Vinho Espumante – Portuguese Sparkling Wines

Vinho Espumante is a type of sparkling wine produced in Portugal, not too dissimilar to the much more well-known French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, and Spanish Cava. Similarly to those, it’s an amazingly versatile wine that is just perfect for late summer evenings, celebrations, and even cocktails, mimosas anyone? The interesting thing, its almost unheard of among foreigners, tourists and even some of the expats here. In fact, according to the most recent figures, it makes up less than 1% of the domestic wine sales in Portugal. So, lets introduce you to Vinho Espumante, and why you should consider it over the more well-known sparkling wines!

What is Vinho Espumante?

Quite simply, it is a sparkling wine, often made in a similar way to the much more famous Champagne. At its most basic, during fermentation the sugar within the wine, is broken down by yeast which results in carbon dioxide – and a sparkling wine. The most common methods are to add additional sugar and yeast to a base wine, then to allow it to pressurize in the bottle (bottle fermented). Or the base wine may have its secondary fermentation in steel tanks, before being filtered and bottled. The cheapest is to simply inject carbon dioxide to a base wine much like a soft drink. However, this results in the lowest quality sparkling wines which are best to be avoided unless you’re on a serious budget.  

Where is Vinho Espumante From?

Any region can produce espumante, the name is not protected in the same way Vinho Verde, or Vinho do Porto is. However, there are still strict standards and production guarantees that must be followed. The grape varieties are also open, you’ll find different vineyards using their typical grape varieties in their own espumantes. That said, there are some regions and quality labels to look out for. Beira Atlântico is the biggest producer of espumantes accounting for around 62% of production. Tavora-Varosa also deserves a mention, not only does it produce the second highest quantities of sparkling wine, but it was the first region in Portugal to be demarcated for sparkling wines. Peninsular Setubal is the third largest producer. With smaller amounts of espumante being produced in the Dão (7%), Douro (5%) and Alentejo (3%) wine regions.

How to Find Quality Espumante?

Much like the rest of the wine in Portugal, regional production and quality is regulated through the IVV (that’s the institute of wine). The one to look out for is either VEQPRD (Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada). Or VFQPRD (Vinho Frisante de Qualidade Produzido em Regiao Determinada). The difference here is the E and the F of the second letter, E stands for espumante, and F stands for frisante (semi-sparkling). Only several D.O.C.s can produce VEQPRD, and they must follow strict production, and origin requirements. This VQPRD comprises wines that are both DOC and IGP, so it can get confusing to follow all these letters. Lastly, is espumoso, the cheapest available and the loosest in terms of origin and production. More often than not, espumoso will be basic wines that are carbonated like soft drinks. So, stick to a DOC and you can’t go wrong.

Pay attention to the labelling (left, no designation, central – Tavora-Varosa D.O.C., Beira Atlantico, Indicacao Geografica.

What types of Espumante are available?

The most common is branco or white, but you’ll find rosado (rosé) and tinto (red) as well. In Portugal was the first time we’d tried a sparkling red wine, and not just the slightly sparkling Tinto Vinho Verde either. As well as those, you’ll have a range of dryness to sweetness that ranges from Bruto (dry), Meio Seco (semi-dry), to Doce (Sweet). We actually find that many of the Portuguese Sparkling wines to be on the sweeter side of things, so we tend to stick to the bruto, or extra bruto variety.

Are Portuguese Sparkling Wines any Good?

We’ve made it this far, and we still haven’t mentioned the taste! In our opinion they are exceptional and its hard to find anything else that offers so much for the price. If you’re a fan of sparkling wines, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed. You can easily find a good bottle for around €5 or less if you’re a savvy buyer.

Brancos are typically pleasant on the palate with a fresh and delicate flavour. They often present floral aromas, fine bubbles and a creamy mousse (a favourite term of champagne connoisseurs to describe the head). The rosés are similarly fragrant but with expressive notes of red fruits, like strawberries, raspberries or currants. Tintos can be considered more severe than rosés, and are an exotic experience if you’ve yet to try one. They are exceptionally fruity, with wonderful pink foam, and strong red fruit aromas.

Serving and Drinking Espumante

Best practice for serving espumante – serve chilled, in a flute or tulip type glass!

To make sure you get the best out of your sparkling wine, they should be served chilled, somewhere between 6°C and 8°C. This is because of the carbon dioxide (the bubbles) which need to be released in a controlled manner. This is also why they should be drunk out of a flute or a tulip. These glasses and their long stems help keep the wine away from your hands and chilled. While also ensuring that you can enjoy the taste without an excessive release of bubbles into your nose.

What to Pair with Espumante?

Now for the fancy, or perhaps fun bit. Sparkling wines can easily be paired with a wide variety of Portuguese dishes. Don’t be afraid of experimenting either… Although seafood and white meat is the typical pairing with branco espumante. You’ll find it paired with everything from pizza, traditional duck dishes, and the famous Leitão da Bairrada – roasted suckling pig.

If it is your first time coming across the sparkling tinto variety, then it’s best paired with spicier, or smokier dishes. For a luxurious twist, try pairing the humble grilled sardine, with a tinto espumante over lunch. The sweet red fruit flavours are a great match for the salty oily flesh of the sardine. You might also find a curry house or two pairing tinto with a spicy pork vindaloo. A Goan curry with Portuguese origins.  

Will you be Trying Some Espumante Soon?

We think vinho espumantes are criminally underrated and deserve a mention alongside many of the more popular wines in Portugal. Let us know what you think about Portuguese sparkling wine in the comments!

We drank:

Espumante Terras Do Demo Bruto (€7.99 at time of purchase)

Vinha Maria Espumante Branco Bruto (€3.99 at time of purchase)

Villa de Corgos Espumante Blanc de Blancs (€4.19 at time of purchase)


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