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Native varietals the way forward for Tejo

Published:  10 July, 2023

The first vines were planted in Tejo as far back as the Roman times, so it may seem odd to describe the area as ‘on the up’. However, after a period in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when Portugal, as a whole, could be considered to prioritise quantity over quality, the fertile land of Tejo is producing an array of wines to be reckoned with, particularly with its indigenous varieties.

The Tejo wine region is made of three different wine-producing zones: Bairro in the North, Charneca in the South and Campo which sits along the river. All three zones have markedly different climates, contributing to the versatility of the region as a whole.

In the south of the Bairro region is Santarem, home to Quinta da Ribeirinha, a winery that boasts 25 wines in its portfolio, including 11 with at least one international grape variety. Despite this, Mariana Candido, co-director of Quinta da Ribeirinha said: “I think the DOC should limit the number of international varieties and champion our indigenous grapes.”

This is a sentiment shared by many of the wineries across Tejo and represents a change in tact from the early noughties when it was thought international varieties were the way forward.

Paulo Mateus, export manager for Quint da Lapa, said: “In order to appeal to foreign markets we needed to and continue to produce international grape varieties, why not when we have the terroir to do so well.”

The wines of Da Lapa are among the finest in the region, with over a million bottles produced a year. Mateus was keen to highlight Quinta’s Malbec and Pinot Noir Reservas. However, buyers and critics alike seem far more impressed by Fernao Pires skin contact and the lightweight red Clarete wine, with Fernao Pires and Castelao (both seeking UK representation).

Tejo currently produces just over 30 million litres of certified wine per year and is the fifth largest of Portugal’s 14 wine regions. The wine community of Tejo comprises more than 80 wineries and four co-operatives, with many of the wineries family-owned for generations. The more these wineries champion their more authentic, native grape varieties the more they will appeal to a UK market constantly seeking a point of difference. 

The region begins 40km upriver from the centre of Lisbon and then flanks the river on either or both banks for 45km in a northeasterly direction towards the Spanish border.

With such proximity to a tourist hotspot constantly welcoming a stream of UK tourists, there is no reason why Tejo can’t gain ground on the UK wine scene.

Dirceu Vianna Junior, Brazil’s only MW, perhaps sums it up best: “The uniqueness of the Tejo region includes an abundance of sunshine, diverse soils and cooling influence from the Tejo River and Atlantic breezes. There has been a drive towards quality in recent years and ambitious producers making world-class wines capable of satisfying even the most discerning palates.”

In the past, it has perhaps been easier to assess Portugal's value for money by comparing its international varieties on the world stage, and though often very good, the average UK consumer could be forgiven for perceiving a Portuguese Pinot Noir to be a sort of knock-off designer label.

However, its native varietals are unmatched across the globe and represent great value for money. Possibly, that’s what Tejo should hang its hat on.