England in 1678, while King Charles II was fending off conspiratorial Catholics, a Liverpool wine merchant had another mission. He was rumored to have heard rumors of a Portuguese clergyman adding brandy to the regional red wine during the fermentation process, stopping the fermentation. The result of this procedure was a strong, sweet red wine - the ideal drink for the English.
So the skilful wine merchant sent his sons to Portugal to meet this man near Lamego and do business with him. He succeeded and so trading houses sprang up all along the Douro, selling the popular port wine to England.
Almost a hundred years later, the boundaries of the growing area for port wine on the Douro were precisely defined so that the black market could not use the popularity of port wine. This made Portugal the first country in 1756 to produce a legal resolution for the boundaries of its wine-growing region.
Today, Portugal's wine country covers 260,000 hectares with a production of 5 to 6 million hectoliters of wine. This is produced in 5 wine-growing zones from which 40 quality wine-growing areas emerge. In this article I will get to the bottom of how the quality of Portuguese wines is made up, how you can recognize them from certain designations and what the cork is all about.
What wine categories are there in Portugal?
DOC/DOP - The best
Of the 40 quality wine-growing regions, 31 are so-called DOC/DOP wines. Some also speak of 29, which is also correct, since regions such as Douro and Porto as well as Madeira and Madeirense were grouped together.
DOC stands for the Portuguese Denominação de Origem Controlada , which refers to the controlled designation of origin. DOP, Denominação de Orige Protegida , has been the new European designation for a controlled origin since 2009.
This status corresponds to the highest regulated quality level and is similar to the French AOC system, the Spanish DO and the Italian DOC.
Not only are the geographical boundaries for the DOC/DOP wines strictly defined, there is also an upper limit for grape production and a maximum for the variety of vines that may be used.
Before being approved, the wines must also be officially tasted and subjected to other quality tests.
IPR – The one with development potential
Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada classifies 6 quality wine regions and also points to the regulation that goes along with their origin. These wines correspond to the French category VQPRD ( Vin de Qualité Produit dans une Région Déterminée) .
This new designation has existed since 1991, which also indicates the regulated origin of the quality wines. It is an indicator of the Portuguese thirst for advancement. Because if the wines from these wine-growing regions can demonstrate a continuous increase in quality after 5 years, they receive the much sought-after DOC status.
In German, the IPR seal can be compared to the GgA (wine with a protected geographical indication = country wine), with the IPR only being awarded for wines.
VR/IG/IGP - The regional wine
Portugal has 14 regional wine regions. Wines originating from these areas are called Vinho Regional (VR). Of course, the European Union has a fancy new name for it too, the abbreviation IG for Geographical Indication or IGP for Protected Geographical Indication .
Although the Vinho Regional is officially traded as the lowest quality level, it has more to do with the few regulations than with quality per se. The flexibility allows winemakers to experiment a little more with grape varieties and quantities, which results in many high-quality wines. But the VR wines are also bound in terms of grape varieties, minimum alcohol content and other regulations.
Vinho de Mesa – The table wine
Vinhos or table wines are simple Portuguese wines that are not bound by any instructions and usually do not have a complex structure. They are not scrutinized by local wine commissions and are free to make.
Although table wines are not officially held in high esteem, there are many ambitious winegrowers in Portugal who have deliberately chosen the free variant of winemaking in order to be able to produce extraordinary wines without having to adhere to any rules.
Which wine names are relevant in Portugal?
As in other countries, there are wines in Portugal that are produced on vineyards and/or in wineries. Wineries are called quintas in Portuguese and caves mean wineries in Portuguese .
The following designations refer to the quality of the wines in Portugal:
Young wines that are drunk immediately after the fermentation process is complete are called Verde. Verde has no aging potential, so it is not subject to aging and is consumed quickly.
Maduro means something like "old" or "mature" in Portuguese and refers to all mature wines that do not come under Verdes.
Designates all red and white wines with an outstanding wine quality. These are particularly suitable for so-called barrique aging, ie aging in oak barrels. Reservas are aged there for at least 1 year and mature in barrel and bottle for a total of 3 years.
Grand Reserve :
These wines are stored in oak barrels for at least 2 years and mature in barrels and bottles for a total of at least 5 years. This regulation does not apply to white Grande Reservas, because they have to mature in barrels for 6 months and grow for a total of 2 years.
This is how a top vintage of a red wine is christened that has matured in barrels for at least 2 years and has matured in bottles for at least one year. White wines are matured in barrels for one year and stored in bottles for six months. The minimum alcohol content of Garrafeiras must be 11.5% vol. and be provided with the respective vintage.
Velho is the general Portuguese term for aged wines. The red wine must be aged for at least 3 years and the white Velho must be at least 2 years old. A minimum alcohol content of 11.5% vol. is also required here.
Portugal's cork - the little guardian angel of wine
The cork is important for the wine because it can reveal a lot about the quality of its protégé. Portugal is the leader among cork manufacturers, producing 190,000 tons of corks, representing 51% of world production. It is not for nothing that souvenir shops throughout Portugal sell accessories such as bags or shoes made of cork to tourists and enthusiasts.
But what does the cork tell us about the quality of the wine? First and foremost, the cork protects the wine from interacting with oxygen. Because the bottle already contains small amounts of oxygen, which enable a slow and careful exchange of the wine's ingredients. Too much oxygen promotes the spread of vinegar bacteria and affects the color of the wine. Red wine fades, white wine turns brown.
When opening a wine bottle, the consistency of the cork tells us a lot about the quality of the fine wine. After about 10 to 20 years, the quality of life of a cork decreases. Result: it becomes permeable.
But even corks that are too dry no longer protect the wine as they should. They contract, which is why the wine bottle no longer stays tight. To prevent drying out, wine bottles should therefore also be stored horizontally.
However, wet corks quickly lose their structure. They become friable and thus lose their function as a protective mechanism. If the owner escapes this decay, fungi can grow on the cork or it is used by annoying fruit flies to lay their eggs.
The ideal cork must therefore be firm, somewhat elastic and dry on top, then nothing stands in the way of years of storage.
about the author
Inara Muradowa is an SEO expert and corporate blogger. In addition to technical search engine optimization and SEO consulting, she actively supports companies with the conception and writing of professional blog posts.