Lisbon’s Alfama district is its historic beating heart, a cobbled, lovely maze that slopes up the hill to the Se Cathedral and Lisbon’s central castle, the Castelo de Sao Jorge (photo by Cristina Macia)
Visitors to Portugal come to this small country at the end of the Iberian peninsula to quench any number of passions. Many come just for the beaches in the south and some golfing. Others focus on the wines and head to the famous port wine town of Porto or renowned wine-producing regions such as the Douro valley. Gastronomy and Portugal’s rich cuisine, where the bounty of the sea and country meet, sparks tremendous international attention. Young travelers often come to take advantage of the low prices and the authentic culture and adventures off the beaten track. A large number come for a city break to Portugal’s singular capital, Lisbon. Whatever the reasons for coming to Portugal, almost everyone will spend some time in the city of Lisbon – and if your itinerary doesn’t include time for 2 or 3 days in Lisbon then you should seriously consider changing it.
Lisbon receives endless accolades as a destination and it’s always at or near the top of any city destination list. It has a character and a feeling very much its own, completely distinctive from any other major city in the world. The Portuguese have been a unique people for thousands of years, often experiencing friction with that much larger Iberian neighbour that almost engulfs them on two sides, but always maintaining their own language, identity and culture. Lisbon literally exudes this very visceral and authentic Portuguese soul. And of course the attractions of the city are overwhelming, from the sites and sounds in the streets of the old town, to the Fado music which permeates the soul of Portugal, to the museums and historic buildings, to the food and wine and the party scene. In Portugal practically the entire country has wine regions of note and the area immediately near to Lisbon is no exception. The Lisboa wine region (formerly called Estremedura) produces some of Portugal’s best wines and is an easy day trip from your hotel.
The Arinto grape variety makes a bright, lively, mineral wine – both in still and sparkling form.
Why Lisboa For Wine
The Phoenecians are believed to have first brought the vines to this region from the Levant. That makes sense since the Phoenecians were just that little bit more daring in their trading exploration than the Greeks – and Portugal is at the very far end of the Mediterranean. As in Spain, the history of winemaking is marked by a forgotten period when the Moors were occupying the country followed by a period when the Catholic monastic orders became the stewards of winemaking and spread the cultivation of the vine. Today of course, Portuguese wine has an international presence and reputation that is robust and growing – with almost limitless potential to grow market share. The Lisboa region is no exception and has only started to flex its potential export muscle. But if you are visiting Portugal then you will have the chance to test, first-hand, what Lisboa can do. Among the grape varieties that grow here the Arinto grape is the most important white. It has lively aromas, a citrusy lemon palate and is high in acid so it has all the main components to make a refreshing and loveable white wine. It is native to the Bucelas sub-region and has a reputation that goes back centuries. During the Napoleonic wars the Duke of Wellington took Arinto de Bucelas wines to England as a gift for King George II. Just one of the elements of wine history that tied the Portuguese and the English together.
Where Is The Lisboa Region
Lisbon city sits north of the inlet to the large Tejo Estuary – and the Lisboa wine region starts here
The Lisboa region has 9 denominated DOC subregions and all of them are within a short drive of Lisboa. There are four that have both (1) particularly high reputations for great wine and (2) very close proximity to Lisbon itself. The DOC regions of Bucelas, Arruda, Alenquer and Torres Vedras are just a stone’s throw to the north of the city and produce a fine selection of red, white and rosé wines including in both still and sparkling form. Check out Bucelas, the closest and one of the most exciting of these regions -in this DOC white Arinto wines are made with fresh and enervating seaside character including a sparkling version which is one of the best bottles of bubbles for the price to be found anywhere. The other three neighbouring DOCs make exceptional wines too, both in red and white. Good reason to make a day trip!
Who Are The Winemakers
In Bucelas look for the well known Quinta da Murta wines, both still and bubbling. They go under the striking (and curiously convincing) logo “The Wines of Shakespeare”. And the following is a small sample of some of the many high-quality wineries that populate the Lisboa region. Many of these have very long history while some are newer players that are spring-boarding off the area’s deep roots and catching the updraft as Portuguese wines extend their reach in the international market:
Companhia Agrícola do Sanguinhal – this company has three major brands in its stable: the three Quintas do Sanguinhal, das Cerejeiras and de São Francisco
Quinta de S. Francisco. You can just make out the traditional white wine mills on the crest of the hills
Traveling Lisboa’s Wine Roads
Lisbon is not the only European capital that can boast wine regions basically encroaching on the city limits – Vienna, Austria is another wonderful example. Nevertheless, the combination of Lisbon’s city attractions and the winemaking region so nearby is intoxicating for the wine traveler. Honestly, you don’t need the added incentive of winery touring to visit Lisbon – you will find an exhilarating range of wines in the bars, tavernas and restaurants of Lisbon, Portugal without ever leaving the city. But, on the other hand, you can rent a car or hire a driver and visit 3 or 4 great wineries in the beautiful countryside and be back in time for dinner in the city without any hassle. If you need to get off your feet after walking Lisbon’s addictive streets, take a trip out to the country and see some of the historic estates that make up this surprisingly little-known region.
Quinta da Murta vineyards in DOC Bucelas – on Lisbon’s doorstep
Photos and map courtesy: www.winesofportugal.info; Quinta de São Francisco; Quinta da Murta