Types of wine: Portuguese terms explained

Vintage illustration of three glasses on blue background

Understand the different types of wine from Portugal. Discover the meaning of words like “vinho”, “vinho verde and “espumante”.

When looking at labels, going to the supermarket, or talking about wine with friends, there are some omnipresent terms. This article aims to explain and give context to some of them. For instance, discover the differences between very similar words like vinho and Vinho Verde or the meaning of espumante but – prepare yourself – you’ll also find these 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!

Tinto: Red

The Portuguese word for red is vermelho, which still is not used to describe red wine. Tinto is closely related to tinta (“paint”) and means impregnated with, dipped in, colored, or tinged. It’s literally what happens when you accidentally pour some red wine into your shirt. Etymology: Originally from the Latin tinctus.

Cartuxa is one of the most celebrated red wines from Alentejo
Cartuxa is one of the most celebrated red wines from Alentejo

Branco: White

Etymology: From Vulgar Latin blancus, from Proto-Germanic blankaz (“bright, shining, blinding, white”), from Proto-Indo-European bhleg- (“to shine”).

Catarina is a classic white wine from Setúbal region
Catarina is a classic white wine from Setúbal region

Vinho verde: Also vinho verde in english

Vinho was referred to before and verde means green. In the agricultural context verde also means not ripe. A logical word to describe this highly acidic wine variety from northern Portugal.Etymology: Verde derives from Latin, viridis or virdis, meaning green but also young, fresh, lively, youthful.

Soalheiro sets the bar high for wines made from alvarinho grapes

Rosé: Rosé

Etymology: Borrowed from French rosé (“pinkish”).

World famous Mateus Rosé

Espumante: Sparkling

In a broader meaning: bubbly, foamy, or fizzy. Etymology: Derives from the Italian spumante.

Murganheira stands for Portuguese sparkling wines

Palhete or clarete: Claret

A wine light-colored or with a light body. Etymology: Palhete derives from palha borrowed from Latin palea (“chaff”) meaning “which is the color of straw.”Clarete: From Middle French claret, from Medieval Latin claratum vinum, from Latin clarus (“clear”, “bright”).

Vinho Clarete by Quinta Da Lapa is a fresh take on an old winemaking tradition

Moscatel: Muscat

Moscatel is the name of very sweet grape varieties and also to the wine produced with them. Etymology: The theories as to the origins of the name “Muscat” are numerous. The most commonly cited belief is the name is derived from the Persian word muchk. Similar etymology follows the Greek moskos, Latin muscus, and French musc. More about this topic in Wikipedia.

Alambre is a moscatel wine from Setúbal

Reserva: Reserve

According to the Portuguese law: “Reserva is a mention reserved for wine, related with the harvest year, with highlighted organoleptic characteristics and an alcoholic strength equal to or greater than 0.5% by vol. to the legally established minimum limit”. Depending on the certifying organism, “highlighted organoleptic characteristics” can mean superior quality or not. Etymology: From Latin servō (“preserve”, “save”).

Vinho generoso: Fortified wine

Wine to which brandy was added during fermentation, avoiding the total transformation of sugars into alcohol. Vinho Generoso thus becomes sweeter and more alcoholic than table wines. Port, Madeira, and Moscatel wines fall into this category. Etymology: From Latin generōsus, from the genus (“birth, origin”). Generōsus: well-born, noble; superior, excellent; (figuratively) generous, magnanimous; (figuratively) dignified, honorable.

Casa Ferreira is one of the most notorious Port wine producers

Pinga: Portion of wine

Pinga means drop or gout and is a popular expression for wine. This word is often used within the expression “boa pinga” meaning “good wine”. Etymology: From Vulgar Latin pendicāre, from pendō (“I hang”) + -icāre.

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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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