Serving wine: Portuguese terms explained

Vintage illustration of a corkscrew on green background

If you’re in hosting a dinner with Portuguese friends, eating great food, and serving wine you’ve probably kept listening to the same Portuguese words. This article aims to explain and give context to some of them. Do you know what is a garrafa? Rolha sure sounds similar to rótulo, find out why! Discover the differences between these terms and – prepare yourself – you’ll also find the words’ etymology. This is about to get really nerdy!

Disclaimer: I see myself as the Jon Snow of Portuguese wines: “I know nothing”. The same applies to etymology and its peculiar science, I know absolutely nothing. Blame Wikipedia if you find something shady or wrong. But do get in touch and let me know!

Garrafa: Bottle

Etymology: From Arabic origin غُرْفَة (ġurfẗ), from غرف (ġarafa, “to serve”) or from Persian قرابه (qarrâbah). You can read more about this topic in the Wictionary.

Serving wine. Port wine miniature bottles
Port wine miniature bottles

Gargalo: Bottleneck

Etymology: Uncertain origin.

Rolha: Cork stopper

Etymology: From Latin rotula, the diminutive form of rota (“wheel”), meaning small wheel.

Rótulo: Label

Etymology: From Latin rotulus, that also derives from rotula, in this case meaning roll, as in a roll of parchment or papyrus that was written on to make a permanent record. Source Wictionary.

Serving wine. Vintage Portuguese wine label from Gatão Vinho Verde
Vintage Portuguese wine label from Gatão Vinho Verde

Contra-rótulo: Back label

Etymology: From Latin contra, adverb contrā (“against”, “opposite to”, “contrary to”, “otherwise”, “in return”, “back”).

Saca-rolhas: Corkscrew

Third-person singular present tense of sacar. In Portuguese, sacar means to withdraw, pull out. Be careful not to confuse it with saca (“bag”).

Copo: Glass

 Etymology: From Latin cūpa (“tub, cask, large bawl”).

Cálice: Chalice or Goblet

Etymology: from Latin calix (“mug”), borrowed from Greek κύλιξ (“kulix”, “cup”) or goblet is a footed cup intended to hold a drink. In religious practice, a chalice is often used for drinking during a ceremony or may carry a certain symbolic meaning. Wikipedia. In Portugal, this type of cup is used to drink fortified wines like Port and Madeira.

Port wine properly served in “cálices”

Decantador: Decanter

From French décanter, from Medieval Latin dēcanthāre, from dē- +‎ canthus (“beak of a cup or jug”).

Depósito: Sediment

The broader meaning refers to deposit, depository, tank, warehouse. Etymology: from Latin dēpositō, dative masculine singular of dēpositus. Dēpositus, the perfect passive participle of dēpōnō. Dēpōnō from dē- (“of; from, away from”) +‎ pōnō (“place, put”).

Serving wine can be a bit tricky. I hope this article can help you to manage it while you have a great time. Any doubt or suggestion? Feel free to drop a line in the comment box below.

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My name is Sérgio Abreu, a multimedia designer and digital marketing specialist that has spent many years dealing with pixels, color charts and image editing software. Like Jon Snow, the Game of Thrones character, I know nothing… about wine. This is my quest.

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