the West and North of the city of Lisbon
  • Recently known as Estremadura
  • “Vinho regional” is predominant
  • Lisboa is a long region beside the Atlantic
  • Wind is undoubtedly a powerful factor along the coast – coastal vines are wind-stressed and are pressured to ripen their grapes
  • A bedrock of hills and mountain ranges protect eastern parts of the Lisboa region
  • Has 9 DOCs
  • In the DOC region of Alenquer, lies several of Lisbon’s top wineries
  • East of the Serrade Montejunto, which makes it warmer, less windy and wet
  • Grapes can ripen well and, in particular, red wines can be of the highest quality
  • DOC Arruda: also guarded by hills, south of Alenquer
  • Such two DOCs, together with DOC Torres Vedras, modified their vine limits in 2002 to allow new national and international varieties:
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Franca, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
  • DOC Bucelas is an exceptional white wine region
  • Between Arruda and the city of Lisbon
  • Sheltering hills to the west and Tagus to the east
  • DOC Óbidos is surrounded by hills, on level with the Peniche Peninsula
  • Windy and cool
  • Known for having some of the best conditions for sparkling wine grapes
  • The DOC of Lourinhã:
  • Cooler and windier still
  • Whose grapes ripen with difficulty
  • The largest DOC region is DOC Encostas de Aire
  • In the north, on the western slopes of the Candeiros and Aire mountains
  • Limestone country
  • Traditionally, wines from here are low in alcohol, high in acidity

DOC Colares and Carcavelos

  • Two once-famous wine regions by the coast, west of Lisbon
  • Not much wine is made from here nowadays
  • Carcavelos: tiny quantities of fortified wine
  • Colares: high-acid, tannic wines from red Ramisco grapes, planted in sand dunes, and gently aromatic whites based on Malvasia. For the Lisboa region as a whole:
  • Traditional white varieties: Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia, Seara-Nova and Vital
  • Red varieties: Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira

Tejo

  • Located in the heart of Portugal
  • Known as the land of vineyards, olive groves, cork forests, Mertolengo cattle, and the Lusitano horses
  • Of the oldest wine producing regions in the country
  • Vineyards have lined the Tejo River (Tagus in English) since Roman times
  • Once named Ribatejo, in 2009 the region became Tejo, a reference to the river that has dominated its environment, climate and industry for decades
  • The river also can be praised with the formation of distinct Tejo terroirs, rendering the associated plains and riverbanks an ideal place to nurture native Portuguese grapes
  • Focused on quality and balance
  • Red varieties: Touriga Naciona Trincadeira, Castelão and Aragonês
  • White varieties: Fernão Pires, Arinto
  • Warm climate with complex soils
  • The Tejo River influences the soil and climate of the region creating three unique wine-producing hotspots: Bairro, Charneca and Campo

Bairro

  • North of the Tejo River
  • These highlands are made up of rising hills and vast fields covered in limestone and clay soils
  • Further north hold schist deposits, allowing the vines deeper roots

Charneca

  • South of the Tejo
  • Charneca is a dry flat area characterised by weak, sandy soils which cause the vines to struggle in order to grow more complex grapes
  • Increased temperatures force the grapes to mature faster than in the rest of the Tejo region

Campo

  • Lies on the edges of the Tejo riverbanks
  • The presence of the river gives rise to a more maritime climate, moderating conditions and helping to add to the acidity and balance the grapes
  • Alluvial soils with great drainage allow for great grape growth

Setúbal Peninsula

  • Lies across the mouth of the Tejo River south of Lisbon, and is linked to Lisbon by two bridges
  • Mostly flat and sandy, apart from the Serra da Arrábida (small series of peaks extending along the southern coast of the peninsula)
  • Limestone or clay-limestone soils
  • On the Serra da Arrábida, grapes are grown for the famous Moscatel de Setúbal wine
  • Mediterranean climate
  • Hot, dry summers
  • Mild, rainy winters
  • Higher altitude and the proximity of the sea allow cooler temperature for the vineyards
  • Once named “˜Terras do Sado’, due to the Sado River that flows through the southern part of the region
  • There are two DOCs, Setúbal and Palmela

