Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Does Port Wine Only Come From Portugal?

15404669299_e8fe87e4d6_mThe answer to this question seemed like a no-brainer to me. You can have Port-style wines, but only wine from Portugal can be called Port.

At our Open That Bottle Night festivities, Jack, one of our guests, opined that any wine could be called Port and the real Port was labeled “Porto.” I quickly asserted that only wine produced in Portugal could be called Port.

Seemingly within seconds our friend Chuck had Wikipedia on his smart phone and delivered this nugget of info: “Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as port or Porto. In the United States, wines labeled ‘port’ may come from anywhere in the world…” Was my mind muddled by wine? Was I completely off target?

To backtrack, Port is a fortified wine that has been made in the Douro region of Portugal for centuries. The name comes from the fact that these wines were shipped out of the port city of Oporto, which is the largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. It’s an extraordinary wine and a superb pairing with dessert and cigars.

However, and this may shock you, the internet is not always correct! Not only did the European Union move to protect designated wine regions abroad, but in September 2005 signed a trade agreement with the US concerning the use of “port” (and other such terms) in wine labeling.

The US agreed to prohibit the use of 16 semi-generic names on wine labels, such as chablis, Champagne, port, sherry and chianti. Names, such as chablis, burgundy, port and champagne, called semi-generics, have been in use on wine labels in the U.S. since the 1800s. U.S. winemakers had been legally permitted to use a group of 16 specific semi-generic terms on labels if accompanied by an adjacent appellation of origin.

The September 2005 trade agreement allowed for the continued use of these terms on existing brands (but not new brands). So some “port” has been grandfathered in.

As a conscientious wine consumer, I support the wine regions who are trying to protect against the misuse of names by producers trying to benefit from illegitimate connections to certain regions. Rogue wineries from Germany to China have even put “Napa” on their labels. That’s not cool.

If you see a Port from Bulgaria or a Champagne from Arkansas, think twice.

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Photo Credit: Fareham Wine via Compfight cc

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