Nowadays most people with any minimal knowledge of wine would know that champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. Perhaps a bit more surprising is that the same is also true of port. Port only comes from Portugal, more specifically, the Douro Valley region in the north of the country. There is no such thing as Argentinian, South African or any other type of port. Perhaps also surprising for many people is that, depending what information you read, Portugal is the 7th, 9th, 10th whatever largest producer of wine in the world. Brits, Americans and others are often surprised by this fact. “Oh! How come we don’t see that much Portuguese wine in the shops?” Well, of course, you do because Port is wine! It’s not a liquer, it’s not a spirit. It’s wine…..fortified wine! In the Douro Valley they will tell you that there are two types of wine and it’s not red and white but port wine and table wine, table wine being anything which is not port, ordinary wine if you like.
Port production goes back hundreds of years, we can’t really say how far back. No one is going to say that port was invented in a specific year. And production of table wine certainly goes back to Roman times or even longer. What we can say for certainty is that in 1756 the Douro region became the first region in the world to be officially demarcated for wine production with specific boundaries, rules and regulations to control quality. Certainly by that time the drink port, as we know it, existed though not necessarily with that name.
So what is fortified wine? Basically, excatly what it says on the tin……….ordinary wine fortified, made stronger, by the addition of a strong spirit, loosely a type of brandy with a 77% alcohol content. And why fortify the wine? Perhaps the most popular story is to make the wine easier to transport to England. England has had a long standing trade with Portugal reinforced by the Methuen treaty of 1703 but it is said that with such a long journey by boat from Portugal sometimes a second fermentation would begin and the wine would not arrive in best condition hence the fortification. However much of this is true the story of port involves far more than this. It was certainly appreciated her in Portugal long before the English started having transport problems with Portuguese wine.
Don’t think that making port is just a simple case of adding the brandy to the wine. If that was the case everyone could do it at home! It’s a bit more complicated than that but to put it simply you start off by making wine in the normal way but instead of letting the fermentation continue to the end and having a wine of, say, 13%, the fermentation is carefully monitored and when it reaches 7% the brandy is added, killing the yeast and stopping fermentation. Wine at 7% plus the right quantity of brandy spirit of 77% creates port with an alcohol content of about 20%. Simple? Well in principle it sounds it! And that’s before we start to talk about the diferente types of port. Traditionally port was/is divided into two categories; tawny and ruby. Commercially, white port appeared on the scene about 100 years ago and since 2008 to some purists’ disgust we now have rosé port! Try it and decide for yourself! That’s just the easy bit. Then there’s Vintage Port, late Bottled Vintage, 10 year old tawny, 20 year old tawny, Crusted port, Colheita and much more. To go into the diferences and details here would take up a lot of space. Suffice to say it’s fascinating.
And what of the Douro Valley where it is all produced? Well, don’t just take my word for it. Most Portuguese will tell that it is one of the most beautiful parts of their country. Since 2001 much of the valley and its tributary valleys have been designated by UNESCO as a world heritage region though not necessarily because of its beauty (and it is beautiful) but because of the way the landscape has been created/altered because of the wine industry. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques. Add to this the dozens of small, predominately white, villages and hamlets clustered around an C18th church and you have a quite unique, beautiful, unforgettable landscape almost exclusivley devoted to the production of wine. As so many visitors have said to me “I knew it was going to be beautiful but I never realised it would be this beautiful!”
Written by an EFun Tour guide
Steve Williams, an ex-pat living in Portugal over 20 years!
Steve, an ex-pat, came to Portugal once, and never left, meanwhile 20 years had passed! He's an english teacher that we all wanted to have...Under his guidance you'll have the best experience ever!