World-famous dessert wine from Portugal, called "Vinho do Porto" or simply "Porto" not after its Douro region of origin, but after the port city Porto from where it is shipped. The English were instrumental in its creation in connection with their trade wars with France. In the 17th century, the import of French wines to England was forbidden for a time and then burdened with high customs duties. This led to a shortage in supply. In 1678, a wine merchant from Liverpool sent his two sons to Viano do Castello near the town of Porto, to buy wine. In Lamego they came to a monastery where the abbot offered them a wine they were delighted with. The priest told them the secret of why this wine was so pleasantly sweet and smooth, namely by infusing it with brandy, i.e. sprite during fermentation. Thereupon the two bought up the entire supply, sent the cargo to England and the triumphal procession of the port wine, initially called "Red Portugal", began.
The Methuen Treaty, which was concluded in 1703, was decisive for the port wine boom. It provided for customs concessions for the import of Portuguese wines into England. Port wine at that time was almost exclusively intended for export to England, which is why it is still called "Englishmen Wine" today. At that time, it was still customary to add red elderberry juice as a colouring agent. From the beginning of the 18th century, English, German and Dutch families settled in Porto to market port wine. Among them were names that still play a decisive role today, such as Cockburn, Croft, Ferreira, Niepoort, Sandeman, Taylor's as well as Dow, Graham and Warre, which were later taken over by Symington. The British trading houses built the Factory House in 1790 in Porto, which initially served as a factor's shop and then, from 1811 until today, as a gentlemen's club and meeting place.
The English acquired a virtual monopoly on marketing. Under the Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal (1699-1782), who owned a vineyard in the Carcavelos area, the boundaries of the Douro region were defined in 1756 to protect the authenticity of Port wine. Only the best vineyards were included. On the approximately 250,000 hectares of land, only about one-eighth is suitable for Port vines. Along with Chianti, the area is thus one of the oldest legally demarcated wine-growing regions in the world. Pombal enacted further measures to protect port wine. As an important measure to break the English monopoly, he founded the "Real Companhia Velha". He also forbade the addition of elderberry juice and fertilising with dung. This reduced the yield but increased the quality.
Port wine region
The defined limit applied exclusively to port wine for over two centuries. The Portuguese name "Vinho do Porto" is derived from the city Porto on the lower course of the Douro River. It was not until 1979 that the DOC classification was also extended to "normal" wines, i.e. unsprayed red and white wines. The best soil, however, is reserved for port wine; these are mainly the most suitable slate soils on mostly terraced slopes. The region is located in the northwest of Portugal and includes the valleys of the Douro River and its tributaries up to the Spanish border. These waters have a positive effect on viticulture or create the preconditions by forming valley slopes.
There are three subzones for the port wine area. The "Baixa Corgo" (lower Corgo) zone in the west covers the area north of the Douro between Barqueiros and the west bank of the Corgo and south of the Douro to Armamar. This coolest and wettest zone produces lighter wines. The largest zone "Cima Corgo" (upper Corgo) lies north and south of the Douro between Baixa Corgo in the west to Cachão da Valeira in the east. The central area around the town of Pinhão is considered the best, and most of the large port houses have their quintas (wineries) here. The "Douro Superior" zone lies in the east and extends to the Spanish border in the north. This is the smallest and driest area and some of it is not yet fully exploited.
There are about 30,000 winegrowers on about 33,000 hectares of vineyards, whose 80,000 vineyards are classified in a very complex system. The criteria evaluated are location, slope (the steeper, the better), exposure, altitude, microclimate, vine training vine variety, plant density, general condition of the vineyard, age of the vines, soil type (slate, granite, stone content) and yield. This is done in six levels from A (1,200 points and above) to F (399 points and below). This results in the amount of yield that may be produced by the vineyard (quinta) in question. The better the rating, the higher the grape price. There are over 80 grape varieties in the Douro region, these are divided into the categories recommended, permitted and tolerated. The IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) regulates the cultivation, processing and trade of wine from the Douro region, especially port wine. Among other things, it determines annually which quantities of grapes may be processed into port wine. Around 40% is used for the production of port wine.
