Port wine is to Portugal as Champagne is to France. Each of those spirits have to be prepared using strict guidelines and their ingredients have to be sourced from a certain area. The only sparkling wine that can be called Champagne must come from the Champagne Wine Region of France and the only wine that can be labeled “Port” has to be from the Douro Valley of Portugal.
Whether you are a port person or a champagne connoisseur, GetAway Travel can construct a trip for you. We’re working on a port-forward trip right now! It takes you to the Douro Valley and it’s aboard a fabulous modern ship designed for river cruising.
What’s all the fuss about location?
The narrow Douro Valley has its own microclimate which makes it the optimal area to produce grapes used in port. In the 1700s, Portugal’s prime minister took measures to distinguish the specific area of the Douro Valley as being the only area where true port could be produced. It set production standards, the same way there are standards set for only some sparkling wines to be known as champagne.
Port Casks aging at Offley
The unique aspect of the valley is that the soil as well as the terraced vineyards, were transformed by hand. The vineyard owners worked the soil to produce specific grapes and the terraces were set up to retain water as well as drain water if needed. More than 80 types of grapes are produced in the valley. Many of the vineyards have to still harvest by hand because of the way they are set up.
Port wine must be at least two years old before it can be sold to the public and producers are only allowed to sell 30% of what they make so there is always port wine aging with producers. The port “winters” in the valley in barrels or kegs because that type of climate helps the fortifying agent mix with the wine. It then is moved to Porto (where it gets its name) because the humid, mild climate there is better for continued aging.
Port tasting in Porto
Tell me more about port
Port wine is not a chugging wine, it’s a sipping wine most often served with dessert or even as a dessert. It is considered the most delicious dessert wine on the planet!
It is a fortified wine (more on that later) and it is richer, sweeter, heavier and higher in alcohol content than normal wines. It has an alcohol content somewhere between 19 and 20%. Heady stuff, but it goes great with fine cheeses and rich desserts.
There are two main kinds of port, ruby and tawny.
Ruby is slightly less sweet than tawny and it has berry and chocolate undertones. Tawny has caramel and nut nuances, but aged tawny can also have undertones of graphite, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.
There’s also white port, rose port and vintage port. Vintage port is rare, it is made from the best grapes of a single type of grape. Port houses declare a port wine as “vintage” only a few times in a decade.
very old Vintage Port
Do they still stomp the grapes?
Yes, yes they do — and here’s why. Those bitter seed nibs in grapes do nothing to add to the taste of port and feet stomping the grapes slide over the seeds and they can be drained out later. Some vineyards do employ mechanical feet machines to crush the grapes and they cross their fingers not a lot of the seeds get crushed.
The harvested grapes, all picked in one day, are put in granite treading tanks and stomped to release the juice and the pulp from the skins. It is a synchronized process to make sure all of the grapes get crushed. When that is done and the skins are floating to the top of the tanks, the treading continues to keep moving the skins under the juice so fermentation starts. When about half of the natural sugar has fermented, the treading stops and the skins are allowed to sit on the top of the tank and the juice is drained out. The wine is then fortified with a distilled grape spirit called brandy. The sugar turns to alcohol and that’s where the high alcohol content happens.
View from Taylor tasting room in Porto
Tell me more!
Drink port with rich cheeses like bleu cheese, chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts and even sweet, smoky meats. You can add it to chocolate cakes or chocolate sauces and it can be simmered to a thick sauce, similar to a balsamic glaze.
Rosé port should be served ice cold. It’s very trendy to serve it cold in the summer with a twist of lime.
White port should be served cold, tawny port should be cool, like about 50 to 58° Fahrenheit and ruby should be served at cellar temperature which is about 60°. Port should be stored on its side and set upright about 24 hours ahead of serving and decanted if possible. The shelf life of port is about halfway between wine and liquor.
We could talk about port all day, but we’d rather you learn more on a trip to the Duoro Valley. Contact us about that trip, or any other fabulous trip you’ve been thinking about. We can be reached at: (262) 538-2140, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org