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  ABC Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
PortugalPortugal  Contents 
Issue 9, June 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 11, September 2003

Portugal

The country of great Port and Madeira, excellent and magnificent fortified wines, is capable of offering an interesting production of white and red table wines as well

 Portugal, when considered as a wine producing country, is traditionally and indissolubly associated to its two most renowned wines, Port and Madeira, which made this country famous in every place of the world. Despite the fact Portugal is bound to its traditions about the production of wine and to its two main wines, from 1990s on, it largely demonstrated its indisputable value as a producer of table wines, in particular red wines, becoming one of the most important wine producing country of Europe in the international scene. Currently Portugal is, in terms of quantity, the fourteenth wine producer of the world and its internal consumption of wine is of about 47 liters per capita (about 12.4 gallons). The viticulture of the country is strongly bound to traditions and, for the production of certain wines, grapes are even pressed by feet in the traditional troughs called “lagares”. In many parts of the country, in particular in the hilly areas in the north and in the island of Madeira, the characteristics of the land, made of uncomfortable and steep slopes, only allow the harvesting of grapes by hand and this certainly is a very hard work. The wine production is basically based on local grapes; here the so called “international” grapes do not seem to have success, maybe because of the solid wine traditions of the country, however a tribute must go to Portugal because of its capability and skill of creating great wines, not only Port and Madeira, by exclusively using grapes that are present in its lands since ever.


Portugal
Portugal

 The history of viticulture in Portugal is, for some aspects, at least in ancient times, affected by the facts that allowed the spreading of vine and wine in the Iberian peninsula. Vine and viticulture were probably introduced by Phoenicians and, in subsequent times, the development continued by Greeks and Romans. In the period of Moors dominations, the viticulture underwent a time of recession without being abandoned, mainly because of the economic advantages it could offer. The first development of enology and trade of the country started after the independence, in 1385, thanks to the flourishing and profitable commercial relations with England. However it was later, in 1693, that the enology of Portugal lived a long period of splendor, in particular because of the high taxes king William III imposed on French wines, as a consequence of war, therefore forcing English businessmen to look somewhere else for wines at a competitive prices, and found Portugal, having good relations with England since ever, as a good wine provider: the fame of Port wine started.

 In the beginning of the 1700s, the history of Portugal's enology is practically based on the facts about Port and Madeira wines, in particular for the evident preference English had for the consumption of this excellent wine. It was also thanks to the Methuen Treaty, an agreement signed in 1703 between England and Portugal which allowed the import of Portuguese wines in England at lower prices and therefore at the disadvantage of the wines of other European countries, first of all France, a commercial agreement which favored the development of Port and Madeira wines. In the Atlantic Ocean, the island of Madeira was a port of call for all those ships heading to the new world, and here they loaded the wine made in the island and therefore promoting its spreading. The invasion of French in the Iberian peninsula in 1803 was the beginning of a new conflict with England and, as a consequence, new and high taxes were imposed on French wine, therefore allowing Portuguese wine to be imported and sold at lower prices. These facts favored the spreading in England of some Portuguese wines, in particular the white Bucelas, the fortified Carcavelos and of a red wine simply referred as Lisbon.

 The period of splendor of Portuguese enology started to decline, living the same fate of the other European countries, at the end of the 1800s when the terrible phylloxera appeared and devastated the vineyards of the country, with considerable damages and in some areas of Portugal viticulture never resumed. Here, just like in other places, they tried to revive viticulture by planting hybrid species, however the development of Portuguese enology was heavily delayed also because of the political facts of the last century. In 1937 was established the Junta Nacional do Vinho with the purpose of founding cooperatives of producers in order to give a new impulse to the enology of the country. The results were good: in about 20 years were started more than 100 wine cooperatives, however restrictions imposed by central government did not allow the development they wished. As Portugal joined European Union in 1986, the enology of the country, also helped by economic investments, started a new development and a new course and from 1990s on the country has proved to have great potentialities in the production of wine, Port and Madeira certainly continue to be the leading characters of the Portuguese scene, however is the production of table wines what is surprising the world because of their indisputably quality.

