What You Need to Know About Portuguese Sweet Wines
Some people call them sweet, dessert or fortified wines and when you order them in a restaurant, or in a wine shop, you may come to understand that not all of them are made equal and some are meant to be served as an aperitif. Confused? Not to worry. From today on, you’ll be guaranteed to know the differences between all of them.
I will be using a lot the word - Licoroso, stands for liqueur wine and to better understand it, it’s important to remember the Portuguese classification of wines:
Still (white, rosé, and red);
Sparkling wines (with natural gas - Natural Sparkling, or added);
Liqueur (white, rosé or red - Porto, Madeira, Carcavelos, Setúbal, Moscatel, late harvest, etc.)
Licorosos wines result from various forms of winemaking, the most common being in Portugal, the addition of alcohol (fine brandy, wine alcohol) during the fermentation process in order to stop the process of transforming the grape sugars into alcohol. In this way, the wine is sweeter and more alcoholic than a still wine, so we call them - fortified wines.
Another process to stop fermentation is with the addition of sulfur dioxide, as with late harvest wines.
Always with a sweet taste, their commonly called - dessert wine.
By now, you may realize that all of this Licorosos wines are sweet and also rich in alcohol. However, there are also those with a dry flavor, such as some White Ports, Madeira and Licorosos from the Azores.
Liqueur wines are not just for dessert!
Some people call them dessert wines. I believe it is limiting to put the moment of consumption of these magnificent wines at the end of the meal. In addition to that, there are dry liqueur wines that make them ideal as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to entrees.
That's why I prefer to use the classification – Licorosos, no matter how sugary it is.
Over the years, my experience has told me that this division between Still, Sparkling, and Liqueur wines is easier to understand and practice because it is also the basis for organizing wines in most Portuguese supermarkets and stores, so it will help you in the process of purchasing wine as well.
In our restaurants, you’ll invariably find them all together at the end of the wine list. Sweet and dry mixed together, and when the selection is not abundant, they add traditional and imported liqueurs.
Do you know the difference between a liqueur and a liqueur wine?
A liqueur is nothing more than the result of the infusion of fruits, plants, roots, cream, etc., into alcohol and sugar through various processes.
As such, it is an alcoholic drink with a somewhat dense texture in the mouth and velvety, often sweet, just like a liqueur wine.
There are 4 Generosos wines in Portugal
These are Licrosos wines whose origin is a Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) specified for their production. They are Port, Madeira, Carcavelos, and Setúbal wines. In other words, DOC was created exclusively for the production of these wines. The oldest is Porto, since 1756. And then in 1908, Setúbal (Moscatel), Carcavelos, and Madeira.
You won't find white, rosé, or red DOC Setúbal or DOC Madeira wines. And that's why there are DOC Douro still and sparkling wines but not DOC Porto, since the geographical area is the same.
And instead of DOC Carcavelos, the still wines made in the region are called Regional Lisboa.
To highlight these Licorosos wines with denomination of origin, we call them - Generosos (generous).
It’s very important to mention that the sweet Moscatel wines produced in Alijó and Favaios in the Douro region are equally famous and have a long tradition. They are bottled as DOC Moscatel do Douro.
And in the Alentejo wine region, there’s a tradition of making fortified red wines, just like Port wines, they are simply called Licoroso. As well as other sweet Moscatel wines that you can find from other Portuguese origins than those mentioned.
Televison program about Generosos wines
At the invitation of the national television channel RTP2, I participated in the Sociedade Civil program on the theme – Generosos Wines.
The other guests were:
Joana Vida (Venâncio da Costa Lima - Setúbal Moscatel wine)
Miguel Ferreira (Adega de Favaios - Moscatel wine)
Dirk Niepoort (Niepoort - Port wine)
Alexandre Lisboa (Villa Oeiras - Carcavelos wine)
Francisco Albuquerque (Blandy's - Madeira wine)
Virgilio Loureiro (winemaker)
It was a pleasure to be part of this group of people that I admire and with whom, some I have come across since my early days in the wine industry in 1997 and with all of them, I always learn a lot.
I started in the wine business working with Port Wine and so I’m equally passionate about the other liqueurs wines and I drink them often.
It was more than an hour of a Skype conversation well conducted by television presenter Luis Castro. The link to see the program is HERE. Sorry no subtitles available.
How to serve and appreciate
As a Sommelier, it was up to me at the end of the television program to indicate the best ways to consume these wines at home.
Pay attention to the glass you use and at what temperature you drink
Forget the small, thimble-like glasses and use a white wine glass! Liqueur wines are rich in aromas and need space in the glass to reveal themselves to your nose.
In the same way, the temperature is also essential. Put them in the fridge, whether white or red and drink them fresh to feel the aroma and flavor so that the alcohol doesn't stain your mouth. The perception of sweetness will also be less.
Dry whites 9-12.ºC
Sweet whites 7-8.ºC
Young reds 15-17.ºC
Wood aged whites/reds 12-14.ºC
The serving size is usually 7cl.
Given the alcoholic richness, I always recommend eating something, from green olives with an Extra Dry White Port, sheep's cheese with a dated Moscatel Setúbal, poultry pâté and a 5 Year Old Madeira Verdelho or an egg pudding with a 10-Year-Old Carcavelos.
When the liqueur wine is dry or extra-dry, the ideal moment will always be before the meal as an aperitif, with small starters, or at the table with the starter. Wine-aged white or red liqueur wines, with no harvest year on the label, should also be served at the beginning of a meal.
As for the pairings, play with the sweet/salty combinations, remembering that if you opt for a dessert, the wine must be sweeter than it.
For a dark chocolate, a Porto Ruby Reserva. For milk chocolate, a 10-year-old Tawny or a Moscatel of Setúbal.
Liqueur wines with long aging in wood, especially if dated, are an excellent digestive. If you’re a smoker, opt for a cigarillo or cigar.
If the bottle is not empty, everything is fine
There will be no waste! Alcoholic richness and sugar, will preserve the wine for longer than if it were a still wine. You’ll only have to remove the air from inside it using a vacuum pump and then put the bottle back in the fridge.
If the wine is not filtered, you can enjoy it for 2-3 weeks. If filtered 2-3 months.
To learn even more about liqueur wines, schedule an online class with me HERE. We’ll have a sweet conversation!