Sunday, November 18, 2012
Learning The Basics About Port
Port wine (also known as Vinho do Porto, Porto, and often simply port) is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal.
It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. Fortified wines in the style of port are also produced outside Portugal, most notably in Australia, South Africa, Canada, India, Argentina, and the United States.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the demarcated Douro region. The wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The fortification spirit is sometimes referred to as brandy but it bears little resemblance to commercial brandies. The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels stored in a cave (pronounced kahv and meaning "cellar" in Portuguese) as is the case in Vila Nova de Gaia, before being bottled. The wine received its name, "port", in the latter half of the 17th century from the city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe. The Douro valley where port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation in 1756, making it the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world. Chianti (1716) and Tokaj (1730) have older demarcation but no regulation associated and thus, in terms of regulated demarcated regions, Porto is the oldest.
Over a hundred varieties of grapes (castas) are sanctioned for port production, although only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are widely cultivated and used. Touriga Nacional is widely considered the most desirable port grape but the difficulty in growing it and the small yields cause Touriga Francesa to be the most widely planted grape. White ports are produced the same way as red ports, except that they use white grapes— Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho. While a few shippers have experimented with Ports produced from a single variety of grapes, all Ports commercially available are from a blend of different grapes. Since the Phylloxera crisis, most vines are grown on grafted rootstock, with the notable exception of the Nacional area of Quinta do Noval, which, since being planted in 1925, has produced some of the most expensive vintage ports.
Port wine is typically richer, sweeter, heavier, and possesses a higher alcohol content than unfortified wines. This is caused by the addition of distilled grape spirits (aguardente similar to brandy) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol and results in a wine that is usually 18 to 20% alcohol.
Port is commonly served after meals as a dessert wine in anglo-Saxon countries, often with cheese; white and tawny ports are often served as an apéritif. In Europe all types of port are frequently drunk as aperitifs.
Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as port or Porto. In the United States, wines labelled "port" may come from anywhere in the world, while the names "Dão", "Oporto", "Porto", and "Vinho do Porto" have been recognized as foreign, non-generic names for wines originating in Portugal.
Still have lot's to learn, but for now, I'll just pour another glass of port, dice up a little sharp cheddar or Gorgonzola and enjoy.