 

Portuguese Quality System

 Wine production of Portugal is regulated by a system which is pretty similar to the French AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and that is called Denominação de Origem Controlada (Denomination of Controlled Origin), abbreviated as DOC. The laws and requirements which make the production disciplinary are set by Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (Institute of Vine and Wine) helped by the many local commissions which control and set production rules for each area having a denomination of origin.

 The parameters on which are based Portuguese production's disciplinary usually define, as well as the geographical definition of the area, the total surface that can be cultivated with vines, the permitted grapes species, maximum harvests yields, wine making techniques, minimum periods of aging of wine before it can be released on the market and general indications to be written in the labels. It should be observed that Port and Madeira DOCs have proper governing authorities which set specific laws for the production of these wines.

 The categories being part of the systems are as follows, from the lowest level of quality to the highest:

 

  • Vinhos de Mesa - Table wines
  • Vinhos Regionales - Regional wines. They correspond, in general terms, to French Vin de Pays
  • Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada, IPR - Indication of Regulated Origin. They correspond, in general terms, to the Italian Indicazione Geografica Tipica wines
  • Denominação de Origem Controlada, DOC - Wines having a Denomination of Controlled Origin. This category is the most used one in Portugal and the production of DOC wines is higher, alone and in terms of quantity, than the production of all other categories

 Laws regulating the labeling of wines require the indication of the name of the DOC area and in case of mono varietal wines, that is produced with only one grape variety and expressly stated in the label, the wine must be produced with at least 85% of the named grape. In Portuguese wine labels there can also be found the following indications:

 

  • Verde - Used for young wines and are suggested to be drunk as soon as they are released on the market
  • Maturo - Used for wines which have been aged for a certain period of time and that can be further aged
  • Garrafeira - This term is used for wines which have particular qualities and are aged in cask or in bottle for a long time. It corresponds to the term reserve. White garrafeira must be aged for at least 6 months in their production container and for at least 6 months in bottle. Red garrafeira must age for at least 2 years in their production container and for at least one year in bottle. Wines belonging to this category must have a percentage of alcohol by volume of at least 0.5% higher than their equivalent DOCs.

 

Production Areas

 Wine production in Portugal is historically divided between table wines, mainly reds, and its two famous fortified wines, Port and Madeira. The country is mainly known for these latter wines, indeed the production of wine tables is extremely interesting and is getting, in particular during the last ten years, a high quality of indisputable value. Another famous wine of Portugal is the so called Vinho Verde, (green wine) produced both white and the less known red style, which can be appreciated best during its youth. In Portugal are cultivated hundreds of different species and in Douro, the renowned region of Port wine, are being cultivated more than 80. The majority of Portuguese grapes have very ancient origins and it is believed part of them were introduced in the country by Phoenicians.

 The cultivation of vine in Portugal certainly is not easy. The torrid summer climate and the critical fertile condition of the soil in certain areas, make the culture of vine pretty hard, moreover, in the north-eastern area of the country, in particular Douro, the aspect of the land is very steep, characterized by uncomfortable slopes where the cultivation of the vine can practically be defined as “heroic”. The phenomenon of the spreading of the so called “international” grapes did not seem to have significant effects in Portugal, here the production of wine is traditionally and strongly bound to local grapes, a rich patrimony of this country, which for many centuries, first of all with the Port and Madeira wines, has proven to have excellent potentiality. Among the most common white berried grapes in the country there are Alvarinho, Baul, Códega, Encruzado, Gouveio, Loureiro, Malvasia Fina, Pedernã, Rabigato, Sercial, Trajadura, Verdelho and Viosinho. As the country is mainly oriented to the production of red wines, including Port, the cultivation of vine is mainly about red berried grapes and the most important ones are Alfrocheiro Preto, Aragonez, Azal Tinto, Baga, Bastardo, Jaén, Periquita, Tinta Barroca, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Negra Mole, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira Preto and Vinhao.

 

Douro

 The Douro certainly is the most famous region of Portugal, in particular for the production of the renowned Port wine. The region goes along the course of the river having the same name and here the culture of vine is hard because of the conditions of the hilly lands and vineyards are planted in terraces built in the steep slopes. The region also produces interesting table wines, mainly reds, rich and full bodied, which are particularly appreciated among the wine lovers worldwide. Talking about the Douro region means talking, first of all, about the excellent Port, the famous fortified wine, the one who played the main role in the history of Portugal's enology.


