The Azores are just as exotic and beautiful as they sound. This Portuguese archipelago consists of nine islands dotted among the mid-Atlantic. Far-flung and verdant, the volcanic Azores have a certain isolated, remote charm — and a forgotten wine scene that deserves recognition.

Lake of Sete Cidades from Vista do Rei viewpoint in Sao Miguel, Azores
Lake of Sete Cidades from Vista do Rei viewpoint in Sao Miguel, Azores. Image courtesy Pere Sanz / Stock.

How To Reach The Azores

TAP Portugal and Azores Airlines both fly nonstop from Boston (BOS) to the main Azores hub, Ponta Delgada (PDL). The trip takes less than five hours. You can also fly nonstop on TAP from Lisbon (LIS) which is over two hours. Azores Airlines operates a flight from Ponta Delgada (PDL) to Terceira (TER) in 40 minutes.

Or, fly to Pico Island (PEX) in 50 minutes from (PDL). From Terceira (TER) you can fly nonstop to Graciosa (GRW) in 30 minutes on Azores Airlines. Atlantico Line ferries also operate between the islands. Find flights and get updates on deals here.


RELATED: Discover More Unique Wine Regions on the Free Winetraveler App


Salto do Prego waterfall lost in the rainforest, Sao Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal
Salto do Prego waterfall lost in the rainforest, Sao Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal. Image courtesy iStock.

The Azores Wine History

Although wine conditions are rather extreme, with vines planted close to the sea in volcanic, salty soil, the islands still produce some excellent wines. And wine production isn’t new to the Azores. The islands have been cultivating the drink for hundreds of years.


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One of the solutions to protect the wine from the elements is basalt stone walls separating small plots of wines called currais. The crumbling stone walls aren’t new, though, they were built at least 500 years back and are now recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. These walls create a kind of microclimate for the grapes, protecting them from salt, wind and other atmospheric elements.

Smaller rocks and stones litter the plots too. These lava rocks absorb sunlight and reflect the heat to the vines. Winegrowers even arranged and planted vines in a specific way: from east to west.

Once the wine was ready for export, ships often couldn’t dock near the vineyards due to the rough volcanic landscape. So, winemakers tossed their barrels into the sea. Then, ship workers would ferociously fish them out of the water and carry them to mainland Europe. Today, though, locals export wine with much more care. And, production has grown immensely in past years.

 

Image courtesy Olja Reven / iStock.

The Wine Islands (and their Grapes)

Azores wine comes from three main islands. The island of Pico cultivates most of the wine, and the rest comes from Graciosa and the Biscoitos region of Terceira.

The Azores boasts over 30 grape varieties. The grapes make both red and wine wine, but a few varieties are more common than others.

The Pico region has the most wine production and uses grape varieties like Verdelho (although this is one of the most famous grapes on the island, it’s actually from Cyprus and Sicily and not native to the Azores), Arinto and Terrantez. Graciosa usually produces wine from grapes such as Arinto, Boal, Terrantez and Fernão Pires. The Biscoitos region on Terceira usually makes fortified wine using Verdelho, Arinto and Terrantez.

In general, Arinto grapes, as well as Terrantez and Verdelho typically produce white wine while Syrah and Merlot are used to produce red wines. 

Northern Coast at Flores near Ponta Delgada (Azores islands)
Northern Coast at Flores near Ponta Delgada (Azores islands). Image courtesy Tane Mahuta / iStock.

Visit these Wineries on the Azores

Pico: You’ll have the most wine-tasting opportunities on the island of Pico. First off, you can simply admire the unique wine landscape of the Paisagem da Cultura da Vinha da Ilha do Pico by driving around the island to see these special plots and stones. Make sure to stop for a tour and tasting at the Cooperativa Vitivinicola Da Ilha Do Pico to tour and taste these unique wines while learning about the land in which they’re cultivated. Don’t forget to check out Pico, the highest mountain peak in Portugal which inspired the island’s name.

Graciosa: The Museum of Graciosa also sheds some light on the history of winemaking in the Azores. A visit to the Terra do Conde winery will allow you to taste local wine paired with Portuguese pastries. 

Biscoitos region on Terceira: Make sure to visit Adega Simas, where you can enjoy tasting wine, liquor and snacks in the rustic, cozy tasting room. Don’t miss the wine museum. There, you’ll learn all about the Verdelho grape and wines, including history and cultivation methods. The museum features both indoor and outdoor sections with traditional wine plots, a cask storehouse and more.


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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Lori Zaino is a travel expert that's lived in Madrid, Spain for over a decade. A self-taught oenophile and culinary connoisseur, she's just as comfortable backpacking through Latin America's wine country as she is demurely sipping Champagne in French castles.

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