You’ll want to drink up more than the stunning scenery and incredible history of Portugal during your visit...
….though with all Portugal has to offer, you could certainly spend weeks in this incredible country doing just that! But Porto is also one of the wine capitals of the world, a well-deserved reputation considering it is the only exporter of Port wines. Produced exclusively in the rugged Douro valley of northern Portugal, port is a sweet, fortified wine that is often served with dessert (which only makes it more delicious) or perhaps paired with rich cheese. Typically a red wine, white ports are gaining in popularity as excellent white wines are also produced in Portugal.
Port wines are beloved for their wide variety. Wine enthusiast Henry Vizetelly once colourfully wrote that “there are as many styles of Port wine as shades of ribbon in a haberdasher’s shop.” Indeed, this breadth of choice is part of the fun of experiencing Portugal’s many flavours. From youthful Ruby Port to aged Tawnies and distinguished Vintage Ports – the signature Portuguese drink features incomparable richness, complexities and strong aromas, a long finish -- on both the nose and the palate, and a high level of alcohol content (generally between 19 and 22% by volume). This is because brandy fortifies Port wines before fermentation (unlike other vintages), capturing their fruit nuances and higher sugar and alcohol levels. Port is then pumped into large oak casks for roughly a year and a half of aging before being blended with other Port wines and then either transferred back to casks or over to bottles for further aging. Intense tannins and fruity flavours merge into a bolder velvety flavour, a blend in varying degrees (depending on the style of Port) of raspberry, blackberry, black currants, caramel, chocolate, butterscotch, caramel and nuts.
Wood-aged Ports are younger wines, their age sped up by contact with the air. Bottle-aged wines, in contrast, have almost no contact with the air and thus, take many more years to fully evolve. Vintage wines are typically best enjoyed 20-40 years after bottled. With wine, patience is an always-rewarded virtue!
The history of Port wine is rather delicious in and of itself -- and the perfect taste of knowledge to pair with your Port wine know-how. Did you know that the traditional Portuguese Rabelo boats (a few of which can usually be spotted below Porto’s famed Luis I bridge) once transported wine down the river. Or that Portugal – while the only country to produce Port wine -- could easily give France or, in particular Britain, credit in helping to establish these delicious vintages. When England was at war with the French in the 17th and 18th centuries, levying high taxes on wines from Bordeaux – the British turned to nearby Portugal. Apparently war is no time for Prohibition! Port wine – which derives its name from Portugal’s second largest city, Porto – became popular not only throughout the British Isles but also its many colonies. And in particular, America.
Cheers to that!