It’s still summer, and that’s the best time for bubbles! I love the tingly feeling in the mouth, not only for festivities, but also as an alternative to white wine. Especially when it’s warm outside! And although I used to drink a lot of sparkling wines, I had a hard time finding my way around Portugal at first, because there is no Prosecco or Cava here – no, I had to find Portuguese alternatives. But let’s take it one step at a time. Let’s first talk about what sparkling wine is available, and only then what the situation is in Portugal.
What is sparkling wine?
Sparkling Wines are all wines that contain bubbles: it can be a white, rosé or even red wine. Most common are of course the white sparkling wines. But there are many types of sparkling wines, but some of the most well-known are Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and Franciacorta. Champagne is a sparkling wine that is produced in the Champagne region of France and is made using the traditional method. Prosecco is a sparkling wine that is produced in the Veneto region of Italy and is made using the Charmat method. Cava is a sparkling wine that is produced in Spain and is made using the traditional method. Franciacorta is a sparkling wine that is produced in the Lombardy region of Italy and is made using the traditional method.
How is sparkling wine produced?
The bubbles in the sparkling wines are created by carbon dioxide gas that is dissolved in the wine – but how? There are several methods used to produce sparkling wines, but the most common method is the “methode champenoise” or the “traditional method,” which is used to produce Champagne (hence the name). Other methods are those used for Prosecco, for example. It’s also known as the “tank methode“. And the last method, which I see as the simplest or cheapest, is carbonation by adding carbonic acid. Let’s take a closer look at the first two methods.
traditional Method or methode champenoise
The traditional method involves a two-step fermentation process. The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, where the wine is fermented with yeasts and sugar. This produces a still wine, so it results in “normal” wine, which we could drink like it is. But as we want to add the bubbles, we have one more step to go: we need a second fermentation! So after having a still wine, the wine gets bottled. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, where the wine is fermented with additional yeast and sugar for a second time. The process of fermentation creates carbon dioxide gas as a side product. And as the bottle is closed, the gas can not go anywhere, so it dissolves into the wine, creating bubbles. After the yeast ate all the sugar, it dies, and remains in the bottle – at least for some time, as the wine is then aged on the lees (the dead yeast cells) for a minimum of 12 months. After ageing, the lees is removed, i.e. taken from the bottle. The bottle is only then closed with the cork.
charmat method or tank method
Other methods used to produce sparkling wines include the “charmat method” and the “tank method.” The Charmat method is also known as the “bulk method” or “Italian method” and it is used to produce Prosecco. Also here we have two fermentations: the first to produce the still wine, and the second to then add bubbles. In this method, the second fermentation takes place in a large stainless-steel tank instead of the bottle, which also creates carbon dioxide during the fermentation, but in the tank. To retain the bubbles the wine is then bottled under pressure. So when the wine comes to the bottle, it already is sparkling.
Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, .. where is Portugal?
Portugal is known for its diverse wine production, but it’s not as famous for sparkling wines as some other European countries like France or Italy. The percentage of produced sparkling wines in Portugal is also really small. However, there are a few types of sparkling wines produced in Portugal.
Espumante – sparkling wine from Portugal
Espumantes are produced in various regions of Portugal. But as sparkling wines need high acidity, the main regions are the more cooler, fresh areas of Portugal, including Bairrada, Dão, Vinho Verde, and others. They can be made using both traditional methods (méthode traditionnelle) and Charmat method (tank method), but mostly you’ll find the traditional method. Espumantes are often made from indigenous grape varieties and are most commonly white.
The most famous region for good quality sparkling wine is Bairrada. In this region the Espumantes are often made from quick-pressed red Baga or Touriga Nacional grapes (so called baln-de-noir, white wines made of red grapes), fragrant white Maria Gomes, Arinto or Bical.
dry or sweet?
As in all other countries as well, in Portugal you’ll have a range of dryness to sweetness that ranges from Bruto (dry), Meio Seco (semi-dry), to Doce (Sweet). You can find it usually on the label – which helps you to choose the wine you like. So here a table with the sugar content of the wines:
Bruto Natural – less than 3 grams per litre (g/L) – (It is mandatory that no sugar is added to the expedition liqueur)
Extra Bruto – less than 6 g/L
Bruto – less than 12 g/L
Extra seco – between 12 and 17 g/L
Seco – between 17 and 32 g/L
Meio seco – between 32 and 50 g/L
Doce – over 50 g/L
Most Sparkling wines I tried were very dry (Bruto) – which is what I like. But as in smaller supermarkets you don’t have too much choice for sparkling wines, make sure to check the labels, to find the one which suits you the best.
What can I say.. Portugal is a Paradise to find good quality sparkling wines and it will be hard to find anything else that offers so much for the price (if you comapir to French or Italian sparkling wines..). The whites I tried were all fresh, sometimes mineralic (coming from the coast), with some floral notes and all of them were produced with the traditional methode, resulting in fine bubbles and creamy mousse. The price range went from 7€ to 35€ and of course you can’t compair one with another. But even the very basic ones are good for this price – when I think what I would get in France or Italy for the same price. If you’d like to try something a bit different, you can try a Rosé, where you can find all the red berry aromas, like strawberries, raspberries or currants. For me personally it’s mostly the whites that I love.
so, how can we pair the sparkling wines from Portugal? Refreshing in the heat of summer and warming in the cold of winter, sparkling wines are perfect with fish and seafood. They are also an ideal choice for savoury salads – their acidity and delicate sweetness go perfectly with the dressing. And of course as an Apéro with some Olives, watching the stunning sunsets on the coast – that’s how I love them.
It’s important to note that while Portugal does produce sparkling wines, they might not be as widely available or as well-known as the sparkling wines from other countries. Nevertheless, exploring Portuguese sparkling wines can be a delightful experience, offering a unique taste of the country’s terroir and grape varieties.