Alentejo

  • Region covers about a third of Portugal
  • Red wines from this region tend to be very rich
  • White varieties tend to struggle with the heat in this region
  • Consists of hills, mountains in the north east
  • Soils: schist, pink marble, granite, limestone, often laid over a sub-layer of water-retaining clay
  • DOP Alentejo has eight sub-regions that together cover about a fifth of the Vinho Regional Alentejano region
  • These rarely see a label
  • Seven of the sub-regions are clustered fairly centrally
  • Portalegre lies well to the north east on the granite foothills of the São Mamede mountains, where higher rainfall and cooler temperatures (especially at night) along with many old vines, gives complexity and freshness
  • Borba, Évora, Redondo and Reguengos are more typical of the Alentejo, and can make smooth, harmonious, very easy-drinking reds
  • Conditions are more challenging in Granja-Amareleja, Moura and Vidigueira, with poor, limestone-based soils and a significantly hotter climate
  • White varieties: Antão Vaz (very significant in the region), Arinto, Roupeiro, Diagalves, Manteudo, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha
  • Red varieties: Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Alfrocheiro, Castelao, Trincadeira, Moreta, Tinta Caiada, Tinta Grossa
  • Imported grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are being used for Vinho Regional

Algarve

  • Vines thrive in this southwestern region
  • Never too hot or cold, and grapes can enjoy around 3000 hours of sunshine every year
  • The Alentejo border to the north is 30-40 kilometres from the Algarve peninsula, yet the Algarve does not experience the extreme Alentejo temperatures
  • Mountains between the Spanish frontier and the Atlantic coast:
  • Divide the two areas and trap warm, dry winds from the north
  • Allow the moderating influence of the Mediterranean to the south, the Atlantic to the west
  • Mediterranean climate east of Faro towards Spain
  • Temperate climate west of Faro with Atlantic influences
  • Soils: sandy, clay, limestone, sandstone, some schist on the mountainous slopes in the north
  • Four wine DOCs: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira
  • White varieties: Arinto, Malvasia Fina, Manteúdo and Síria
  • Red varieties: Castelão and Negra Mole
  • International grapes recently used for blending: Touriga Nacional and Syrah, Aragonez and Cabernet Sauvignon, Trincadeira, Alvarinho, Chardonnay, Viognier

Azores

  • Archipelago of 9 islands
  • Mild and moist all year, but at times rain, wind
  • Rock or volcanic soils
  • Most vines grow in traditional currais (small enclosures of dry-stone walls)
  • Protect vines from ocean winds, and radiate heat at night
    Most vines are American species, planted after phylloxera
    The Azores have no DOP regions
  • Three IPR regions (DOPs in progress): Pico, Biscoitos and Graciosa

Madeira

  • Out in the Atlantic, on the same latitude as Casablanca, the island enjoys mild temperatures throughout the year
  • The climate is also strongly influenced by the ocean
  • It is extremely mountainous, with deep valleys and steep slopes where the vines grow on little terraces in fertile, acidic, volcanic soils that are very rich in organic matter
  • Vines are mostly trained on pergolas
  • Madeira “noble“ grapes: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia (Malmsey) and Terrantez
  • Makes excellent fortified wines that are known to last two centuries, sometimes

Main wine regions you need to know:

  • Dao 
  • Douro 
  • Barraida 
  • Lisboa 
  • Tejo 
  • Alentejo 
  • Alentejano 

Main grape varieties and where they are found:

  • Alicante Bouschet:  Alentejo
  • Baga: Bairrada, Alentejo, Ribatejo
  • Tinta Amarela: Douro, Setúbal Peninsula, Estremadura, Alentejo
  • Tinta Barroca: Douro
  • Tinta Negra: Madeira
  • Tinta Roriz:  Alentejo, Dao, Douro
  • Tinto Cão: Douro
  • Touriga Francesa: Douro
  • Touriga Nacional: Douro, Dao
  • Alvarinho: Northern Portugal
  • Encruzado: Dao
  • Malvasia Fina: All over
  • Rabigato: All over
  • Verdelho: Maderiro

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