Port wines provide a sexy sipping experience
December 6, 2005
When I look outside and see this winter wonderland that we are all so fortunate to be living in right now, one thought comes to mind: Port. OK, two, fire and Port. Port is one of the finest wines produced and is Portugal’s gift to the world. Port is steeped in tradition, is lusciously sweet, powerful and since the 1700s, has been considered one of the most remarkable wines in the world.There are more than 230 different grape varietals in a country smaller than the size of Kentucky. Port comes from only one place in the world, the 70-mile-long demarcated Port region in the Douro river valley. There are some 80 different varietals in the Duoro alone. Many Portuguese wineries are producing amazing still wines that have rich exotic fruit essence and a sturdy backbone.
But Port is Portugal’s true gem, so let’s concentrate there for now.It was actually the British that founded the Port industry, as well being the most ardent consumers. Port has always been considered a sexy wine, the quintessential man’s drink and usually consumed in dark-walled rooms with large cigars after women left the room. Well, we don’t leave the room any longer and are agreeing that it is indeed a sexy beverage. The beginning of Port has a mythical history of two hard-working young British wine merchants searching for something new to sell in the late 1670s, when the French and British relations were strained and import duties were rising. Searching for something sellable, they found themselves at a monastery outside the town of Lamego near the Duoro River. The abbot there served them a wine that was rich, smooth, sweet and more interesting than anything they had tasted.
When the young men pressed the abbot to tell them more, the reluctant abbot admitted to adding a bit of brandy to the wine as it fermented.Truthfully, Port’s emergence on the world stage took a bit more time than that one instance. The British would add a little grape spirit to the still-red wines they would ship to England to stabilize them. In 1820 there was an incredible vintage that was very ripe and sales soared. After that, the British shippers added more and more spirit to the wine barrels.Making port is still one of the oldest traditions in agriculture. Until the mid 1960s all Port was still crushed by hand or foot in lagares, which are shallow stone troughs. This tradition is still held at some of the finest Port houses when making their best vintage Ports.Once the grapes have been crushed, they macerate and start fermentation. At the point when about half the natural sugar has been converted to alcohol, fermentation must stop. To do this, the wine is poured into a vat containing neutral grape spirits, clear brandy with alcohol strength at 77 percent or 150 proof. This causes the yeasts to die, and fermentation stops. The result is a sweet wine with about 10 percent residual sugar, fortified to about 20 percent alcohol.
There are 10 different types of Port made. Vintage Port is more sought-after and more expensive. It is only made in very good years when a vintage is declared. All the grapes in the blend will come from only that vintage and only from the top vineyards in the best part of Douro. Vintage Ports are first aged two years in barrel to round out the abrasive tannins, and then bottle-aged. The wine will bottle-age a decade or more and the wine is not fined or filtered. It therefore throws a great deal of sediment as it ages and must be decanted. A truly fine Vintage Port is possibly one of the most memorable wine experiences anyone could ask for. Let it snow!Susanne Johnston is the owner of Frisco Wine Merchant. For more information, contact her at (970) 668-3153.