Benefiting from both the hot, dry Iberian climate as well as brisk Atlantic winds, Portugal is a perfectly situated country for vineyard cultivation and wine production. With a wine making history which stretches back thousands of years, it comes as little surprise that wine plays an important role in the cultural identity and practices of the country. The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks and the Romans all had a hand in forming Portugal as an important center for wine production, and over the millennia, this resulted in each region of this beautiful part of Europe producing its own distinctive wines easily identifiable and separate from neighboring Spain's. Today, the varied terroir and climate across Portugal allows a great range of wines to be made each year, from the fresh and dry Vinho Verde wines to the famous and widely drunk fortified Port wines, and many in between.
The most important grape of the Northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is quickly becoming one of the most noted grapes planted in America. America's best bottlings hail from the Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Syrah displays a spicy blend of black pepper and raspberries, with dark fruit undertones; full-bodied with smoke, tar and tannins. It is made into a few magnificent varietally labeled wines, but is also often the base grape for Rhone-style blends. There are those who believe that the Napa Valley should be planted mostly to Syrah, for it thrives in warm growing regions. In Australia, where it is the most-planted red variety, and in South Africa, the grape is known as Shiraz. While viticulturally identical with Syrah, Shiraz grown in Australia is typically sweeter and riper, with more chocolately notes than pepper and spices.