Portuguese wine labels are probably the least readily understood in Western Europe due in part to the low number of non-Portuguese who speak the language, in the UK at least. While many wine drinkers have a smattering of French from school, Spanish from holidays abroad and Italian from a mixture of holidays and cultural interests Portuguese is usually seen as being both difficult and a little too different. Historically Portugal's contribution to the international wine trade was restricted to supplying the world with Port, Madeira and cork for bottle closures. Apart from the Douro's production of Port and a few highly regarded table wines the quality of mainland Portugal's other wines might best have been described as variable in a historical context. In addition the use of predominantly native grape varieties may well have been seen as a little too esoteric by the average wine drinker. Its more recent history has been shaped by Portugal's accession to the European Community in 1986 that not only required the strict implementation of designations of wine quality but also presented new marketing opportunities to a new generation of forward-thinking winemakers eager to exploit the EU's open markets and the democratisation of wine drinking throughout Europe and even further afield.

With at least two hundred and fifty native grape varieties, a range of soil types and climates as diverse as Atlantic, Mediterranean and continental in the interior the Portuguese wine industry has a wealth of raw-material with which to work. Since joining the EU the complex structure of Portuguese wine classifications has been made clearer. Straight-forward Vinho or Vinho de Portugal has replaced the original Vinho de Mesa or table wine. This is usually a blended wine, the label without reference to geographical specificity or varieties of grapes used. The next level in the hierarchy is that of regional wine or Vinho Regional (VR) in Portuguese. Such wines can be very good especially where a quality-conscious producer has made the decision to work outside of the more restrictive DOC regulations and possibly using international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Between this category and the DOC wines is a new classification that was introduced in 1990 as a half-way house for wines that were from newer regions striving to be awarded DOC status. This level was called Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada (IPR). Since its introduction most wines that were originally included have since been granted DOC status and the classification is no longer significant. DOC wines (Denominação de Origem Controlada) are the equivalent of the French AOC designation. The permitted grape varieties as well as vineyard management and vinification protocol are defined by a regionally based Comisao Vitivinicola (Wine Comission). The most important demarcated wine regions in Portugal include the Douro, Dão, Bairrada, Alentejo, Vinho Verde, Trás-os-Montes, Lagos as well as the widely known Porto and Madeira DOCs.


Portuguese Wine Label Terminology.

  • Adega- Winery.
  • (Vinho) Branco - White wine.
  • Bruto - Dry sparkling wine.
  • Casa- House, wine producer e.g. Casa Ferreirinha
  • Casta (plural Castas) - Grape variety.
  • Casta Predominante - Predominant grape variety where the wine is a blend of more than one type.
  • Colheita - Vintage.
  • DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) - Highest level classification for Portuguese wines.
  • (Vinho) Doce - Sweet (wine).
  • Engarrafado / Garrafado (Por) - Bottled (by).
  • Engarrafado (Garrafado) na Origem / Quinta - Estate bottled.
  • Engarrafado / Garrafado na Regiao - Bottled in the region of origin.
  • (Vinho) Espumante - Sparkling wine, usually made in the traditional manner with a secondary fermentation in bottle.
  • (Vinho) Espumoso - Sparkling wine artificially carbonated in tanks before being bottled under pressure.
  • Garrafeira - Literally translates as "wine cellar" however it has a specific legal definition on a bottle of Portuguese wine: A red garrafeira must have been aged for at least two years in barrel and one year in bottle. A white garrafeira must have aged for at least six months each in barrel and bottle. A garrafeira will be the top wine from a given producer although ultimately the quality will depend on the producer's skill, resources and intent.
  • IPR (Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada) - Wine classification one level below that of DOC. Once important now rather less so.
  • Meio-Seco - Literally half-dry. Refers to an off-dry sparkling wine or vinho verde.
  • Produzido Por - Produced by.
  • Quinta - Literally a farm but used to mean an estate with a (large) house, vineyard and winery. Can be likened to the French term Château.
  • Vinho Regional (Vr)- Regional wine from a broad but legally defined origin. Regulations allow greater flexibility than those for DOC wines.
  • (Vinho) Reserva - Vintage wine, it must be at least 0.5% higher in alcohol than the legal minimum set for the DOC and red wine will have been aged for a year in barrel and another in bottle before being made available for sale.
  • (Vinho) Rosado - Rosé wine.
  • (Vinho) Seco - Dry wine, usually seen on a bottle of white wine.
  • Tambor - Barrel.
  • (Vinho) Tinto - Red wine.
  • Vinhas Velhas - Old vines.
  • Vinho- Wine.
  • Vinho Verde - Literally "green wine", meaning young. A type of wine, it can be red or white, that is meant to be drunk young and not for ageing. A DOC region in the north of Portugal.


Buy Portuguese Wines