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Understanding Varietals
Pronunciation Glossary
Tasting Terms
How to Taste Wine
How Wine is Made
How Wine is Stored
Wine Regions
Wine Tidbits

Wine Regions
Portugal has undergone whirlwind modernization since joining the European Union in 1986. This is reflected nowhere more dramatically than in the Portuguese wine industry. Among the innovations were stainless steel fermentation tanks and small, new oak barrels. For centuries, Portugal has been recognized for certain regions and wines. Port (or Porto as the Portuguese call it) was celebrated in the mid-18th. Century. Madeira was the favorite wine of Colonial America. In 1985 there were 10 demarcated wines regions; today there are 55. Denominacao de Origem Controlada (DOC) is the highest rated category reserved for Portugal's 19 top wine regions. The most famous are Porto, Douro, Dao, Madeira, Moscatel de Setubal, Vinho Verde and Bairrada.

Madeira is an island in the Atlantic Ocean. It has been under Portuguese control since 1419. It is a fortified wine using the solera system (see Sherry/Spain). The estufa method is used; the wine is exposed to high temperatures in warming ovens for 4 to 5 months. The blending is done with wines from many vintages. Sercial is the driest, followed by Verdelho and or Rainwater which are semi-dry. Bual is sweet, followed by Malmsey which is the fullest and sweetest. Porto or Port is a fortified dessert wine (the addition of Brandy brings the alcohol level up to about 20 percent. Residual sugar is left when fermentation is stopped) from the Douro River Valley region. Half the production in the region is table wine. The same grapes are used for both Porto and table wines; Tinta Barroca, Tinta Rariz (Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Nacional for red wines and Malvasia Fina for whites.

Dao is in Central Portugal between three mountain ranges that block the Atlantic Ocean winds and give Dao a Mediterranean climate; 80% of the wines are red. Moscatel de Setubal sits just South of Lisbon. It is another dessert wine fortified with Brandy, and made from the Muscat grape. Vinho Verde, or Green wine (young) is in Northern Portugal. It is a low alcohol, crisp and fruity wine. Bairrada is in Central Portugal near the Atlantic Ocean. 60% of the Portuguese sparkling wines are made here.

The River Duoro meets the Atlantic Ocean at the town of Porto The US is second only to England as consumers of Vintage Porto. Yet this category constitutes a mere 2% of total Port production. The Porto Wine Institute must approve the declaration of a vintage. The producer submits samples for evaluation. If approved the wine must be bottled no sooner than July 1 of the second year, and no later than June 1 of the third year from the harvest. It is not unusual for fine vintages to take from 15 to 50 years to reach their full potential. Because of its slow maturation, a heavy sediment might require decanting.

Late Bottled Vintage is the name given to a type of vintage Porto that is ready to drink earlier, costs less and throws little sediment in the bottle. It is left in cask for four to six years, fined and filtered to cut down or eliminate the sediment. It is usually ready to drink on release. Colheita Porto is a single harvest Tawny, and is sometimes referred to as a Porto of the Vintage or a Reserve with year of harvest designated. There are no limits to the number of years, beyond seven, that a Colheita can be kept in cask. A Colheita should not be regarded as a second-rate vintage, but rather as a first rate Tawny with date. It represents less than of 1% of all Porto made. Tawny with Indication of Age - Many Porto are blends of several years, and therefore do not bear a date. There is a special category, however, that indicates an average age. These are the Tawnies with average age of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. The front label must state the age of the wine and an indication that it was aged in cask, while the year of bottling must be stated on either the front or back label. Vintage Character Porto, like Tawny, is blended, but the emphasis is on the fruit and richness rather then lightness and delicacy. Perhaps the term super-ruby or premium-ruby would better characterize this category. Ruby Porto is a young, fruity Port wine; Tawny Porto without age indication is less intensely colored than Ruby and rarely more than 3 years old. White Porto is made the same way as other Porto but is made from a white rather than red grape, and little skin contact is allowed so as to produce a bright, clear wine.


Excerpted from Wines of Portugal and Porto.