Port – flagship wine of Portugal
Port wine (Vinho do Porto) is a sweet, fortified Portuguese wine from the Douro Valley. Often it’s served as a dessert wine, along with cheese. Port wine is protected by the European Union guidelines, hence only the wine originating in Douro Valley may be called “Porto”, although similar wines are produced in several countries.
The region located in Northern Portugal has a perfect microclimate for growing grapes, olives and almonds. This region is also known for its picturesque farms, “hanging” on the almost vertical slopes dropping down into the river.
Red port can be made from a variety of grapes, but the main ones include: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional. White port is produced the same way as red port but different types of grapes are used, such as: Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho and Viosinho.
How Port wine is made
The grapes are picked in September, in a special harvest called “vindema”. The grapes are then placed in a granite stone “lagares” where they are trod upon by foot until the grape is sufficiently prepared for fermentation.
The semi fermented “must” is then mixed with brandy, which stops the fermentation process and prevents the natural sugars to leave the wine.
All Ports, except for vintage, are matured in oak casks prior to bottling.
Styles of Port wine
Ports come in several styles, which can be divided into two major categories:
- wines matured in sealed tanks or bottles with no exposure to oxygen; these wines take a tawny color and become smoother and less tannic.
- wines matured wooden barrels which allow oxygen in the maturing process; these wines lose color at a faster pace and they also evaporate, leaving behind a wine which is more viscous and intense.
White ports are also matured and the color darkness, making it impossible to discern (just by the color) whether the original wine was red or white.
Vintage port is the flagship wine of Portugal, although it accounts for only 2% of production. Vintage port is blended from the wine of the best vineyards in the same year then stored and matured for no less than 15 years.
Out of these 15 years, the wine is aged in wooden barrels for up to two and a half years, which retain their dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors. Then it’s bottled and aged in the bottles for 12-13 years before it reaches the “proper” drinking age.
Visiting Vineyards in Portugal
Yes, it is possible to visit the vineyards and the cellars. The vineyards of Quinta Covela, Quinta Calem and Quinta da Rosa may all be visited. You don’t need to make reservations but if you come in the high season it’s worth calling ahead, since the vineyards are very popular among tourists and most often are included in the tours.
If you like to be active during your holiday, you can combine visiting the vineyards with hiking on the beautiful hills of Douro Valley. You can arrange for accommodation in the small town of Pinhão.