A Wine Lover’s Guide to the Algarve

Portuguese wine is best known for its fortified ruby and tawny ports, its full-bodied reds from the Douro Valley, and its lightly spritzy whites from Vinho Verde. All of these hail from the north of the country, but the south of Portugal is often overlooked. The Algarve region, spanning the southern coast from the Atlantic ocean in the west to the Spanish border in the east, is awash with vineyards that are rapidly catching up with their northern Portuguese counterparts in terms of quality. But because Algarve wines are relatively unknown internationally, they offer some phenomenally good value.

About the Algarve wine region

Unsurprisingly for a seaside holiday destination, the Algarve’s climate overall is warm and Mediterranean – getting hotter closer to Spain and cooler closer to the Atlantic, where ocean breezes provide a moderating influence (and more rain). We saw a lot of clay and sandy soils, particularly by the coast, but there are patches of many different types of soil – including some schist zones in the mountains. All of which means that, for a relatively small region, you’ll find a lot of variation in the wines produced: from full-bodied, high-alcohol reds to light, floral whites.

The Algarve has been split into four DOCs (designations of controlled origin): Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira. But the majority of wines are actually sold under the Vinho Regional category. Don’t be put off – in this case, a larger area does not mean a lower quality wine! In fact, individual quintas (wine estates) have revolutionised the Algarve’s wine scene, taking back control from the big co-ops in recent years and producing some stellar quality.

The gentle slopes of the Algarve’s vineyards, growing Portuguese grapes like Alicante Bouschet

There are dozens if not hundreds of quintas in the Algarve region, many of which are growing indigenous Portuguese grapes like Touriga Nacional (famous in port production), Alicante Bouschet (producing intense, peppery, black fruit and smoky flavours) and Negra Mole (an ancient grape that’s native to the Algarve meaning “black soft”), and turning them into exciting blends that speak of their terroir (wine geek speak for soil, climate and sense of place).

Winery visits, wine tastings and wine tours in Algarve, Portugal

The best place to taste the Algarve’s wine is straight from the source: at the quintas, next to their vineyards. But many wine bars and shops offer wine tastings as well. Note that most wineries are only open for tours and tastings on particular weekdays (not every day and not on weekends), and most require booking in advance. Unlike in many wine regions in France and Germany, you’re expected to pay for wine tastings in Portugal. But the quality of the wines is generally so high for the price point, you’re very likely to want to buy some bottles to take home with you.

Quinta do Francês, winery near Silves

In the foothills of the mountains north of Silves and Portimão, you’ll find the picturesque Quinta do Francês winery, with its typical blue and white tiling and mosaic tables for outdoor tastings. It’s also worth taking a tour inside: Quinta do Francês manages the entire process themselves – from the vineyard to vinification/maturation to bottling – and you can see it all in action. The standard tasting comprises three wines, of which I was least impressed with the Sauvignon Blanc (it feels like the wrong climate, for a start) but enthralled by the Odelouca red blend that was plummy, ripe, lightly oaked and extremely good value.

Quinta do Francês’ luscious Odelouca red blend

Lígio’s Shop, wine tasting in Lagos

The reason I visited Quinta do Francês in the first place was because it had been recommended to me by a local tour guide and historian named Lígio, who organises both walking tours and wine tastings. The evening we arrived at his shop in Lagos, there were only three of us for the tasting so it was a very relaxed and informal experience. If you’re looking for in-depth knowledge of wine, this probably isn’t the tasting for you. But if you’re looking for a fun evening with plenty of booze, paired snacks and some Portuguese history thrown in for good measure, then Lígio is your man! We tasted five wines: two whites, a rosé and two reds. The whites were on the lighter, floral end of the spectrum, moving through to a more serious, oaky red at the end. But my hands-down favourite was the rosé in the middle: this Cabo da Roca from the Lisboa region is made from a blend of Aragones, Castelão and Syrah grapes, and I was thrilled by its smack of pomegranate and red berries.

