PORT WINE (FORTIFIED WINE)
If you think that Port Wine has fallen off the map, then it is solely due to the daunting added complexity that Port Wine presents to an average wine connoisseur. Actually, Port Wine is to date one of the most complex wines out there and it is revered by sophisticated wine aficionados worldwide, who have ‘discovered’ this very same complexity that makes Port Wine so demanding to some – yet so rewarding to others.
Actually, Port WIne is one of the great classic European wines holding onto a long and fascinating history. It is produced in the mountainous eastern reaches of the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful vineyard areas where wine has been made for at least two thousand years. Many of the oldest vineyards there, now classified as World Heritage, are planted on narrow terraces supported by hundreds of hand built dry stone walls and the first shipments of wine under the name “Port” were recorded from there as early as in 1678. Although the wine was produced inland in the vineyards of the upper Douro Valley, it did take its name from the coastal city of Oporto from where it was shipped. While many of the oldest and most famous producers in Portugal, such as Taylor’s or Croft are of English or Scottish origin - the British were the largest market at the time - Port Wine is firmly Portuguese.
Already, in 1756 the Port Wine vineyards of the Douro became the first vineyard area in the world to be legally demarcated. While the term demarcation sounds confusing, it basically means the quality of Port Wine wine is protected - and today, under strict “European Union Protected Designation of Origin Guidelines”, only wines from Portugal may be labeled Port or Porto - just like it is for using the rights for “Champagne”.
So how is Port Wine different? Well, Port Wine is what is called a Fortified Wine and it is made by adding in a neutral grape spirit or brandy to stop the fermentation process, leaving the wine with a load of residual sugar and much higher alcohol content (18% - 22%), but this process allows the wine to retain more natural grape sweetness, making it richer, rounder and smoother on the palate.
It is the sweetness and heavy alcohol content that make Port Wine a rather complex wine type, but it makes it perfect for a slower consumption i n the f orm of an aperitif, digestive, dessert wine or purely as a nightcap. While this is barely scratching the surface of Port Wine, it is certainly enough to get you started. Enjoy Port Wine like you enjoy any other glass of wine, noting its color, aroma and the balance of i ts tannins, acidity and flavors. Try different styles, different producers and take notes.