Reflecting on Portugal


a lineup of Portuguese wines at Leon & Son Wine

Our vigorous exploration of Portugal started in early 2021. Initially for a Leon Circle release focused on Portugal, which turned into deep dives on Bairrada and the Azores. We got excited and could not stop exploring.

Last week I was actually in Portugal and this excitement was validated repeatedly. I went from sun-soaked Porto, to the northernmost territory just shy of rugged Galicia –stopping practically everywhere in between to visit small producers and take in the country's beautiful, diverse landscape.

There is a lot to report below but, if you don't have the time (I get it!): the trip confirmed what I've been tasting the last couple of years: there has never been a better time to explore the wines of Portugal.

Below are some of my key takeaways and a few of my favorite wines. Worth noting, a region very important to the quality revolution in Portugal is missing from this recap: Alentejo. But, there's a fresh look coming soon ;)

- Chris

walking up a rugged wind-swept hill in Duoro


A new quality-driven wine culture in Portugal is in its infancy.

Not unlike Spain, Portugal was governed under a dictatorship until the '70s which (amongst many other problematic areas) did nothing to foster independent production. Let alone support thoughtful agriculture. The arc of expertise and experimentation has been consistent across Iberia; what's happening now is exciting, but it's also just the beginning.

wind-whipped hills in Duoro


My biggest takeaway was how loudly soil comes through in Portugese wine.

Time and again producers spoke to their soil before anything else. The plate of granite that Portugal sits on drives much of the terroir: noble bottles of Alvarinho from Vinho Verde, Encruzado from Dão. I also noticed that the very best white wines had a very savvy reduction, a quality amplified by granite.

loose schist (xisto) soils in Duoro

Douro very famously sits on a poor, loose schist (‘xisto’...think Luis Seabra!) – you can't walk a vineyard without stepping through it. Its ability to retain heat is famous, and in the wrong hands a liability in an already warm area. But, if you’re high up in the hills where the winds are whipping, it actually informs the tension and phenolics in the final wine.

To understand a region in Portugal, before grapes know the soil:
GRANITE → Dão, Vinho Verde’s Monção 

SCHIST → Douro

LIMESTONE → Bairrada (with clay)

VOLCANIC → Azores 

SAND → Colares


Vinho Verde means very little to wine pros: most of the wines usually amount to fizzy, cheap bottles. But when you zoom in to the zone’s (which is massive, everything north of Porto) top areas, the wines read more like serious Galician stars rather than cheap value buys. Especially in whites from Monção e Melgaço, the northernmost territory. 

grantite walls in Vinho Verde vineyard

I didn’t realize that one of my longtime favorite whites was already from this exact place. But upon visiting Quinta de Santiago there was a real connection between pedigreed Alvarinho and the area's serious soils. Carved out by the nearby Minho river, the valley's bedrock of granite is overlaid with clay. This equals firm, powerful wines – the opposite of spritzy Vinho Verde.

Nuno Mira do Ó and lunch at the Quinta do Santiago winery

Also worth watching is Alvarelhão (aka Brancellao in Spain). Like Juran Poulsard, this grape makes crispy, fresh red-fruited wines that quench. See: importer Savio Soares' Bojo bottling Drasloup.


I first tasted an Encruzado in 2015 when our friend Naama at NLC Wines suitcased some from Quinta de Lemos. This particular bottle never made its way to the US but it left a serious impression of how special this white grape is.
Nuno Mira do Ó and two of his Encruzado bottlings from Dão
When grown in the Dão's lush, granitic growing region, it's full of tension and texture. Bottles from Textura and Mira do Ó read like the world's best Chardonnay; 'Pura' is being poured at Le Bernardin, 'Druida' at EMP.


There are some producers that simply speak to me, to what I love in wine. Pedro Coelho and the wines he makes at Pormenor fall into this category. He's an incredibly warm, funny, larger than life character who works out of a garage-like box atop a hill in Douro.

Pedro Coelho, the winemaker at Pormenor

What comes out of this large tin building is riveting. Among so many incredible white wines tasted on this trip, Pedro's were a major highlight. From his own farmed land and rented plots of old vines thorughout Duoro, most of the wines are blends (the region's classic style). The Rabigato-based wines are world-class and should have any lover of dry Chenin running in his direction.



We've riffed on this grape in the past: in the club, and in an email about Bairrada. But, it's worth repeating: Baga is arguably Portugal’s most dynamic red varietal.

Baga vines

Reading like Nebbiolo lost in fog, this should be on everyone's list. The cellar-worthy bottle I had from Nuno comes from 100+ year old vines: it's the intensity of old vine fruit and the snap of limestone. 

If you want to experience how beautifully Baga ages, it's worth seeing it in the hands of OG legend Luis Pato.



"Consulting Winemaker" might conjure negative images for some; a commercial recipe applied to any client who comes knocking. But, that's not fair or true.

Textura's proprietor, Marcelo Araujo

Like Cristiano Garella in Alto Piemonte, this application of institutional knowledge can push along a burgeoning scene that needs guidance. In Portugal, a country of 10 million, three major talents have their fingerprints throughout the country's quality revolution:

LUIS SEABRA: Outside of his own highly notable label, Luis has a hand in helping several impressive wineries in Dão and Duoro, including Marcelo Araujo's benchmark winery Textura, Muxagat and the young (24 years old!) winemaker of Javali.

NUNO MIRA DO Ó: Nuno is an exceptional talent who personally makes wine from Bairrada and Dão. But, his talent extends to Vinho Verde's Quinta de Santiago and other small projects across the country.

ANTONI MANCANITA: one of the more visible winemakers based in Alentejo, he’s helped refocus the area's attention back to talha (amphora). But he also help market the wines from the Azores and has brought international attention to Portugal.

Barrels and amphora in Textura's Dão facility