Humble Port, Part I

It is extremely satisfying to discover beauty in simple things. Take a minute to think about the last time you enjoyed a glass of Port after a meal... mind drawing a blank? Ok, let’s try this again. Think about the last time you took a moment to sit and relax, perhaps after dinner without television or email, maybe there is a good book or conversation involved. As I sit here and reminisce of my evenings past I realize I have overlooked the opportunity to enjoy a glorious glass of Port. A fortified wine from the Douro in Portugal whose simplicity is surprisingly complex. 

The Douro region is located in northern Portugal. It’s one of the world’s oldest appellations, officially named in 1756. “Port” is a protected term, enforced by the government-run Douro Port Wine Institute (IVDP) which supervises the promotion, production and trade of all Douro (DOP) wines. This system ensures the authenticity and quality of the Port available today and in the future (The IVDP also limits the sales of port to one-third of their inventory annually). The vineyards are comprised of schist soils (metamorphic rock composed mostly of clay) and planted on steep terraced slopes along the Douro River, making for some of the most picturesque aerial views in the world. 

Photo Credit J. Portmann

Photo Credit J. Portmann

There are two main styles of port, Ruby and Tawny. Understanding how they are made may help inspire us to try one. It’s been my experience that because Port is referred to as dessert wine we assume it is going to just be sweet, but it can be very sweet or almost dry. In the store we use a 1-5 scale when we talk about perceived sweetness in wine, five being the sweetest.  Port also has a range of colors and flavors from vibrant dark fruit and spice (Ruby), to lighter amber with notes of toffee, dried fruits, toasted nuts and citrus (Tawny). There are several grapes planted for the production of Port with the main ones being Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barroca and hundreds more planted for the production of still wine. The grapes are harvested by hand, destemmed and crushed. Then fermented in “lagares,” large open granite troughs, until the winemaker reaches the desired level of sugar. The wine is then pressed off the solids and a neutral grape brandy is added to halt the fermentation and to preserve the sweetness in the wine. The winemaker then decides how long to age and what to vessel to use for the desired outcome as Ruby or Tawny Port. 

I’ll talk more about differences in the aging of Ruby and Tawny Port and selecting the right Port for you in my next post. You can find a range of Port and red wine from Kopke, one of the oldest and most historical houses on our shelves.  I hope I’ve got you thinking about what you are pouring yourself the next time you find yourself at home with a free moment.

Posted on March 3, 2015 and filed under Wine.