Aguardente and benefício in port production

Two Portuguese words, pivotal in port production and well worth a more in-depth explanation, are aguardente and benefício. As explained in last month’s blog, aguardente is the added alcohol that fortifies grape must, and the end product is port.  Aguardente combines two decisive words: água (water) and ardente (fiery).  At 77% alcohol it is hot and fiery!  Distilled from white wine, and sourced on colorless and flavorless merit, it is approved by and sold only through port’s regulatory body, the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (IDVP).

Pre-harvest August is when the IDVP issues to each grower the benefício, (translated its root word is benefit), the amount of grape must permitted by the IDVP that can be turned into port by fortifying with aguardente, limiting how much port the grower can produce for the given year.  Total annual benefício for the port trade is calculated based on sales in the last 12 months and the port wine inventory in Vila Nova de Gaia and in the Douro region.  Considered  “port's production-limiting safety valve”, in stronger economic years more benefício is granted and in weaker years less benefício is granted, in an effort to avoid a boom and bust sales pattern.

The benefício is based on the grower’s vineyard classification. The cadastro is the Douro’s official vineyard register with grading from A to F, based on land, vine and climate.  The following criteria strongly influence the rating: altitude, soil type, sun exposure, slope, grape varieties, vine age, etc. A and B grading, the most presitigious, are generally allowed to make their entire authorized production into port, and C to F less on a sliding scale.  Quinta do Tedo single quinta estate vineyards are proudly classified A, the highest rating possible: located on the Douro, schist soil for optimal port varietal growth, full sun exposure for even ripening, steep slopes for good drainage, suitable varietals and parcel age between 15 to 75 years.

That benefício would have such a key role in port production intrigues me, an American used to a laissez-faire economic system.  These respected rules and regulations exist since decades, to maintain the quality and control the quantity on the market.