 

 The grapes generally used for the production of Port are pressed by feet in large troughs, called lagares, according the ancient tradition with what they produced wine since ever. The must is usually left in contact of the skins for about one day and when almost half of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol, the fermentation process is stopped by adding ethyl alcohol, or brandy, with the result of neutralizing yeasts. The result of this operation is a sweet wine, with about 10% of residual sugar, with about 20% of alcohol by volume. At this point begins the most delicate and important process of the production of Port, the aging, which is also responsible for its style. Ports are essentially divided into two categories, the ones aged in cask and the ones aged in bottle. The styles of Port are about ten and we will briefly discuss the main characteristics of them.

 White Port is the most simple style and also the least appreciated and represents a minimal percentage of Port production. It is produced with white berried grapes, generally Códega, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho. White Ports are usually sweet and shortly aged in casks. Red Ports are generally produced with grapes Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, known in Spain as Tempranillo, Tinto Cão, Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional. Ruby Port is the most simple style of red Port and it is usually aged in cask for two or three years, has a simple and fruity taste and is generally produced with the least valued grapes coming from the southern area of Douro. Tawny Ports are divided in two categories, very different one each other. Young Tawnies, simple and direct like Ruby Ports, are aged in cask for two or three years, have a light ruby color and are destined for an immediate consumption. Aged Tawnies have a higher quality and are produced with wines aged in casks for 10, 20, 30 years and often longer periods of time, have an extraordinary complexity and quality. Vintage Character, not to be confused with the more valued Vintage, are produced with Ports of different vintages and of different qualities, usually aged in casks for four or six years. Late Bottled Vintage, abbreviated as LBV, are Ports aged from four to six years in cask and then bottled, they are interesting wines of good quality. Traditional Late Bottled Vintage are produced in favorable years, are aged in cask for four years and then bottled. They are wines suited for a long aging in bottle even for twenty years.

 The most looked for and valued Ports certainly are Vintage, marked with the vintage and produced only in the best favorable years, are aged in cask for two years and then bottled. This style of wines are destined for a long aging, even for tens of years, and are the most expensive Ports as well as the most extraordinary ones. These wines can also be drunk during their youth, however their indisputable class and complexity will be revealed only by the patient work of time of at least ten years. Not very different are the Single Quinta Vintage, where the grapes used for their production are harvested in a specific Quinta, the name used in Portugal to refer to a property or an estate. Crusted Ports are produced with different wines of different vintages and in the label is usually stated the average age of all wines. These wines, just like Vintages, are not usually filtered and therefore have considerable quantity of sediments and need to be decanted. Garrafeira are to be considered as Port Reserve, only produced in the best favorable years, aged in cask for about two years and for some ten years in bottle.

 In the Douro region are also produced excellent table red wines, considered by many as the best red table wines of Portugal. Grapes used for the production of red table wines are basically the same used for Port as well as Tinta da Barca grape. These wines are generally robust and full bodied, have complex aromas and tastes, however there also are light and fruity Douro red wines. In the region are also produced white wines by using Gouveio, Malvasia Fina and Viosinho grapes.

 

Madeira

 Wine production of this fascinating island of the Atlantic ocean is uniquely oriented to its prestigious and famous fortified wine. The island is located at about 850 kilometers south from Portugal (about 530 miles), west from the Moroccan coast. The harvesting of grapes for the production of Madeira is pretty hard because of the position of vineyards in steep slopes. The history of Madeira is pretty singular. At the end of the 1500s, the island was a port of call for commercial ships heading to the new world and here they used to load casks of the wine produced in the island. At those times Madeira wine was not fortified and casks were stowed in the ships and because of the high temperatures, at the end of the journey the wine was completely oxidized and “cooked”. In order to prevent this inconvenience, they thought of adding brandy to the wine in the aim of making it stand to the risks of a long journey. The wine was left in casks to age at the warm equatorial temperatures in ships' holds, and the preservative effect of alcohol helped to make it, at the end of a long journey, a rich and delicious wine: the myth of Madeira was born. The practice of “cooking” Madeira to the equatorial heat became a habit and was considered an essential part of the production process, and the best Madeiras were the ones which traveled for months in the ships' holds and for this reason they were called Vinhos de Roda, that is wines which left the island and traveled until getting back to the island, enriched and valued.

