Port? What is Port wine, anyway?

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Port Portuguese wine

Port is a Portuguese wine that is made by adding distilled grape spirit, usually brandy, to a wine base. The addition of the high-alcohol spirit stops fermentation and “fortifies” the wine. Made in Portugal’s Douro Valley, only wines that are produced in this region can be labeled Port or Oporto in Europe. All grapes must be grown and processed in this specific region.

The soils of the Douro River Valley consist predominantly of schist and granite. The region is divided into three zones that sit west to east hugging the river: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. The western part of the valley possesses a Mediterranean climate that produces warm summers and a fair amount of rain, however as you move more inland toward the Douro Superior, the climate becomes more dry and arid.

More than 80 grape varieties can be used to produce Port. The major varieties used in Ports with a red wine base are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, while for the white Port the main varieties are  Donzelinho Branco, Sercial, Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Rabigato, Gouveio and Folgasão.

Port is made like any other wine, however, there’s an additional step. Before all the sugar has been converted to alcohol, a neutral grape spirit is introduced to the wine. This process is known as fortification. For Port, the neutral spirit is commonly called aguardente (brandy).The aguardente kills the remaining yeast and stops fermentation. The resulting wine retains some of its residual sugar, resulting in off-dry to sweet final profiles, and possesses a higher alcohol content, typically around 20% alcohol by volume (abv). Wines are stored and aged in barrels before bottling.

How Port become Port? Port is named after Portugal’s seaport city of Porto in the Douro region, which became an official appellation in 1756, making it the third-oldest wine appellation in Europe. But grape growing and wine production in Portugal, and specifically in the Douro, began thousands of years ago.

There are six major styles when it comes to Port:

  1. The first, Ruby, is the least expensive and most produced style of Port. It’s stored in stainless steel or concrete tanks, which minimizes contact with oxygen when compared to wood vessels and preserves its ruby-red color. These wines, best enjoyed in their youth. Two subcategories of Ruby Port are Reserve and Rosé. Reserve Ruby Port is considered better quality. Rosé Port, which only entered the market just over a decade ago, is made in a way similar to traditional rosé wine. It has minimal exposure to grape skin, which gives it a pink look.
  2. Tawny Port is made from wine aged in wooden barrels. The wood contact allows both evaporation and oxidation, which changes the color of the wines. They appear rusty or tawny, rather than bright red. Oxygen also introduces secondary, nutty flavors to these wines.The better quality Tawny Ports are aged in wood and labeled 10, 20, 30 or over 40 years. The age distinction does not equal how much time the Port has aged. Instead, it denotes the characteristics of the final blend. Single-Vintage Tawny Ports are known as Colheitas.
  3. Garrafeira Port, which is extremely rare and always Vintage-Designated, is matured in wood, but also spends a minimum of eight years in glass demijohns. The glass ageing process creates a distinct aroma and flavor.
  4. White Port is made from white grapes and can be found in dry, off-dry and sweet styles. It’s often used in Portugal in a signature cocktail, the Port Tonic that is made with white Port, tonic water and a twist of citrus.
  5. Late-bottled vintage Port (LBV) is wine from a single year, always bottled four to six years after harvest. Unfiltered LBVs labeled Envelhecido em Garrafa have also matured in the bottle for a minimum of three years.
  6. Vintage Ports are the most expensive style. The wines must be aged in barrels and bottled two to three years after harvest. These wines can age up to 40 to 50 years before they are ready to be fully enjoyed.

One of the Port Notable Houses is Quinta do Noval that we have the pleasure of working with one of the most reliable and famous houses of Port. Please drop us an email if you are interested in tasting some of our Ports info@h2vn.co.uk