The brand was created in 1942 and production began at the end of World War II. The wine was especially styled to appeal to the rapidly developing North American and northern European markets. An early admirer was Sacheverell Sitwell:
Among the delights of Portugal are the unfamiliar wines upon the wine lists... there is one wine that is altogether exceptional, and that comes from the remote northern Province of Tras-os-Montes. This is the most delicious vin rosé that I have ever tasted. It is called Mateus, and it may be that the view of the lovely villa of that name, near Vila Real, which is upon the label, makes the wine taste even better. For the villa has a façade of granite and white stucco, with many urns and statues. But what is unique in this wine is that it is the colour of orangeade, and slightly pétillant. Let no one despise it for its colour! Mateus is delicious beyond words; and since I am told that it will travel and is exported to Brazil, it is a pity that one cannot buy it here in England.
Production grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s and by the late 1980s, supplemented by a white version, it accounted for almost 40% of Portugal's total export of table wine. At that time, worldwide sales were 3.25 million cases per year.
Sogrape, the family company which owns the brand and which is the largest wine producer in Portugal, has more recently diversified into other areas of the Portuguese wine industry, as the popularity of its Mateus brand has declined. In the UK in 2002, the wine was re-packaged and relaunched in a deliberate ploy to capitalise on 1970s nostalgia, although the wine itself had already been made less sweet and slightly more sparkling, in response to modern popular preference for slightly drier wine. The wine continues to be sold, however, in its distinctive narrow-necked, flask-shaped bottle, with unique "baroque historic mansion" label (Mateus Palace in Vila Real, Portugal) and real cork stopper, but also comes with a screw top from some distributors in Northern European countries and the U.K. market.
More recently, a new variety of the wine has been marketed as "Mateus Rosé Tempranillo" produced in Spain, a deeper shade of pink than the original, but in a clear bottle with a silver foil, aimed at wine drinkers in their twenties, especially young women.
In 2014 the company launched its "Expressions" range, comprising three rosé wines – Baga and Shiraz, Baga and Muscat and Aragonez and Zinfandel – and one white wine – a Maria Gomes and Chardonnay blend.
In Mike Sager's May 1989 Los Angeles Times article "The Devil and John Holmes", the late porn star's ex-wife Sharon confides: "On their first date, he'd brought a bottle of Mateus and a handful of flowers. Sharon had watched through the window as he picked them from a neighbor's front yard."
In the 1978 film Animal House, at the home of English professor Professor Dave Jennings (Donald Sutherland), where some "grass" is to be consumed, a Mateus bottle is seen being used as a candle-holder.
Mateus wanted a wine bottle that was different from all the others. Post WW II Germany was a mess. Most industry in Germany was at a standstill. However, for centuries before the war, the wine growing region called Franconia, bottled its wine in a "bocksbuetel". This is the bottle design Mateus stole in 1946 for its wine
- Robinson, Jancis (Ed.) The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, second edition, 1999.
- Truffle Hunt (Robert Hale Ltd, London, 1953), at page 102
- Chandra, Alok (22 March 2014). "Wines for the summer". business-standard.com. Retrieved 31 January 2017 – via Business Standard.
- Cozens, Claire (9 April 2002). "Mateus Rose raises glass to 70s nostalgia". .theguardian.com. Retrieved 31 January 2017 – via The Guardian.
- "Sogrape launches Mateus Expressions". thedrinksreport.com. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- Saddam Hussein's palaces July 9, 2009.
- "Elton John Lyrics: Social Disease". eltonography.com. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- Mike Sager (May 1989). "The Devil and John Holmes". Los Angeles Times.
- departedflights.com, 1977 Frontier airline advertisement, "Frankly, we don't think of good food as a frill."