Port, not to anyone's surprise comes from Portugal. As does Madeira (the wine is made on an island of the same name off the coast of Portugal). These, along with Sherry from neighboring Spain, are the best known fortified wines. Wines that have been left sweet, to varying degrees, by the addition of a neutral grape spirit (like a rather raw brandy). Adding the spirit before the yeast finish fermenting all of the sugars ensures not only that the wine will be sweeter than not, but that the fermentation process will not restart.

Portugal makes many wines that are not fortified, though few find their way to the US. It is then these fortified wines that define Portugal in the minds of most wine drinkers. If you are ever presented with a chance to explore the real Portugal, to delight in its fresh and simple wines, and to meet the generous people, you will not be disappointed. For many, the closest you will come is to sip a little Port on a cold winters night, or to enjoy a glass of rare and ancient Madeira over a creamy soup. Explore these fine wines, if not the country itself.


Vinho Verde - Crisp dry whites, the best of which are often made with the grape Alvarinho.

Porto - A winding and terraced region along the river Duoro (which is also the name of the city at the mouth where most Port houses age their wine in "Lodges"). While the fortified Port wine is the regions most famous product, unfortified reds and whites are also made here.

Bairrada - Sparkling wines dominate this maritime region.

Dão - High altitude vineyards making long lasting wines from grapes like Touriga Nacional.

Lisboa (previously known as Estremadura) - Land of bulk wines surrounding the Capital.

Tejo (previously known as Ribatejo) - A very fertile region, which is not always what you are looking for when producing wine.

Alentejo - A huge region producing some of Portugal’s most popular, every day wines.

Setubal - Most famous for its incredible Fortified Muscat wines.

Madiera - Reknown for the fortified wines who’s longevity is due to their exposure to heat and oxygen during the winemaking process.

The wines of Portugal

Bual [or Boal] (boh-ahl) A grape variety used in Madeira. Increasingly it is used to indicate a medium sweet style of Madeira, regardless of the grape.

Late Bottled Vintage Port A style of Port created originally for restaurants. Since Vintage Port throws a great deal of sediment, it can be difficult for a restaurant to deal with. The solution was to age the Vintage Port in barrels for four to six years, before bottling. This allows the wine to be ready to drink when released as opposed to Vintage Port which may require decades of aging before it is at its best. With an LBV there is little to no sediment so decanting is not necessary. This style of wine is delightful, but is no substitute for actual Vintage Port. Often abbreviated as LBV.

Port A sweet red wine that is made by adding neutral grape spirit (brandy) to the unfinished wine. This is the process known as "fortification." Port is made in several styles. Vintage Port is made in years that are exceptional. It is bottled young, and ages in the bottle for decades. An aged Vintage Port throws a good deal of sediment and must be decanted before serving. Late Bottled Vintage Port is aged for several years in a barrel before it is bottled. It is a short cut method that allows the wine to be served with a minimum of fuss. It never will have the complexity of a fine Vintage Port, nor the price. Character Port is a house style that is not vintage dated. It is a simple, inexpensive style that will not improve with age. The label will not say "Character Port," it will have a brand name instead. Tawny Port has been aged in a barrel for a number of years (usually listed on the label). As the Port throws sediment, it is racked into a new barrel, leaving the sediment behind, as well as the coloring agent. The result is a lightly brown (tawny) colored wine that is nutty and complex. 10, 20 and 40 year old Tawnies are common. There is also a White Port made from white wine grapes. It is a drier, aperitif style. It is rarely seen in the US. Outside of the European Economic Community, which controls the legal use of the term Port, there are several Port style wines made in a similar fashion. Australia and the US are both producers of these Port styled wines.

Rainwater Once a trademark for a particular Madeira, it is now a generic term for a lighter, not too sweet, style.

Ruby Port A wood port, meaning it has aged in a barrel for some time, usually three years. The term Ruby Port is rarely used anymore, and when it is, it may mean a blend of red and white ports served as an aperitif in the cafes of Europe.

Sercial (sair-s'yahl) The driest style of Madeira.

Setubal (shtoo'-bahl) A fortified Muscat wine from Portugal. It is made in the rancio style, meaning that it is brown like a Sherry or Tawny Port. This type of wine is made in many parts of the world, but Setubal is one of the very finest, and worth looking for.

Tawny Port A Port that has been aged in a barrel instead of a bottle. The process allows the wine to take on a nutty aroma, and to lose its red color over time (turning a tawny brown). The best examples are usually labeled in decades, such as a 10-year-old, 20-year-old or 40-year-old. Inexpensive tawny ports may be a blend of red and white port, and do not resemble the real thing in any way. The US and Australia make fortified wines that they continue to label "Port" and the tawny versions of some of these are a relative bargain.

Vinho Verde (veen'-yoh vair'-day) This Portuguese "green wine" may be red or white, and is often slightly sparkling. Green in this case refers to the youth of the wine, rather than its color. The wine is produced far up the Douro river, almost to the border of Spain.

Vintage Port The most expensive, and longest lived style of Port. These wines are only made in years of exceptional quality, usually only a few times a decade. They are bottled when they are young, but are intended to age for 20 years or more before they are consumed. As they age, Vintage Ports will throw sediment and will need to be decanted before serving. This is the best wine to buy to celebrate the life of a child, as the wine will age in much the same way as a person. First the parent, and then the offspring can celebrate 12 milestones in their life with a case of Vintage Port. In its youth the Vintage Port is but a hint of what it will be. As it reaches its teens, it starts to develop character, but remains fiery. By the time it is 21 years old, it is fully mature, but without the character further age will bring. By the time it is 40 years old, it has mellowed from a hot plum-like flavor, to a soft nutty taste, full of complexity. As the port continues to age, it starts to lose some of its strength and intensity, but gains complexity and character. 60 to 80 years is often the upper limit of a Vintage Port, and few have the opportunity to taste them this mature, but few forget the experience. Only the greatest Port Vintages make it to the 100 year mark, while lesser years have faded long before this. While I eschew anthropomorphism in wine jargon, for Vintage Port it seems appropriate to make this connection to a human life span.

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