What is Port?

Port is a fortified wine and can only be referred to as ‘Port,’ if it is made from grapes grown in the specified region in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It was actually the first demarcated region in the world established in 1756 by the Marquis of Pombal, the Portuguese Prime Minister at the time in an effort to reduce scandals and to create a monopoly on Port. The drink was named after the local town of Oporto.

There are up to 80 vine varieties that are allowed to be used to make Port but the 5 main grape varieties used are; Touriga Nacional, Tinta Borroca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in Spain), Tinto Cão and some producers prefer to use Sousão, Tinta Amarela and Mourisco. For white port growers tend to use Gouveio, Malvasia Fina and Viosinho.

Believe it or not, people would use their feet to crush the grapes after they had been picked. It might not sound ideal to most but the foot is able to crush the skin without crushing the pips that can release phenolics that are quite bitter into a wine. Over the years as more people left the country to find work in the towns and during the wars in the 1960s, trodding by feet was less of an option so they started using autovinification tanks which are in use today.

After 2-3 days of fermentation, brandy is added to the grape juice which kills the yeast and so the fermentation stops leaving an amount of residual sugar in the wine. Barrel and then bottling ageing follows; the length of time dependent on the type of Port to be made. Once the wine has been vinified, it remains at the winery until the following spring and taken to Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south side of the river to Oporto. Well-known Port names include Cockburn, Croft, Taylor’s, Dow, Graham, Warre, Symingtons.

The weather is continental as you travel further east in the Douro Valley. The Baixo (Lower) Corgo is on the west which is cool and wetter than the other two regions further east. Usually the cheaper ruby and tawny ports come from this area.

The Cima (Higher) Corgo is at the centre of the Douro Valley. Rainfall drops from 900mm to 700 mm here and the weather is slightly warmer than in the Baixo Corgo. A large amount of high quality Late Bottled Vintage, vintage and tawny port is made here. Then further east lies the Douro Superior where less vineyards are located among the very remote and arid land.

Port is either aged in wooden casks or aged in bottle. Those aged in wooden cask or cement tanks are then fined and bottled ready for immediate drinking. Port aged in bottle are initially aged in wood for a short period of time and then put into bottle without filtration. These bottles then need to be kept and matured over 20-30 years before they are ready to be drunk.

The different styles of port are:

Ruby: If you’re looking to sample and get into ports, start with ruby. It won’t break the bank and the ruby style of port is the least expensive having been aged in bulk for 2-3 years. The name of the wine reflects its colour; it is ruby and has aromas of stewed flavours.

Tawny: This is made from a lighter wines (compared to those made into ruby) in the Baixo Corgo and many are aged up river where it’s warmer and maturation occurs quicker. Aromas of nut, hazel nut and hints of caramel are more synonymous to tawny port.

Aged tawny: Wine that ages in barrel for a minimum of 6 years and then an indication of age is labelled on the bottle from 10, 20, 30 years and so on.

These are made from good quality wines from undeclared years and could have been meant for vintage ports.

Vintage port: is the most expensive of ports and is declared only 3-4 times a decade. After the wine spends 2-3 years in wood, it’s bottled and sold on to consumers who will then need to cellar it for up to 30 years; depending on the wine. It is only the best grapes that are put into a bottle of vintage port. Make sure you have your decanter ready when you pour open your vintage port!

Colheita: these are wines that are made from one year and aged in wood for a minimum of 7 years. As a result, they are tawny in colour. These are less expensive than a vintage port and will have the noticeable effect of the wood ageing in the wine.

Late Bottle Vintage: These are made from a specific year but bottled between the fourth and sixth year after the harvest. They are either bottled after filtration or they are bottled without any filtration or treatment. If you can’t stretch to a vintage port, try this particularly as there are some exceptional LBVs on the market.

Single-quinta vintage: This is from a single quinta/estate. The wine is aged in barrel for 2-3 years during good (but not fantastic years) and often, after the wine is bottled, it is kept at the quinta until it is ready to be drunk and then it is released to the market.

Crusted or crusting port: This is a wine from many vintages and bottled young with no treatment so over time the wine will develop a ‘crust’ in the bottle as it ages.

Garrafeira: This means ‘private cellar’ or ‘reserve’ which are wines from one year and aged in wood for a short period of time then aged in small 5-10 1 glass demijohns. After spending 20-40 years aging in the glass, it’s then decanted, bottled and sold.

White port: This is port made from white grapes, made in a similar way to standard port except the time spent on skin is less (in order to avoid excess colour extraction). Many white ports are aged for up to 18 months in either cement or stainless steel tanks. In some cases they are aged in wood which gives the wine a less white and more golden colour.

We have a few different Ports in the store, come down and have a look. We also stock a wide range of Port styles made in Australia.