|Wine | Vinho
The vineyards were established in what would become Portugal around 600 B.C. by the Phoenicians. When the Romans invaded Portugal in 219 B.C., those grape vines were well established. Some authorities claim that some Phoenician vines have survived for 2,500 years and that certain varieties of wine are descended from those vines and are grown no where else in the world.
In any event, the Romans happily participated in Portuguese wine production and distribution in their Empire. Roman artifacts, including the vats used for crushing the grapes and the amphoras used for fermenting and storing the wine, are still being found today around the city of Oporto.
Portugal's rise to power and the development of Portugal as a leading producer of wine go hand in hand. Oporto, the city that gave its name to Port wine and eventually to the country, can also lay claim to being the birthplace of Prince Henry, the Navigator, who founded the School of Navigation at Sagres that led to the great Discoveries.
The formation of this school began Portugal's rise as the most adventurist nation in the 15th century. From that school, the Age of Discoveries began. Sailors such as Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, who were trained by Prince Henry, opened new and faster trade routes, making Portugal one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.
The English were among the first to discover and promote the consumption of Portuguese wine. Spurred by their interminable quarrels with the French, England turned to Portugal for steady supplies of wine, especially prizing Port. By signing treaties and by marriage (Prince Henry the Navigator's mother was English and the wife of Charles II of England was Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess), the Portuguese and the English forged unbroken economic alliances that are now centuries old.
Even today, no Englishman worth his salt would consider a proper meal ended without a slice of Stilton cheese and a glass of heady Port.
As famous as Portuguese wines are in many parts of the world, they have also been one of Portugal's best kept secrets. Few of Portugal's finest wines are exported. Tiny Portugal has been keeping its premium wines within its own boundaries. As my husband and I discovered several years ago, you often have to go to Portugal to discover its finest wines.
Fortunately, times are changing. Portuguese wines are experiencing a resurgence. The Whitehall Company, a major liquor distributor in Massachusetts, has recently purchased a small wine company that specializes in Portuguese wines. As a result, more and more of Portugal's better wines are slowly but surely reaching our shores and the shelves of our liquor markets. These wines are delicious and varied.
They are also a far cry from the Mateus rosé (itself a lovely wine), the Avelar rosé (no relation to me) and the cheap barroom Port, used to chase down draft beer. They were once just about the only Portuguese wines available in Provincetown only 25 to 30 years ago.