What is port wine?
The port was named after the Portuguese port city of Porto, which is an important trading center for the transport and sale of wine. However, port wine was invented in England, in the 18th century. There they came up with the idea of stopping the fermentation of the wine prematurely by adding grape brandy in order to obtain a sweet wine with a high alcohol content.
The Portuguese recognized this as a lucrative business. Even today, production still takes place exclusively in Portugal, more precisely in the Douro Valley . And after port wine gained popularity throughout Europe over the years, England was replaced by France as the main buyer of dessert wine.
The growing area in the Douro Valley is located at the mouth of the Douro and covers a vineyard area of 250,000 hectares. The mild and humid climate there is well suited for the aging of the wine.
The term port wine is protected in Europe and a wine can only be called so if it was also made from grapes that come from the northern Portuguese Douro Valley.
Today more than 80 grape varieties are approved for the production of port wine. However, the main red varieties of port wine are Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barroca. Port wine is rarely found in white, this is often made from Malvasia Fina, Rabigato or Codega.
Another way to categorize port has to do with its style. Depending on your preference, you can enjoy so-called Ruby, Vintage, Tawny, White or Rosé Port.
How is port wine made?
Once the grapes have been harvested in the Douro Valley, it has to be done quickly because as much of the coloring matter and tannins as possible are extracted from them within 24 to 36 hours.
In the past, this was achieved by pounding on the grapes for hours. Most winemakers now use machines. Nevertheless, some top wines are still made by hand (and foot) even today.
After about 2 to 3 days, when the wine has reached an alcohol content of 6 to 9 percent during fermentation, the grape brandy is added. This has exactly 77 percent alcohol by volume and kills every yeast cell immediately. This stops the fermentation process. This process is called vinification .
The subsequent storage of the port wine is also particularly important. After vinification, the wine stays in the Douro Valley for a while and is then taken to Porto, where the actual aging process begins, which lasts from 2 to 6 years.
In general, port wine is of better quality that has been stored longer in the large barrels or in the bottle. This maturation ultimately determines the color and taste of the port wine. Younger port wine tends to have an intense flavor of red berries, while older port wine has a more subtle and spicy aroma and is lighter in colour.
What types of port wine are there?
There are a variety of port wine varieties. The best known include Ruby Port, Vintage Port, Tawny Port, White Port and Rosé Port. The basis for the classification into these port wine varieties are the production, the coloring and the taste characteristics of the respective style, which are explained below.
The Ruby Port
This classic is stored in large oak barrels with a capacity of up to 100,000 liters. The size of the barrel prevents the oxidation process from happening too quickly and prevents the aromas from being transferred from the wood to the wine.
The Vinho do Porto Ruby stays in the barrel for about three years and has the potential to continue maturing later in the bottle due to the limited oxidation in the barrel.
As the name suggests, this port wine is characterized by its dark, rich ruby red color. Its aroma is strong and fruity with pronounced notes of red berries.
Vintage port wine
The jewel among the port wines - the so-called vintage port wine - is made exclusively from grapes from a top vintage and the best quality.
After production, the Vintage Port should always be stored in the bottle for five to ten years, as it can still develop further if stored properly.
In the first five years after bottling, the vintage port has an intense ruby red robe and an intense aroma, which is dominated by exuberant aromas of red berries and dark chocolate. This makes young Vintage Port the ideal accompaniment to dark chocolate desserts.
After a longer storage period of ten years, the wine acquires a garnet-colored red and aromas of exotic spices, mild tobacco leaves and red berry jam emerge.
The longer the storage, the more complex the aroma structure. Vintage ports can be stored for well over 50 years and it is even recommended to wait about ten years after purchase to get a better taste experience.
The Porto Tawny is the second classic among port wines. However, unlike the Ruby, this wine is aged in smaller casks (250-750 litres) and is kept in the cask for three to five years.
Due to the smaller capacity, the oxidation of the wine is accelerated and the exchange of wood aromas with the wine is intensified. This is due to the fact that a smaller amount of liquid is now opposite a relatively large container area. This results in more contact between the liquid and the barrel wall. This means a large exchange of oxygen between the barrel and the wine, which leads to increased oxidation and a better transfer of aromas from the wood to the wine.
Because of this manufacturing process, Tawny Ports are always a dark, mahogany-gold, oxidized red. The wine has a complex subtle aroma of dried fruit, plum, vanilla and caramel.
Unlike the Vintage, the Tawny has already fully developed in the cask and is immediately suitable for drinking after purchase. After opening, it can usually be stored for several days to weeks without any problems, since the tawny hardly oxidizes and therefore does not lose quality so quickly.
White port wine
The white port is less well known than its red counterpart. However, its manufacturing process is identical except for the size of the casks. These can accommodate up to 20,000 liters.
White ports are usually young, fruity and sweet wines. A distinction is made between Porto Branco Seco (dry) and Porto Meio-Seco (sweet).
The robe of these port wines is mostly golden to straw yellow, the aroma has subtle notes of caramel and figs.
White Ports are well suited for making cocktails such as Caipi Porto or Portonic .
Rosé port wine
The Rosé Port is still relatively new on the market. During production, the grape must is first removed from the grapes so that not too many red pigments are transferred into the wine. The wine is then stored in a 20,000 liter barrel. This is how the rosé gets its bright and clear pink colour.
The aroma is fruity with notes of cherries, strawberries and raspberries. Rosé Ports are not meant to be stored and should be drunk young and chilled.
Since port is typically sweet, just about any style makes an aperitif wine. But they are also great companions for dessert.
If you want more complexity in taste, you should go back to an older port wine, because with increasing maturation a heavier and more intense taste unfolds , which is usually accompanied by an increase in quality.
Of the longer-matured wines, Vintage Port is the most valuable port wine. It guarantees the most versatile taste experience.
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