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That sweet gentleman with an English accent, “feito em Portugal”

Port wine is a sweet, elegant and seductive gentleman who has managed to become one of the most sought after and best known fortified wines in the world. It has a curious history, because it was created accidentally and began to be produced to suit English tastes. Let’s learn a bit more about this oenological gem that is a reward for patience.

Like we said before, Port wine came about by accident as importing wine from France (the English favourites) to the United Kingdom was banned in 1678. This led to the signing of the Treaty of Methuen with Portugal, which increased trade between the two countries, including the sale and purchase of wine.

Traders imported what was known as “red Portugal” or “tinto de Portugal”, a light, acidic wine originating mainly from Minho that did not appeal to the British palate.

They say that some English merchants visited a monastery high up in the Douro Valley during their stay in Portugal. There they sampled a smooth red wine with a delicious sweet touch that they loved and thought would be a hit with English consumers. When they asked where it came from, the abbot of the monastery explained that its secret was adding a little brandy to the wine, which is why it had that delicious taste.

The wine alcohol not only improved the taste but it also meant the liquid could withstand the long journey by sea to its destination and get there in the best conditions. To make Port wine, the alcohol is not added at the end of the vinification process, as was the case at the time, instead, it is added during fermentation so that fermentation stops and the wine retains a certain amount of residual sugar, which gives it the sweetness that each winemaker wants.

How is Port wine made?

The grapes are harvested by hand and when they reach the winery, they go through a meticulous selection process, are destemmed and deposited in granite vats where they are crushed in the traditional way to achieve a smoother extraction of the must and tannins. In some wineries, also called Quintas, this process is carried out mechanically or is only used to make high-end Port wines.

The must begins to ferment and when it reaches a certain level of alcohol and residual sugar, wine spirit is added to stop fermentation. From this point onwards, the wine can be aged in barrels for a period of time that will depend on the style of Port being made. It should be noted that 80 varieties are authorised for the production of Port wine. The selected grapes are harvested and fermented together. Some of the most common red varieties are: Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barroca. And the Códega, Malvasía, Rabigato, Arinto and Viosinho varieties are used to make white Ports. Remember that Port wines can be very sweet or not sweet, but they always have residual sugar.

Types of Port wine

There are different styles of Port wines, which depend on the quality of the base wine, its aging, the vintage or blend of vintages. These are the best known:

White Port 

This Port wine is a blend of wines from different vintages, so it has no vintage. It is made from white grapes and has to be aged for a minimum of three years before it can be sold. It should be enjoyed cool, as an aperitif and it is also used to make cocktails, like Portonic, which is served with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon. Why not try it yourself!

Ruby Port

This is a young Port wine with a beautiful and intense ruby colour, hence its name. It is non-vintage (it doesn’t have a vintage). It is aged in wood for 3 to 5 years and bottled ready to be enjoyed. It is one of the favorites of the English. These are tasty wines that are very rich in fruit. Try them with cheesecake or soft cheeses.

Tawny Port

One of the best known and most successful styles. The name “Tawny” refers to its colour, which can include different shades of amber, depending on the aging. This style is perfect to pair with intense cheeses like comté or pecorino, nuts or even ham. Those that are more complex and have a longer aging are perfect for enjoying with desserts like apple, walnut or almond pies, crème brûlée or even alongside foie gras.

Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV)

This Port is bottled later than a Ruby port. Hence its name. These are wines from a specific harvest that has been selected for its quality. They age from four to six years and are ideal to enjoy with roasted meats, steaks or game. If you're more into sweet than savoury, try these wines with desserts made with chocolate or berries. A delight!

Oporto Colheita or Colheita Port

This is a style of Tawny Port but that comes from specific vintages that are stated on the label alongside the date of bottling and aging, which can be approximately 8 years in barrels. These wines are perfect for enjoying on their own and savoured. They are also a wonderful accompaniment to desserts made with dried fruits, apples, almonds or walnuts.

Vintage Port

This style of Port wine is considered one of the oldest in the world. They come from exceptional vintages from great vineyards and are bottled after two or three years of aging but then they continue to age in the bottle. These wines have great longevity and can even age for over one hundred years! Undoubtedly great gems of the winemaking world that deserve to be enjoyed slowly. You can drink them on their own, savouring their delicious complexity, but you can also pair them with dried fruits, blue or intensely flavoured cheeses or candied fruits like apricots or figs.

Port wines are best enjoyed when they are cool: whites between 6ºC and 10ºC, Ruby wines between 12ºC and 16ºC and Tawny wines between 10ºC and 14ºC.

Let yourself be seduced by the elegance of this fortified wine, an elegant gentleman who opens the door to the richness of the wine that Portugal has to offer. Wines with character, that explain history and tradition and that never go out of fashion. A sweet and irresistible seduction! What are you waiting for? Try them now!

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