Port of Call
Often overlooked and only served at Christmas, the sweet, rich and warming qualities of port can be enjoyed any time. It’s not just for Christmas! Port is an iconic wine with great history and is produced in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal.
At the beginning of the 18th century Britain began importing large volumes of the Portuguese wine, in response to the ceased export of French wines, and so that it wasn’t to ruin during shipping the alcohol content of the barrelled wine was fortified (raised) with brandy and this is where the familiar taste of port originated.
It’s in the name
Port gained its name from the city of Oporto, it was here that the wine was stored for shipping as it was moved from its origins in the Douro Valley where it needed to be taken to a cooler coastal climate away from the sweltering northern temperatures.
What is fortified wine?
During the production process before the wine has finished fermenting, a measure of brandy is added to the wine, allowing for the retention of the natural sweetness of the grape to make it a rich, rounded and smooth wine on the palate.
Port grape varieties
The Douro Valley is home to an abundant number of grape varieties and although around thirty grape types can be used to make port, it is usually the five dominant ones that are used Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.
Taste and variety
There are several different varieties of port wine, the differing nature of the wine is largely down to the method of ageing and storing. All are initially barrel-aged and those that are deemed ready for drinking become ‘ruby’ and ‘white’ port. A ‘tawny’ port is only aged in wood, and it is this that gives the wine its smoothy, tawny appearance. For a port to be deemed vintage, which only occurs two to three times a decade, it needs to be bottle-aged for ten to forty years and approved by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto. Most recently, 2016 was declared a vintage year by most producers, as was 2011.
Port should be served at between 15 and 200c and is commonly enjoyed at the end of a meal as a dessert wine, often with cheese, and it makes for a fabulous pairing with chocolate. Or if you’re looking for a unique apéritif, then try a white or tawny port.
Perhaps one of the most diverse of drinks, there is a port to serve for every occasion each with a different characteristic to pair with food. The rare vintage ports are a perfect acquisition for the fine wine collector, but the delicious rich flavour of port is also meant to be enjoyed in the present. So, if you’re looking for a new tipple, be sure to experience the fabulous nature of port this Christmas. Its rich and luxurious characteristic warm the heart of many.