WHAT IS PORT WINE?
Port Wine is a natural and fortified wine, produced exclusively from grapes from the Douro Demarcated Region, in northern Portugal, about 100 km east of the city of Porto.
São João da Pesqueira, Régua and Pinhão are the main production centres of Port Wine highlighting that São João da Pesqueira is the council with the largest production of Port Wine worldwide.
Although produced with grapes from the Douro and stored in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, this alcoholic drink became known as "Port wine" from the second half of the 17th century because it was exported to the whole world from the city of Porto.
HISTORY OF PORT WINE
The "discovery" of Port wine is controversial. One of the versions, defended by the producers in England, says that the origin dates from the 17th century, when British merchants added brandy to wine from the Douro region to prevent it from souring. But the process that characterises its acquisition was perhaps well known before the beginning of the trade with the English.
At the time of the Discoveries, wine was stored in this way to preserve a maximum of time during travel. The fundamental difference lies in the production area and the varieties used, which are now protected. Croft was one of the first to export Port wine, followed by other English and Scottish companies.
What makes Port wine different from other wines, in addition to the unique climate, is the fact that wine fermentation is not complete, being stopped at an early stage (two or three days after the beginning), by adding a brandy neutral wine (with about 77º of alcohol).
Thus, Port wine is a naturally sweet wine (since the natural sugar of the grapes does not completely transform into alcohol) and stronger than the other wines (between 19 and 22º of alcohol).
Fundamentally, three types of Port wines are considered: White, Ruby and Tawny.
Types of Port Wine
Porto Branco (White Port)
White Port wine is made exclusively from grapes which during the fermentation process does not have any contact between the skins and the must, and ages in large oak wood vats (20 thousand and more liters).
Typically white Port wines are young and fruity wines (not neglecting reserves) and are the only Port wine that is categorised as to its sweetness. So there are dry, half-dry and sweet whites. Still, and due to the way Porto is produced, wine is practically never completely dry, always retaining some of its initial sweetness, so it is common to find "dry" whites with some sweetness.
Taylor’s introduced Chip Dry, a new style of white Port wine as an aperitif, in 1934. Made from traditional white grape varieties, it is fermented for longer than usual to give it an appetising dry and crunchy finish.
Ruby are red wines that also age in vats. Due to the low contact with the wood (because the surface / volume ratio is small) they retain their initial characteristics for a longer time, due to the low oxidation. They are thus very fruity wines of a dark color (ruby), with flavors of red fruits (wild fruits or plums for example) and with characteristics of young wines.
In this type of wine, in order of increasing quality, the categories Ruby, Reserva, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and Vintage are inserted. Wines from the best categories, mainly Vintage, and to a lesser extent LBV, can be stored, as they age well in the bottle.
Tawny are also red wines, made in fact from the same grapes as the Ruby, but which only age two to three years in the vats, and then pass to the 550 liter barrels. These allow a higher contact of the wine with the wood and then with the air. So the Tawny breathe more, oxidizing and aging quickly. Due to the high oxidation, Tawny lose the initial color of red wines, gaining lighter tones like amber, and flavors of dried fruits like nuts or almonds. With age Tawny gain even more aromatic complexity, enriching the aromas of nuts and acquiring aromas of wood, toast, coffee, chocolate, honey, etc.
The existing categories are: Tawny, Tawny Reserva, Tawny with age indication (10 years, 20 years, 30 years and 40 years) and Harvest. These are wines from lots of several years, except Colheita, which resemble an Tawny with Age Indication with the same aging time.
In very old tawny wines, the white color and initial line (ruby) of the new wines will disappear and turn to brownish red, golden to amber tones.
Contrary to red wines, white Port wine, new in color usually straw yellow, with aging comes to acquire more and more color, appearing yellow / golden to yellow / brownish and in very old white wines their color reaches the amber, mixing with that of red wines also very old.
Port wine that ages up to three years is considered standard. All other wines that stay longer in Madeira belong to special categories, either because the grapes that gave rise to them are of better quality, or because they were produced in an exceptionally good year in terms of the weather. Thus, among the special categories, it is common to find Reserva, LBV, aged Tawnies and Vintage, and, less regularly, Colheita.
Reserve Port Wine is produced from selected grapes of high quality, and can be either white or red. In general, they stay in the wood for seven years and are then bottled. These wines must be treated in the same way as the standard ones, that is, they do not age in the bottle (therefore, it must always be kept upright) and after opening it can be consumed in a period not exceeding six months. Reservations have the particularity that they can be drunk either as an aperitif or as dessert wine. If you choose to drink before meals, it is advisable to serve it fresh, even if it is a red reserve.
