Author: Randy Hamilton
Port wine is a fortified wine that originates from the Douro Valley in Portugal. The wine is made by adding a distilled grape spirit, known as aguardente, to stop the fermentation process, leaving the wine with a higher alcohol content and a sweet flavor. Many people enjoy pairing port wine with dessert, such as chocolate or cheese.
Port wine comes in a variety of styles, each with its own unique flavor and characteristics. Here are the main types of port:
- Ruby Port: This is the most common type of port wine and is known for its vibrant ruby color and fruity, full-bodied taste. Ruby port is aged in large wooden casks for up to three years, which gives it a fresh, young taste.
- Tawny Port: Tawny port is aged in smaller wooden casks, which exposes the wine to oxygen and gives it a slightly oxidized, nutty flavor. Tawny port can be aged for up to 40 years, with the older vintages having a more complex flavor profile.
- White Port: White port is made from white grapes and is aged for a shorter period than red port, giving it a lighter, more delicate flavor. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif or mixed with tonic water for a refreshing cocktail.
- Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port: LBV port is made from grapes from a single vintage and is aged in casks for four to six years before being bottled. This gives it a more complex flavor than Ruby port, with notes of fruit, chocolate, and spice.
- Vintage Port: Vintage port is made from grapes from a single exceptional vintage year and is aged in bottles for several years before being released. It has a full-bodied, rich flavor and can age for decades, becoming more complex over time. Vintage port is considered the pinnacle of port wine and is typically the most expensive type.
Port wine requires specific grape varieties that thrive in the hot, dry climate of the Douro Valley in Portugal. These include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (also known as Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão, known for their thick skins, high acidity, and complex flavors that make them ideal for fortified wines. Grapes are handpicked and sorted to ensure only the highest quality fruit is used. The unique combination of grapes gives the wine its distinctive taste and aroma, making it one of the world’s most beloved fortified wines.
In the 18th century, the British ambassador was gifted a cask of port wine from Portugal, which he presented to King George III. The king enjoyed it so much that he requested more, but the second cask arrived spoiled. To improve its taste, his servants added brandy, creating the drink known as “port and brandy.”
The Treaty of Methuen in 1703 strengthened trade between England and Portugal, reducing tariffs on wool and wine. It led to increased demand for Portuguese wine, including port, in England. However, tensions arose when England reduced Portuguese wine imports in favor of domestic production, resulting in the “Port Wine War.” This conflict demonstrated the importance of port wine to the economic and political relations between England and Portugal. The British played a crucial role in the development of the port wine industry, becoming its main buyers, introducing fortification techniques, and establishing British-owned companies in Portugal.