Port wine (also known as Vinho do Porto, Oporto, Porto, and often simply Port) is a Portuguese, fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet red wine, but also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. It is often served as a dessert wine. Wines in the style of port are produced around the world in several countries—most notably Australia, South Africa, India, Canada, Argentina and the United States. But under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port. In the United States, Federal law mandates that the Portuguese-made product be labeled Porto or Vinho do Porto.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is then fortified with the addition of a Brandy (distilled grape spirits) in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels stored in caves (Portuguese meaning "cellars") as is the case in Vila Nova de Gaia, before being bottled. The wine received its name, "Port," in the latter half of the 17th century from the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe from the Leixões docks. The Douro valley where Port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation in 1756 — making it the 3rd oldest defined and protected wine region in the world after Tokaji and Chianti.
The reaches of the valley of the Douro River in northern Portugal have a microclimate that is optimal for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially grapes important for making the famous Port wine. The region around Pinhão and São João da Pesqueira is considered to be the centre of Port production, and is known for its picturesque quintas—farms clinging on to almost vertical slopes dropping down to the river.
Grapes grown for Port are generally characterised by their small, dense fruit, which produce concentrated and long-lasting flavours, suitable for long ageing. While the grapes used to produce Port produced in Portugal is strictly regulated by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, wines from outside this region which describe themselves as Port may be made from other varieties.
Port from Portugal comes in several styles, which can be divided into two broad categories:
The IVDP further divides Port into two categories: normal Ports (standard Rubies, Tawnies and White Ports) and Categories Especiais, Special Categories, which includes everything else.
Tawny ports are wines made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation. As a result, they gradually mellow to a golden-brown colour. The exposure to wood imparts "nutty" flavours to the wine, which is blended to match the house style.
Tawny ports are sweet or medium dry and typically drunk as a dessert wine.
When a Port is described as Tawny, without an indication of age, it is a basic blend of wood aged port that has spent at least seven years in barrels. Above this are Tawny with an indication of age which represent a blend of several vintages, with the average years "in wood" stated on the label. The official categories are 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years. For each category, the average age of the various vintage is at least that of the given category. It is also possible to produce an aged white port in the manner of a tawny, with a number of shippers now marketing 10 year old White Ports.
A Tawny port from a single vintage is called Colheitas (pronounced col-YATE-ah, meaning harvest). Instead of an indication of age (10, 20...) the actual vintage year is mentioned. However, they should not be mistaken with Vintage port (see below); whereas a Vintage port will have been bottled about 18 months after being harvested and will continue to mature, a Colheita may have spent 20 or more years in wooden barrels before being bottled and sold, at which point it will no longer mature. A number of White Colheitas have been produced, such as one by Dalva in 1952.
Confusingly, the word Garrafeira may be found on some very old Tawny labels, where the contents of the bottle are of exceptional age.
Ruby port is the cheapest and most extensively produced type of port. After fermentation it is stored in tanks made of concrete or stainless steel to prevent oxidative aging, and preserve its rich claret color. The wine is usually blended to match the style of the brand to which it is to be sold. The wine is fined and cold filtered before bottling, and does not generally improve with age.
Late Bottled Vintage (often referred to simply as LBV) was originally wine that had been destined for bottling as Vintage Port, but because of lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned. Over time it has become two distinct styles of wine, both of them bottled between four and six years after the vintage, but one style is fined and filtered before bottling while the other is not.
The filtered wine has the advantage of being ready to drink without decanting, and is bottled in a stoppered bottle that can be easily resealed. This is designed to exploit the extended shelf life such wines enjoy by comparison with vintage port, once opened. However many wine experts feel that this convenience comes at a price and believe that the filtration process strips out much of the character of the wine.
The term Late Bottled Vintage was first introduced by Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman in 1969, for the 1965 vintage, and the improved shelf life of the filtered and stabilised wine over vintage port was designed to appeal to the restaurant trade.
Unfiltered wines are bottled with conventional corks and need to be decanted and drunk immediately. Recent bottlings are identified by the label wording 'Unfiltered' or 'Bottle matured' (or both). Before the 2002 regulations, this style was often marketed as 'Traditional', a description that is no longer permitted.
If in doubt, a prospective purchaser can check the cork, and examine the top of the bottle to see if there is a stopper underneath the capsule; the serrated edge of a stopper is usually visible, or can be detected with a thumbnail. LBV is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a Vintage Port but without the decade-long wait of bottle aging and the obligation to decant and consume the bottle contents within a day of opening. To a limited extent it succeeds, as the extra years of oxidative aging in barrel does mature the wine more quickly.
Typically ready to drink when released, LBV ports are the product of a single year's harvest and tend to be lighter bodied than a vintage port. Filtered LBVs do not generally improve with age, whereas the unfiltered wines will usually be improved by extra years in the bottle. Since 2002, bottles that carry the words 'Bottle matured' must have enjoyed at least three years of bottle maturation before release.
