Portugal is a gastronomically exciting destination, perfect for hedonists, and that's not only because of wonderful, fresh food but also because of the huge variety of drinks that are produced here. It's impossible to list all the local liqueurs made of different fruits - even after living in Portugal for a decade I haven't tried them all. To help you navigate through the menu, here's a handy guide to some of the most famous Portuguese drinks.
Certainly, the most famous one is Port wine. However, be careful when you pour it because Port wine is not actually wine; it's a fortified wine, much stronger and sweeter than a regular one. It became popular while the British were in war with French, in the 18th century. They stopped buying wine from them and discovered a much more satisfying alternative in the Douro Valley. This region is, after the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary (est. 1730), and Chianti in Italy (est. 1716), the third oldest protected wine region in the world. Nowadays, refreshing cocktails of Port wine made with tonic water or Bitter lemon are very popular. You can try some in Mercado Bom Sucesso, or make it at home. There are several varieties of Port wine like tawny, ruby or more recently white port.
To taste Port wine, you should either visit places where they are directly made, wineries in Douro Valley or find them in the wine cellars in Gaia, right across the river from Porto. For a couple of euros, you can taste all the varieties and hear the history of the best known Portuguese drink. There are dozens of cellars, being the most reputable ones Sandeman, Croft, Taylor's, Graham's, Fonseca Guimaraens, Warre’s, among others.
Ginjinha was the first Portuguese drink I ever tried, when I first arrived in Lisbon, still as a tourist. There's a small kiosk at the Rossio square that you cannot miss, and where you can grab a shot of this sour cherry liqueur, right there in the street. It's a strong drink, usually served with a few cherries in your cup and sometimes in a chocolate cup that you eat afterward.
Inhabitants of the island of Madeira believe that "Poncha" from Madeira, a strong and sweet local alcoholic drink, can cure you of many diseases. This drink is made of "aguardente" ("firewater," strong alcoholic beverage with up to 60% of alcohol), with the addition of sugar, honey, and traditionally lemon juice. But you don't have to go to Madeira to taste it, "Poncha" is nowadays available anywhere in Portugal.
In Portugal, wine is more than just a drink. Together with coffee, it's almost a basic need. Families often drink a glass of red wine ("Tinto") every day while having lunch, and elderly people say that wine is the secret to good health and longevity. The main regions known for great wine are Douro, Alentejo, Dão, and Bairrada, but of course, you will find different qualities in each of the areas. Besides all the famous wines there are some less known, but definitely worth trying, like for example those created and produced exclusively in the Pico island in the Azores. Another wine type unique to Portugal is "Vinho Verde" ("Green wine") made of slightly under-ripe, green grapes.
This is not all. In Portugal, there are still many different options like herb-based "Licor Beirão" from central Portugal, various "aguardentes" (alcoholic beverages with very high percent of alcohol), or wines with an addition of "aguardente" such as "Jeropiga". It's guaranteed that you will find your favourite drink once you are in Portugal, just make sure you have enough time to try it all.
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