The Algarve is Portugal's southernmost wine region. Algarve DOC wines – Controlled Designation of Origin – are produced in 4 subregions: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira. Regional wines are produced throughout the region.
The protection from northerly winds by the Algarve mountain range, the approximately 3000 hours of annual sunshine, and the proximity to the sea, with some 200 km of Atlantic coastline are the hallmarks of the Algarve wine-growing region. To the east of Faro, towards Spain, the climate is hotter, drier and characteristically Mediterranean. To the west of Faro, the climate is more temperate, cooler and humid.
Algarve's fantastic wines stem from a rich soil diversity. Sandy, clayey, shallow deposits of limestone often over bedrock and in some areas of the northern hills schist can be found. All this diversity gives the wines a powerful regional identity.
Historically, the Algarve was the gateway to the trade routes during the Moorish occupation. The Moors not only planted vines but also produced and exported wine from the Algarve region. Even today many of the vestiges of that period can be seen in the region's architecture.
The identifying feature of the Algarve region and wines is the Negra Mole grape variety. This variety of enormous diversity can produce red, white and pink grapes on the same bunch. It was the basis of the region's famous palhete and claret wines.
With a lively red colour, they were drunk slightly chilled and combined perfectly with the heat and gastronomy of the Algarve.
Negra Mole can produce white, rose or red wines. Despite having been the most planted grape variety in the Algarve region, winegrowers have abandoned its production and its wines have lost their standing. Very recently, there has been an upsurge of interest in this grape variety and these wines.
However, the existing vineyards with Negra Mole are from the 1950s and there is no indication of new plantations. According to a recent study, Negra Mole was identified as the second oldest grape variety in Portugal and the variety with the second greatest genetic variability.
Algarve's white wines are generally blended wines produced from a variety of grape varieties, mostly Arinto and Crato. Other old varieties such as Perrum and Rabo de Ovelha are also on the list of authorised DOC varieties.
For the Algarve's red wines, the typical grape varieties are Negra Mole, Trincadeira and Castelão. The list of authorised grape varieties is much longer than for white wines. Touriga Nacional is perfectly adapted to the region, sometimes grown in single variety lots but most of the time in blends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grape varieties are more recent arrivals to Portugal but have already established themselves in the Algarve region.
The development and recognition of the Algarve as a holiday destination and the 3000 hours of annual sunshine have made the Algarve not only a short holiday destination but a second home for visitors.
As they were used to drinking wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, there was a demand from producers in the region to convert the vines from national varieties to more commercial varieties, that would satisfy this trend.
With the decline of the co-op wineries in the 1990s, there was a boom of new producers in the region, some of them foreigners who further increased the proliferation of foreign grape varieties. More recently, about 10 years ago, with a modern vision of the traditions and customs of Algarve wine production, some producers were the driving force behind the return of the Negra Mole variety and its many facets.
Negra Mole can produce fresh, mineral rich and saline white wines when gently pressed in the blanc de noir style. When pressed more intensely, it can produce light rose wines in the Provence style, very elegant with fruity and fresh aromas. When macerated for a short period, the diversity of white, pink, and red grapes produces a claret wine like those of bygone times, with strong notes of red fruit and a deep flavour. With longer maceration, it is possible to obtain light, but lingering red wines, very present on the palate in the style of Burgundy wines.
The diversity of the Negra Mole grape variety is part of the region's identity.
Buying Algarve wines can be a complicated task. The recent rise of the Algarve wine region has meant the wines can be bought in most upmarket wine shops or online. You can buy Algarve wines on our online shop, just search for the Algarve wine section.