Why No Large Format Bottles of Port?

This month’s Question for the Port Trade came from Symon Brown, a long time Port loving consumer from Ireland who asks:

Q:  There are double magnums, tregnums, five and six liter bottles of Vintage Port produced, yet we consumers are unable to buy them, no matter how much we want to.  What is the reason for this and why produce them if they are just going to sit and collect dust?  Can they be sold in ANY country at all, or are they illegal everywhere?

From Dominic Symington, Director, Symington Family Estates:

You would do well to also direct this to Julian Wiseman who has been battling with the IVDP on precisely this issue for some time now!

The situation is somewhat confusing and originating from the termination of bulk port shipments in the late 1990’s. At this time the authorities redefined the bottle sizes permissible for port and despite the best efforts by some members of the trade itself all large format bottles were prohibited from commercial sale although large format bottles could be used for promotional purposes, tastings etc. with special permission. Although commercial sale was not specifically mentioned it was clear that they didn’t wish this to happen.

The reasoning behind this rather confusing situation is the fact that in Portugal the cheapest wine was traditionally sold in 5 Lt. straw (later plastic imitation) covered demi-john bottles called “garrafões” (liberally translated as “big bottles”). Considering the above I appeared at the time that they were unable to distinguish between an imperial or jeroboam and a garrafão and by implication all large format bottles were for cheap wine! Fortunately the IVDP quickly recognized this rather absurd situation and although permission has to be requested individually they have for some years now allowed large format bottles to be used for tastings etc. and have recently liberalised a little more and again with individual permission have allowed for some large format bottles of Vintage Port to be sold.

There doesn’t appear to be any limit as to in which country these may be offered.

From Dirk van der Niepoort, Proprietor of Niepoort:

I will have to check, but as far as I know we were not allowed to bottle any port in any size bigger than 1.5 liter. The idea was to avoid the port being sold in the 5 liter jug. It is now for some time (don t know how long) accepted to bottle in bigger sizes under special conditions but it takes a long process to be accepted by the IVDP. The law says that we can bottle ports in bottles up to 3 liters. We can bottle bigger sizes but only for promotional situations, not for sale

From Miguel Côrte-Real, Commercial & Viticultural Director of Cockburn’s (BeamGlobal):

At Cockburn’s we don’t produce Vintage in such large bottles. Normally, in recent years, I bottled between 60 to 120 magnums of each Vintage for our own Vintage library and for special events.

From Pedro M. Branco, Proprietor of Quinta do Portal:

At Quinta do Portal we bottle magnums and will also bottle double-magnums of Vintage Port. We do sell them, and like the 750mls we can sell them anywhere.

From Sophia Bergqvist, Proprietor of Quinta de la Rosa:

We do bottle magnums and double magnums of port on demand otherwise they have the tendency to sit around rather like half bottles. The double magnums of LBV were fun for the Danish market who when they drink, they like to drink!

From Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership:

The first point is to provide you with a translation of the law:

Article 20º


1 - Notwithstanding the following paragraphs, the Port wine can only be sold, held for sale, introduced into circulation or shipped in glass bottles with the following nominal capacities in centilitres: 5 to 10 – 20 – 37.5 – 50 – 75 – 100 – 150, except port wine ''with an indication of age'',''Harvest'',''Crusted'',''LBV'' and ''Vintage'' that may use bottles with a nominal capacity of 300cl.

2 - In duly justified cases, the IVDP IP may authorize beforehand the use of bottles of greater capacity.

3 - Permission is granted to the bottling in bottles of other materials as long as these comply with the national and Community rules on the suitability of the material for contact with foodstuffs.

Therefore, for sizes above three litres we need special permission. This stems from the fact that the Portuguese used to drink a lot of table wine from 5 litre 'garrafoes'. To help ensure that Port had a quality image the law was introduced. It used to have a maximum size of a magnum and the increase to 3 litres is a recent development.