 Just like for the production of Port, some wine's alcohol is being added to the must while it is fermenting, neutralizing yeasts and leaving a considerable quantity of residual sugars to the wine. Nowadays Madeiras are not stowed in ships anymore and cooked by the torrid equatorial heat, however the “cooking” process is done by using estufas which also give the name to the estufagem process. The wine is being poured in a container, usually a wooden cask, and heated to a temperature of 40-45° C (104-113° F) for a period ranging from three and six months. It should be however observed that the process of heating of the best valued Madeiras is done without making use of any estufas, and it is done in a natural way by leaving casks in proper rooms under roof where the torrid heat of the island reaches high temperatures. In these conditions casks are usually left for long periods of time, often for tens of years, and at the end of this process the wine is moved to cooler rooms and then bottled.

 Grapes used for the production of Madeira are white and include Bual, Malmsey, Sercial and Verdelho. In the least valued Madeira is usually used the Tinta Negra Mole grape, a red berried grape. Casks used to age the wine are deliberately not filled entirely in order to encourage the process of oxidization which gives the wine its characteristic complexity. Madeira is produced in many styles, each one of them having proper qualities. The simpler Madeiras are usually produced with the Tinta Negra Mole grape, are rapidly heated for about 18 months and their color is usually because of the adding of caramel. Even three years old Madeiras, also known as Finest or Choice, are produced with the same method and are aged in steel or concrete tanks for about three years. Five years old Madeiras, also known as Reserve, are aged in cask and are usually produced with white berried grapes. Ten years old Madeiras, also known as Special Reserve, are usually produced with white berried grapes and are aged in cask. The same production method is used for fifteen years old Madeiras, also known as Extra Reserve. There is also a Madeira, whose production is getting more and more rare, made with the same method used for the Spanish Jerez and is known as Solera Madeira. The highest quality level is represented by Vintage Madeira, produced only with the grapes harvested in the vintage stated in the label and is aged for at least twenty years after having underwent the estufagem process. Vintage Madeiras are produced with white berried grapes only.

 

Minho

 The region, bordering Spain, in the north-western part of the country, is mainly known for the production of Vinhos Verde, the renowned white wines of Portugal. The name Vinho Verde, literally green wine, has no connection with the color of the wine, which is also produced as red, but it simply refers to a young wine, not suited for aging, and that should be consumed as soon as it is being released on the market. For this reason, the majority of producers do not state the vintage in the label.

 Vinhos Verde are simple wines, light, having little alcohol and slightly effervescence, they usually are characterized by fruity and flowery aromas, and can be produced with one or more grapes, even up to twentyfive. Generally these white wines are produced with Alvarinho, Trajadura, Loureiro and Pedernã grapes. The slight effervescence in these wines is usually because of the presence of carbon dioxide added just before being bottled. Red Vinhos Verde are very popular in Portugal and they rarely are exported, are produced with many red berried grapes where Azal Tinto and Vinhão grapes are the most important ones.

 

Other Production Areas

 Among the most interesting wine regions of Portugal it should be mentioned Dão, considered as one of the most promising areas of the country, which is located south from Douro and mainly produces red wines. The most cultivated red berried grapes of this region are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto, Jaée and Bastardo, whereas the most cultivated white berried grape is Encruzado. Superior quality wines have Dão Nobre (Noble Dão) mentioned in the label. The Barraida region, which is located in the central part of Portugal, not very distant from the Atlantic ocean, is known for the production of red wines, where Baga grape is usually present, and for its red sparkling wines. Another interesting wine region of Portugal is Alentejo, located in the southern part of the country, where are mainly produced red wines with the grapes Periquita, Aragonez, the name used in this region to refer to Tempranillo, and Trincadera Preta.

 




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  ABC Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
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