Although it accounts for only about two percent of production, vintage port is the flagship wine of all Portugal. Vintage port is made entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year. Not every year is declared a vintage in the Douro; only those when conditions are favourable to the production of a fine and lasting wine. The decision on whether to declare a vintage is made in the spring of the second year following the harvest.
The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house, often referred to as a 'shipper'. The port industry is one where reputations are hard won and easily lost, so the decision is never taken lightly. During periods of recession and war, potential 'declarations' have sometimes been missed for economic reasons. In recent years, some shippers have adopted the 'chateau' principle for declarations, declaring all but the worst years. More conventional shippers will declare, on average, about three times a decade.
While it is by far the most renowned type of porto, from a volume and revenue standpoint, vintage port actually makes up only a small percentage of the production of most shippers. Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to thirty years of aging in the bottle before reaching what is considered a proper drinking age. Since they are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby colour and fresh fruit flavours. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to gain complexity and drink wonderfully for many decades after they were bottled, and therefore can be particularly sought-after and expensive wines. That said, compared with the very high prices of Bordeaux wines, vintage ports, even from the best years (at least from smaller concerns) are still affordable, albeit for many only for special occasions. Wine dealers, specialising in fine wines in the United Kingdom have, for example, excellent examples (some over twenty years old) at around £25/$51, with the very best starting at around £60/$122 per bottle (2008 prices)or even less. Examples of the famed 1963 vintage are available at time of writing (July 2008) for £61/$125 (Cockburns 1963, bottle, duty paid). Similar classics from Bordeaux and Burgundy are sold in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds, even for recent vintages. The situation in the United States is much the same.
This is a relatively new (at least in terms of marketing) development : it is vintage port produced from a particular vineyard and sometimes from a lesser "undeclared" year. However, some of the most renowned Vintage Ports are Single Quintas.
Much of the complex character of aged vintage port comes from the continued slow decomposition of grape solids in each bottle. However, these solids are undesirable when port is consumed, and thus vintage port typically requires a period of settling before decanting and pouring.
Vintage port should not be confused with 'Late Bottled Vintage' (see above).
If a port house decides that its wine is of quality sufficient for a Vintage, samples are sent to the IVDP for approval and the house declares the vintage. In very good years, almost all the port houses will declare their wines.
In intermediate years, the producers of blended Vintage Ports will not declare their flagship port, but may decide to declare the vintage of a single Quinta, e.g. the 1996 Dow's Quinta do Bomfim and Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas. Some houses now choose to declare their wines on all but the worst years: Quinta do Vesuvio, has declared a vintage every year with the exceptions of 1993 and 2002.
Improved wine making technologies and better weather forecasts during the harvest have increased the number of years in which a vintage can be declared. Although there have been years when only one or two wines have been declared, it is over thirty years since there was a year with no declarations at all.
In 1756, during the rule of the Marquês do Pombal, the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro (C.G.A.V.A.D., also known as the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro) was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing to the end consumer. The C.G.A.V.A.D. was also in charge of regulating which Port Wine would be for export or internal consumption and managing the protected geographic indication.
Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine. The long trip to England often resulted in spoiled wine; the fortification of the wine was introduced to improve the shipping and shelf-life of the wine for its journey.
The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many port shippers: Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Shippers of Dutch and German origin are also prominent, such as Niepoort and Burmester.
There is a unique body of English ritual and etiquette surrounding the consumption of port, stemming from British naval custom.
Traditionally, the wine is passed "port to port": the host will pour a glass for the person seated at their right and then pass the bottle or decanter to the left (the port side); this practice is then repeated around the table.
If the port becomes forestalled at some point, it is considered poor form to ask for the decanter directly. Instead, the person seeking a refill would ask of the person who has the bottle: "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" (after the notoriously stingy Bishop). If the person being thus queried does not know the ritual (and so replies in the negative), the querent will remark "He's an awfully nice fellow, but he never remembers to pass the port."
A technical solution to the potential problem of a guest forgetting their manners and "hogging" the port can be found in a Hoggett Decanter which has a rounded bottom, which makes it impossible to put it down until it has been returned to the host, who can rest it in a specially designed wooden stand known as "the Hoggett."
In other old English traditions when port is decanted, commonly at the dining table, the whole bottle should be finished in one sitting by the diners, and the table should not be vacated until this is done.
Once opened, port wines must be consumed within a short period of time. Those with stoppers can be kept for a couple of months in a dark place, but if it has a cork it must be consumed sooner. Typically, the older the vintage, the quicker it must be consumed.
Port wines that are unfiltered (Such as Vintage ports, Crusted and some LBVs), form a sediment (or crust) in the bottle and require decanting. This process also allows the port to breathe; however, how long before serving is dependent on the age of the port (particularly in the case of Vintage ports, which, once decanted are recommended to be consumed within 3-4 days.
It's high summer and sommelier Martina Delaney's recommendation for a refreshing cocktail is a little-known classic. "A favourite of mine would be white port with tonic and a sprig of mint," says Martina, head sommelier at L'Ecrivain.
Jul 11, 2009; It's high summer and sommelier Martina Delaney's recommendation for a refreshing cocktail is a little-known classic. "A favourite...