Paxá Wines, winery near Lagoa

I first encountered a Paxá blend at Touriga wine bar in Carvoeiro (see below), and their name seemed to keep popping up in bars and restaurants all over the Algarve after that. So at the end of my most recent trip, I decided to visit Paxá’s winery in person. The vineyards are at lower altitude, next to a main road, and as such are less picturesque than those at Quinta do Francês, but the wines are no less drinkable – and in fact were generally more my style. The Viognier white reserve was a big hit, although Paxá does make some other single varietal wines from Portuguese white grapes Arinto and Verdelho as well. I also enjoyed their outspoken premium rosé made from Touriga Nacional, but my favourite had to be the Paxá red reserve: a beguiling blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet aged for 12 months in French oak.

Paxá premium reserva red

Monte da Casteleja, winery near Lagos

Closer to the Lagos coast, Monte da Casteleja specialises in organic wines. I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve not actually managed to visit this winery yet, but I met a woman who worked there and she was so inspiring that I wanted to mention it anyway. They harvest and press their grapes the old-fashioned way, selecting and cutting the grapes by hand before the treading the grapes by foot at the end of the day. Monte da Casteleja’s organic wines are all made from native Portuguese grape varieties: Arinto and Perrum for the whites, Alfrocheiro and Bastardo for the reds and rosé. Try their Meia Praia – a winning red blend!

Wine bars in the Algarve

Reaching the individuals quintas without a car can be tricky (although you can rent a car from Faro airport when you fly in – try Transavia if you’re coming from the Netherlands). If you’re staying in one of the Algarve’s cities or towns, there are plenty of wine bars at which you can taste local wines – both from the Algarve and from Portugal as a whole. These are just a small selection from my most recent trips.

Mimar, Lagos

Located in old town Lagos, Mimar blends modern wine bar with creative takes on traditional dishes. The wine list is well curated (not excessively long), featuring several good options by the glass. From the Algarve region, try the Falesia white blend of Arinto and Sauvignon Blanc (the Falesia winery is just down the road overlooking the ocean) or the Morgado do Quintão red blend of Negra Mole and Clarete.  I also enjoyed Mimar’s house rosé from Alentejo and their Cab Sav-Sousa reserva blend from the Lisboa region, plus they mixed us a very good pisco sour. Meanwhile, the menu features spicy seabass ceviche and tuna tataki for the fish lovers, succulent octopus and alheira croquettes for something more typically Portuguese, and even a few vegetarian tapas dishes (which is rare in this neck of the woods). I loved the braised pork cheeks and red wine combo so much I went back for second helpings less than a week later…

Pork cheeks and a Lisboa red blend at Mimar

Touriga Wine & Dine, Carvoeiro

This small but well-stocked wine bar was the absolute highlight of my trip to Carvoeiro with my in-laws. Ideally, bring a group of friends so you can taste as many of Touriga’s wines as possible. Among a few different bottles we tried, standouts for me were the Quinta do Sobreiró de Cima reserve red blend from the Trás-os-Montes region, which I found myself seeking out for the rest of the trip. And the Paxá reserva red blend, which was one of the reasons why I later went on to visit the Paxá wine estate (see above). Touriga’s menu of Portuguese specialities is also fantastic: think braised pork cheeks, tender octopus, bacalhau a bras and spicy pica pau.

Travia Natural Wine Bar, Lagos

The natural wine craze seems to have hit Portugal, just as it’s hit northern Europe. I remain unconvinced by the cloudy funk of many natural wines (I have yet to meet an orange wine I’ve genuinely liked) but fortunately the term “natural wine” is ill-defined enough to cover a multitude of low-intervention sins. I enjoyed Travia’s Peluda rosé from the Vinho Verde region and their Javali red blend from the Douro Valley – both were filtered and avoided the cider effect. Pair with roasted cauliflower with garlic and cashew purée or sweet potatoes roasted with local honey for maximum quaffability (and a welcome hit of vegetables). Strangely, I didn’t notice any Algarve wines on Travia’s list of wines by the glass, but there are sure to be some by the bottle.

Peludá rosé at Travia natural wine bar

Planning a trip to the Algarve? Check out my foodie guides to Lagos and to the rest of the Algarve region as well!


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