Portuguese sparkling wine, known locally as Espumante, is produced throughout the country. There are numerous regions and categories of Portuguese sparkling wine, though the best-known and highest-quality examples come from the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) region of Bairrada.
The Bairrada region lies in the Beira Litoral Province, close to the Atlantic Ocean. The region’s moderate climate, abundant rainfall and the cooling effect of the sea leads to grapes of excellent balance and acidity, which is in producing quality sparkling wine.
Bairrada produces a variety of wine styles, including quality red wines from the local Baga grape, though it is known to produce Portugal’s premiere sparkling wines. Portugal’s first traditional-method sparkling wine was produced in Bairrada in 1890.
Portuguese sparkling wine from Bairrada can be produced from many different grape varieties.
The region’s signature white grape—Maria Gomes—plays a significant role. Also known as Fernão Pires, the Maria Gomes grape is aromatic and has a relatively neutral flavor profile, making it ideal for the base wine that will eventually become a sparkling Espumante. Maria Gomes is often blended with Arinto, Bical, Cercial and Chardonnay. A blanc de noirs style Bairrada sparkling wine can be made from the Baga grape.
To qualify as Bairrada DOC sparkling, the wine must meet certain strict criteria. The producer must follow the traditional method—also known as the Champagne method—wherein the base wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in the bottle. Those wines that meet the criteria receive the tongue-twisting certification of Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Regiao Determinada (VEQPRD).
Beyond the Bairrada DOC, sparkling wine is produced throughout Portugal. No Espumante wine produced outside Bairrada can bear the VEQPRD designation, so all other Portuguese sparkling wine falls into one of three categories. Listing by highest quality first, they are:
• Vinho Frisante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada (VFQPRD): To qualify for this category, wines can be produced using one of three methods: the traditional method, the tank method (also known as the charmat method, best known in Prosecco production) and the transfer method. The wines must come from one of five designated wine regions, however, namely Alentejo, Douro, Estremadura, Minho or Ribatejo.
• Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada (VQPRD): The rules are similar to those at the previous level, though the wine can be produced anywhere in Portugal.
• Espumoso: These entry-level Portuguese sparkling wines are produced by injecting the still base wine with carbon dioxide (CO2).
Most Portuguese sparkling wine is intended for domestic consumption, and exports are relatively rare.
To learn more about Portuguese sparkling wines or find a bottle to your liking, use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide below.