Production of Port Wine
The most important port grape is the red Touriga Nacional, other reds are Tinta Amarela (Trincadeira Preta), Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Touriga Franca. The most important white ones are Encruzado, Esgana Cão (Sercial), Folgasão and Gouveio (Verdello). The grapes are laboriously harvested by hand and then transported in baskets to the wineries. Port wine needs the pods, which are rich in tannin and colour. But since the wine only undergoes a short fermentation, this is forced by pounding the mash with wooden pestles (macaos) or, traditionally, on a large scale with bare feet in lagares (stone troughs). The fermentation of the wine, which is at most half-fermented, is stopped by adding high-percentage aguardente (in contrast to sherry, where it is only injected after fermentation). The colourless and tasteless spirit of wine (ethanol) at 77% vol. only contributes alcohol content, but no taste or smell. It is distilled from wines from the south of Portugal or from surplus wines from the Douro itself. On average, 110 litres of spirit are added to 440 litres of wine (a quarter), which makes the contents of 550 litres of the pipes, the traditional Douro barrels.
The base wines are still finished in the producers' cellars in the Douro Valley. They are stored in large concrete tanks in the vineyards and then transported in spring to the Porto suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank of the river (see picture above). In the past, special boats, the Rabelos, were used for this purpose (see picture below). Only there, in the cellars on the northern slope and in the lodges (warehouses) of the numerous port houses located here, do the wines become the famous dessert wine after a long maturing period and through artful blending. The warehouses are built in steps up the mountainside from the river bank. Until Portugal entered the EU in 1986, all port wines had to be matured, bottled and delivered in the lodges here. Today, this is allowed everywhere in the Douro Valley in the quintas (wineries) themselves.
Port wine types
The best port wines have an alcohol content of between 19 and 22% vol. and a residual sugar content of between 40 and 60 g/l. The wines are now divided into groups by taste tests, this determines the future port wine type. The majority is subjected to a blending cycle, which ensures consistent quality. An important criterion is the number of years the port matures in the bottle after barrel ageing. A distinction is made between a "British port wine style" with dark, sweet and fruity wines (Vintage Port), and a "Portuguese port wine style" with elegant, soft wines (Tawny). The variety of colours is great, there are red, white and now also rosé port wines, although these have little in common with the types of "normal wines":
The name derives from the Portuguese word for "harvest" and, by extension, "vintage". It is a vintage port, one could also call it an old tawny or vintage tawny. It matures in wooden barrels for at least seven years, but often for ten years or more. The label must include the vintage, bottling date and the fact of barrel ageing. Compared to a vintage, a colheita is ready for immediate consumption. The great Vintages of the last century were basically Colheita types, because they were bottled only after longer barrel ageing, as is the case today. With the Vintage, the Colheita is one of the best types.
A blend of good vintages, but not reaching the quality of a Vintage. The wine is bottled relatively young after a maximum of three years, usually without filtration, where it continues to mature for a few years and forms a deposit at the bottom of the bottle and possibly crust on the bottle wall. It must therefore be decanted.
LBV (Late Bottled Vintage)
A less expensive variant of Vintage Port made from grapes of a vintage that has matured for at least four to six years in the barrel and/or tank. The name is derived from the "late" bottling compared to the real Vintage. The vintage and bottling date are indicated on the label. The black-red wine is somewhat lighter than its big brother, full-bodied and fruity. Normally it has no deposit, otherwise this is usually declared as "traditional" on the label. Filtered LBVs are ready to drink immediately, but the rather rare non-filtered ones develop for another five to six years in the bottle.
A pink to bright pink type first produced in 2008 by the Croft Port House. It is made like a rosé wine until the sprite. Just one year later, it was approved as an official type by the IVDP. The light, fruity wine lies between a White Port and Ruby in terms of taste.
The simplest and cheapest type. The strong ruby to cherry red colour that gives it its name results from the low oxidation and short maturation period. The dark ruby red, sweet and fruity wine is blended from several vintages of younger wines and matures in barrels or steel tanks for two to three years. Filtration takes place before bottling. The Ruby, which is ready for immediate consumption, accounts for the largest share of production.
A black-red, tannic and fruity type. The old designation Vintage Character was banned in 2002 to avoid confusion with the real Vintage Port. It is also a blend of several vintages (which is why the old name was confusing). Compared to the Ruby, it matures longer, with four to five years in the barrel. It is filtered before bottling.