We have bottled bigger sizes for various reasons but normally with the idea that they would be used in tastings. For example Taylor bottled 41 six litre bottles of the 1977 vintage. We have used some for tastings - where they make an impact and for charity events where we have donated them.

The other reason is for personal use - I have bottled a number of odd formats for my children. Some Taylor 1994 is in a bottle that used to hold the Taylor 1912 and was drunk by Dick Yeatman at his wedding. The bottle was in the Taylor museum until reused for the 1994 and it contains a whopping 36 litres!

Normally our customers want to buy more half bottles when the vintage is mature but I am delighted to think that some want larger format. If we know in advance what the demand is then we could bottle larger formats. Customers just need to get in touch with us.

From Poças Pintão, Commercial Director, Manoel D. Poças Junior - Vinhos S.A.

Up to now the maximum available size for sale was the magnum bottle (1,5 litres). It has however allowed to bottle in 3 litre bottles but only for promotional purposes, so that’s why you see some of those bottles around but usually not for sale.

According to the legislation that is expected to come into force during this year, it will be possible to bottle and sell (under special request) up to 6 litre bottles. This is legislation from the Port and Douro Wine Institute so it is general for any country.

From Pedro Sá, Director of Enology, Sogevinus Fine Wines S.A. - Kopke | Burmester | Cálem | Barros | Gilberts

According to IVDP legislation: “Port Wine can just be traded, acquired for sale, put into circulation or shipped in glass bottles with the following capacities (centiliters): 5 to 10 – 20 - 37,5 - 50 – 75 - 100 and 150, with exception to Port Wine with an indication of age, as “Colheitas”, “Crusted”, “Late Bottle Vintage” and “Vintage”, which can be bottled in 300 cl bottles.

Uniquely in very warranted cases/situations, such as specific promotional campaigns, IVDP can previously authorized stowage in larger capacity bottles.

Concerning the wine evolution in bottles with different capacities, it is also important to refer, for example, that ageing of Vintages in 37,5 cl happens faster as the area of the wine in contact with the glass is larger, and therefore the ageing potential goes earlier. The same trend is followed by bottles with smaller capacities and the opposite occurs with larger ones. However, this ageing is not damaging.

A followup from Pedro's colleague:

Sandra Marques, North America Export Manager, Sogevinus Fine Wines SA:

If I may, I would like to add just a few comments about that subject. As far as I know, United States is the most restricted country when it comes to alcohol commercialization and in the US, it is legal to commercialize (under the TTB laws) 50ml, 100ml, 187ml, 375ml, 750ml, 1.5L and 3L. Containers over 3L must be bottled in quantities of even liters meaning that 5L bottles of Port will not get the TTB approval (labels) to be sold in US.

Commercially, due small quantities bottled in magnum, I find that wineries generally do not “push” these bottles into the market and tend to keep them for their own heritage and legacy and only open them on very special occasions at the winery. Also, keeping in mind the extra logistical efforts (we must be sure that they will be safely carried inside the container) and the lack of demand for these sizes, importers are not easily predisposed to purchase them, unless they have secure pre-orders.

Regarding Sogevinus, we sold several magnums (1.5L) of Kopke Vintage to Denmark and The Netherlands. Because we always keep good quantities stocked for our private cellar, quantities are very limited for trade and thus their access to consumers.

George Sandeman, Board Member, Public Relations & Institutional Representation, Sogrape Vinhos

EU and National legislation currently do not permit large sizes, but new regulations are being worked on which we hope will be implemented with the next 12 months and will permit these large sizes. There are some historic bottlThis ing of large sizes (tregnums and double magnums) which sometimes appear in auction houses and are worth acquiring.

A Question for the Port Trade appears in every other FTLOP newsletter, sharing this space with Port Personalities: In Focus. I hope you will email me with pertinent questions that you would like to have answered by the Port Trade, as I prefer interactivity and would like to include YOUR questions too. You can also suggest topics in the FTLOP Forum.

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:15+00:00 March 1st, 2010|Categories: Questions for the Trade|0 Comments

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