Port, the famous sweet fortified wine of the Douro River Valley in Portugal, has long been the classic way to end a meal and celebrate an evening.
Port is a sweet red wine with about 20% alcohol and rather low acidity and tannin. Ideally a good Port should have a rich spicy flavor and in spite of its 20% alcohol, taste very smooth.
The Port vineyard zone of the Douro River Valley, was officially demarcated by the Portuguese in the 18th Century. It covers just over 1,000 square miles, with less than 15% of that area being planted in vines. Winters in the Douro are cold, wet and often snowy, while the summer season sees temperatures in excess of 100?F. The hardy vines of the Tinta Francisca, Mourisco, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz, Alvarelhao, Bastardo, Tourriga Nacional, and Tinta Barroca grapes endure this harsh environment to produce wines of great richness and intensity.
Port is created in a unique way that captures the fruit and flavor of the ripe grapes in wines that possess extraordinary longevity. During fermentation, prior to reaching the point where all of the natural grape sugars have been converted into alcohol, high-proof brandy is added to the vats to stop the fermentation. This leaves a wine with great depth of color and a high natural sweetness.
After fermentation is complete, the wines are transported to “lodges” where they rest in large oak casks called “pipes.”
Vintage Ports are very grapey. This grapiness comes from the practice of bottling these wines after they have spent 2 years in barrel. Vintage Ports are to be held in the bottle for a long time, ten years considered being just a start while truly great vintages can require 20 years and more to reach optimum maturity. They keep their grapey flavor and, through bottle aging, develop bottle bouquet, a special quality found only in bottle aged wines. It can take many years for vintage Ports to become smooth if they have some tannin when they are bottled.
Ruby Ports are generally young wines that have had the chance to assimilate the brandy which was added during fermentation, but have not lost their youthful ruby-red color. They tend to be fruity and very fresh in the mouth.
Tawny Ports are aged a long time in wooden barrels. They tend to lose most of their fruit and the normal deep red color becomes more of an amber-hue (which gives the wine its name) and acquire a nutty character. They should be very smooth when bottled.
Wood Ports represent the finest of Ports. They have been exclusively aged in barrel and not in bottle like Vintage Port.
Portions of this article come to you courtesy of Sandeman which is imported by the Seagram Wines Co., New York, N.Y.
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