General term for a type that is usually matured for up to three years in the barrel. With longer maturation, it develops a colour ranging from amber to mahogany ( tawny). This colour (in contrast to the mostly reddish-black colour of all other types) is also due to the fact that tawny is usually produced from lighter wines with a weaker colour intensity and because it also contains a larger proportion of white wines. It is always a blend of several vintages. Occasionally, it is blended with small portions of a 20- to 40-year-old port. The older wines of this type are called "Fine Tawny" or "Fine Old Tawny" or "Aged Tawny". In the past, they were also marketed under the name "Dated Port". The average age of the wines used is indicated on the label (10, 20, 30 years and even more). Traditionally, tawnies are served as a digestif after a meal.
The so-called "vintage port" is the best port from a particularly good and great vintage. This occurs at best three times in ten years, the production share is only one percent. The decision is made individually by each producer, not all of them produce a vintage in the same year. The following vintages have been declared excellent by most renowned wineries: 1970, 1977, 1985, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
This wine is vinified reductively and produced from a single vintage. It usually matures for two to a maximum of three years in the barrel and is then bottled. A vintage is ready to drink after 10 to 12 years at the earliest. But it is only after at least 20, 30 and even more years of bottle ageing that it reaches its highest perfection with incomparable oiliness, fragrance, fullness and delicacy. However, since the wine is sold immediately after bottling, the "responsibility" for its maturity lies with the consumer. During bottle ageing, a strong deposit forms at the bottom of the bottle and possibly also in the form of a crust on the bottle wall. It must therefore be decanted.
This wine is made from white grape varieties. The production is similar to that of red port, but the maceration time is much shorter or it is omitted altogether. It matures for two to three years, usually in tanks, and has a relatively low alcohol content of about 15% by volume compared to the other types. Only White Port has sweetness levels ranging from dry to sweet (extra seco, seco, meio seco, doce, muito doce). Those aged longer in wooden barrels develop a golden yellow colour and a nutty flavour and can also be kept for decades. White Port accounts for around 15% of production.
The additional designations Reserva and Garrafeira are only used for certain types of port wine for better quality variants (especially longer maturation). In Portugal, they are mainly used for normal DOC wines with corresponding production rules (grape varieties, maturation period, alcohol content, etc.).
Reserva / Reserve / Fine
Denotes a higher quality. The term is not regulated, however, and is handled differently for each producer. It can be a Crusted, Ruby, Tawny or White.
This outstanding quality must mature for three to six years in the barrel (similar to an LBV) and then at least another eight years in the bottle. The wine is made by very few producers, the first being Niepoort. The term can also be found on the label of old Vintage Port, which then, however, do not necessarily comply with today's regulations.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
The term refers to the fact that this port comes from a single vineyard. In principle, it can be any of the types, but mostly Colheita, LBV and Vintage.
For very old port wines, the use of port wine tongs is recommended because the cork may be crumbly. Types that have matured in the bottle for a long time, such as Vintage, usually need to be decanted. Top qualities must be consumed as soon as possible within 24 hours after opening. That is why they are also corked normally. Barrel-aged types such as Colheita, LBV and Tawny are more stable in terms of oxygen contact and do not need to be decanted. As a rule, they are sealed with a resealable handle cork (stopper cork). There is also a special port wine glass.
Port wine producers
Among the best-known producers, who often also produce DOC wines Douro, resp. Port wine brands include Barros, Bright Brothers, Burmester, Cálem, Churchill, Cockburn, Croft, Ferreira, Fonseca, Kopke, Lemos & Van Zeller, Martinez, Messias, Morgan, Niepoort, Offley, Osborne, Quinta da Carvalhosa, Quinta de la Rosa, Quinta do Côtto, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Passadouro, Quinta de Roriz, Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Vale da Raposa, Quinta do Vale Meão, Ramos Pinto (owned by Roederer), Real Companhia Velha, Rozès, Sandeman, Symington (Dow's, Gould Campbell, Graham's, Quarles Harris, Quinta do Vesuvio, Smith Woodhouse, Warre ' s), Taylor's and V. Leite de Faria.
Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures or cellar techniques, as well as the various types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law, can be found under the keyword winemaking. Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the heading Wine Law.