Wine of the Dead - Portugal

Updated Dec 12, 2020

Most of the time you talk about something “of the dead” in Europe you’re talking about a room filled with bones. But the Portuguese tourist office blog has alerted me to a rather interesting tradition: “Vinho dos Mortos” or wine of the dead. You see, in 1807 the French were ravaging the northern countryside of Portugal while trying to stop Portugal’s trade with the British, looting everything—but especially wine—during the Peninsular War.

So, the winemakers and farmers hid the wine, burying it deep in the sandy soil. When the French left, they dug up the bottles and found that it looked as if the wine had spoiled. But alas, when they tasted it they found that the low temperatures and darkness seemed to concentrate the flavors, and Vinho dos Mortos was born.

vinho dos mortos wine of the dead
Vinho dos Mortos, the Portuguese wine of the dead excavated from its sandy bed

You can still buy it around Boticas and nearby Granja, under the title of Vinho Regional Transmontano—look for the label of Armindo Sousa Pereira, Boticas. A bottle sells these days for around 12 Euro.

Here’s an illustrated flicker sequence featuring the wine of the dead, and there’s a video in Portuguese

Of course, the French got the same treatment from the Nazis, as recorded in the excellent account: “Wine and War: Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure

Lest you think that the 200 year old tradition of “wine of the dead” is the oldest in Portugal, think again—in the Alentejo region folks still make wine as the Romans did. It’s called Vinho de Talha and it’s still popular in Portugal.

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