Within the Reserva there are the Reserva Tawny, which have an auburn color, with the aromas of dried fruits, roasting and wood, resulting from the mandatory minimum stage of seven years in wood, complementing with some remaining aromas of fresh fruit . In the mouth, the characteristic softness of wines aged in cask is already evident.
In turn, Reserva Ruby, resulting from younger batches that originate a red wine, with intense and fruity aromas, are full-bodied and astringent wines but less than Vintage and LBV wines. There is also the Reserva Branco, which is a very good quality white Port obtained by blending and aged in wood for at least seven years, presenting golden tones, good aroma complexity where aging in wood and persistent flavor is notorious.
Port wines LBV (acronym for Late Bottled Vintage) have the appearance of Ruby red wines (deep red colors and fruity flavors) and are produced from a single exceptionally good harvest. They age for four to six years in the rafters, and after bottling continue their evolution, although not very significant.
Therefore, the LBV bottles are different, as the cork is whole (that is, it does not have the usual plastic lid on top), meaning that the bottle must be kept lying down (so that the wine moistens the cork). LBVs, unlike Vintages, can be consumed right after bottling, as their evolution in the bottle is very small. LBVs thus eliminate the disadvantage of Vintages in relation to the waiting time before consumption, and although it is not a real Vintage, it has many of its characteristics, and offers an idea very close to the experience of drinking one.
Taylor's created the Late Bottled Vintage category and the first LBV, from 1965, was launched in 1970 on the English market. Although initially being viewed with skepticism by some members of the Port wine trade, the LBV was a resounding success.
As the name implies, these wines age in oak casks for longer than the normal three years. Thus, there are Tawny 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and 40 years, and the older they are, the lighter their colors become and the more complex and liqueur their flavors become: honey, cinnamon, chocolate, wood ... The trail left by these wines in the taster's mouth is unmistakable. Aged Tawnies are among the most expensive Port wines on the market.
It is not very common to find Port wines with this designation, as they have characteristics very close to those of aged Tawnies, they have been increasingly preferred by Port wine companies.
High quality wine from a single harvest. It ages in wood for variable periods of time, never less than seven years.
On the label, the word harvest is always followed by the respective year, which was considered exceptionally good for the production of Tawny Port Wines. The wine ages for about twelve years in wooden casks, and has light colors, a golden brown, almost amber. The taste of a harvest is very similar to that of a 10 or 20 year old Tawny, but logically richer and more elegant.
During aging in hull, young, fruity and fresh aromas evolve oxidatively, giving rise to a bouquet in which the aromas of dried fruits, aromas of roasting, wood and spices stand out. In the course of aging, the bouquet's softness, harmony and complexity increase. The color evolves to a golden color, with even greenish reflections in very old wines. High quality wine obtained by blending wines from harvests of several years, in order to obtain a complement of organoleptic characteristics.
It ages in wood for variable periods of time, in which the age mentioned on the label corresponds to the approximate average age of the different wines participating in the blend and expresses the character of the wine with regard to the characteristics conferred by aging in cask.
Thus, a 10-year-old wine reveals a color, aroma and flavor typical of a wine that has remained in cask for ten years. Like Data de Colheita wines, they present a characteristic bouquet of oxidation that translates into aromas of dried fruits, roasting and spices, more evident in wines with more age. In the mouth, smooth and harmonious wines are revealed, with a very persistent aroma. Colheita 1994 is famous for being produced in one of the best years ever for Port wines.
The Vintage designation is the highest classification that can be attributed to a port. Vintage is considered to be Port wine obtained from the harvest of a single year and from a single vineyard (usually from the same variety), and is a denomination attributed only in years considered to be of exceptional quality. They undergo aging in the hull for a maximum period of two and a half years, and are then aged in the bottle.
Its aging potential is enormous and therefore it is recommended to keep it for a period of no less than 3 to 4 years in the bottle. This wine should be taken only after meals and small amounts.
With aging in the bottle it becomes smooth and elegant, gradually disappearing the initial astringency. Therefore, it acquires a balanced, complex and very distinct aroma. Vintage with a few years in the bottle are associated with roasting aromas (chocolate, cocoa, coffee, cigar box, etc.), spices aromas (cinnamon, pepper, ...) and sometimes fruity aromas.
It is a mixture of good wines of various vintages, bottled after about three years in Madeira. It is one of the best alternatives to the real vintage and forms a sediment (or crust) in the bottle, needing to be decanted.