PORT WINE, NAMED AFTER THE CITY
The real port wine also known as Vinho do Porto is a wine with a protected designation of origin and must be produced, labeled and marketed according to strict rules. The wineries have to meet certain guidelines and are monitored and regulated by the “Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto”, because after all, only port wine from Portugal can be labeled as Port or Porto. The characteristics of this special wine distinguish it from ordinary wines.
Port is fortified after pressing and fermentation, meaning a neutral high-proof grape brandy is added to the wine during fermentation, which kills the active yeasts, stabilizes the wine and stops fermentation before all the grape sugars can be converted to alcohol. This spraying gives the port wine its high alcohol content of 19 to 22% by volume. All red wine varieties have a rich, intense and very persistent taste. It is a predominantly sweet wine with aromas that include hints of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate, making it a popular choice for dessert or for special occasions.
Port is named after the port city of Porto, which was an important trading center and served as the main hub for the transportation and distribution of port wine. Port wine owes much of its fame and existence to the conflicts between the British and French in the early 18th century.
When the British blocked French ports, the French economy was almost completely stifled and the export of French wines was also interrupted. The English, however, did not want to give up their wine consumption and turned to their European allies, the Portuguese. They bought wine in bulk and mixed it with local brandy to increase the alcohol content in the casks, so it wouldn’t spoil during shipment to England.
THE VINEYARDS OF THE DOURO VALLEY
This region along the Douro River is now a well-known wine-growing region, with around 250,000 hectares of vineyards. In 1756, the vineyards of the Douro Valley became the first legally demarcated and regulated wine-growing region in the world. The mild and humid climate is particularly suitable for the aging of the wines, with the actual production then shifting some 70 kilometers down the valley.
In the spring, after the harvest, the winemakers extract as many pigments and tannins as possible within 24 to 36 hours after the harvest. After this, the wine is transported downstream and unloaded in the large warehouses of the port houses that stand in the narrow streets of Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite the old town of Porto. Here the wines can mature, be blended, bottled and finally shipped around the world.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RUBY AND TAWNY PORT
Both start out as ports, with the main difference being how long they are allowed to age in casks before blending and bottling. The unique cuvée of the more than 80 approved grape varieties, 29 of which are recommended, make the port so diverse. Each grape gives the blend a unique flavor, with the most commonly used grape varieties being Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. There are several categories of port wine, which can usually be further broken down by aging and quality. Overall, the most commonly found are a Ruby Port with a more ruby-red color and a fruity berry flavor, a Tawny Port with a caramel flavor and a White Port.
Ruby Port wines are aged in large oak barrels with a capacity of up to 100,000 liters. Port producers with modern equipment also use stainless-steel tanks. The size of the barrels prevents a rapid oxidation process and an intense transfer of aromas from the wood to the wine. A Ruby typically stays in the barrel for no more than three years and has retained more of its natural color and sweet, fruity characteristics of the grapes. As a result, its colors are more of a deep ruby-color. Due to limited cask oxidation, Ruby Ports also have the potential to develop in the bottle.
Ruby Port is the most heavily produced and cheapest port wine. It is a blend of different vintages with an average age of three years and is full of aromas and flavors of grapes and sweet plums. It tastes especially good with dark chocolate.
This is a Ruby Port made from higher quality grapes. The blends used in the making of Ruby Reserve undergo a more careful selection. They are more flavorful, have richer plum fruit than standard rubies, and are darker with more chocolate flavors. This is one of the best port wines. Ideally. It must be drunk upon purchase.
RUBY PORT VINTAGE
is the highest classification and is an excellent quality wine made from a single harvest. It is considered the King of Ports, with a depth and concentration found only in the finest wines in the world. It is a very dark, full-bodied red wine with aromas of spice and pepper, blueberry, grape and plum fruit flavors that develop as the bottle ages. Vintage Port is the only port that ages in the bottle, which means that these bottles go straight to the cellar for between 20 and 40 years. That’s because Vintage Port only spends about two years in cask before being bottled, so it still has to mature a lot before it hits the shelves. Vintage ports are only bottled three times in a decade. Treated like fine china, these ports are suitable for special occasions. In fact, it is so delicate that it must be consumed within 24-48 hours of opening the bottle.
LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE (LBV)
As the name suggests, the LBVs are bottled later than other vintages. After four to six years in wooden barrels, they are allowed to mature in the bottle and can then be referred to as Bottle Aged or Bottle Matured. This type of port is a dense, full-bodied wine.
SINGLE QUINTA VINTAGE PORT
In years when the wine quality does not reach vintage status, the alternatives are the LBV or a Single Quinta declaration. These wines come from a single winery and tend to be less concentrated and complex than a vintage, and also more affordable.
This is a mix of good vintage ports, usually from two or three vintages. The rounded style balances the best qualities of a range of crops. These wines must remain in the barrel for two years and then in the bottle for three years, with the date on the label being the bottling date and not the harvest date. Produced by only a few producers, this rare port is characterized by the lack of filtration, hence the name. The wine forms a crust in the bottle, so it must be decanted before drinking. They are considered a good alternative to the expensive vintage and are usually ready to drink when you buy them.
starts out as Ruby Port but spends 10 to 40 years in cask, rounding out its flavors, oxidizing slightly and taking on a beautiful mahogany hue from the wood. It matures with more air contact and thus gets more intense notes. Tawny color is slightly paler than Ruby and more brownish. The wines are stored in oak barrels, mostly with different capacities between 250 liters and 750 liters. The smaller casks are used because they accelerate the oxidation of the wines and intensify the exchange of woody aromas with the wine. With smaller kegs, a small amount of liquid meets a relatively larger drum surface. This results in more contact between the liquid and the keg wall. More contact means both more oxygen exchange between the cask and the liquid and an increased transfer of aromas from the wood to the wine.
There are only four ages that a Tawny Port can declare: 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and 40 years. The older, the higher the price and the more nuanced the flavors. Most tawny port connoisseurs agree that a 20-year-old tawny port offers the best flavor. They have aromas of dried fruits, as well as sherry, fig, rum and spice aromas. These ports pair well with milk chocolate or pecan pie.
Tawny Reserve wines are of higher quality than Tawny. It is best described as being between Tawny and an aged Port. It is aged in barrels longer than the minimum keeping requirements, but for less time than would be required for a 10-year-old Tawny. They can be red, similar to rubies, or brownish like the oldest tawny.
This is the only Tawny from a single vintage. Compared to a Vintage, Colheita stays in wooden barrels for at least seven years and is filtered after bottling. It is possible to find 100-year-old Colheitas for sale.
There are many variations from very dry (Extra Seco), to semi-sweet (Meio Doce) to very sweet (Doce) port. The sweetest is the so-called Lagrima, which contains at least 130 grams of sugar per liter of wine. The word Lagrima means teardrop, as it runs down the glass like a teardrop. The wines age for about three years in oak barrels, where they acquire a soft aroma and character reminiscent of apricots and peaches. White port is a great and refreshing summer drink and develops its flavors best when served at a temperature of about 8-10 °C.
WITH CHEESE AND CHOCOLATE
Port wine becomes more interesting and shares its sophistication when it meets contrasting elements. Strong flavors like milk chocolate, caramel desserts and soft cheeses pair perfectly with the mild Tawny Port. Ruby Port goes well with dark meats like beef and provides a great contrast when paired with dark chocolate. It also helps tame the stronger flavors of blue cheese or rind cheese and pairs well with salted and smoked nuts and even sweet cured meats. White port wine goes particularly well with poultry.
Apart from vintage port, port wine is relatively hardy and can be stored upright or on its side in a cool, dark place. Ruby Port has a shelf life of approximately 3 to 4 weeks after opening. Tawny Ports can be stored in the fridge at room temperature for about a month or two weeks. LBVs can last a week, maybe two if unfiltered. Vintage Port is designed to age for a very long time. There are prized vintage ports that are over 100 years old.
The article was first published in the Issue 18