Port is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. The region is divided into three broad areas: Baixo Corgo, CimaCorgo and Douro Superior. As we move further east, the drier the climate becomes and the deeper the wines.
By the addition of distilled grape spirits (aguardente) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, Port wine is typically richer, sweeter and higher in alcohol content than unfortified wines. One of the most distinctive qualities of Port is the unique blend of Portuguese indigenous grapes. Although around 82 (red and white) grape varieties can be used in its production, the most common are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, TintaBarroca and Tinta Cão. Each grape adds a unique flavour to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes.
There are four common styles of Port wine: Ruby (Red), White, Tawny and, more recently, Rosé Port.
Ruby – Entry level Ruby is a sweet and fruity style of blend meant to be drunk young. Then there are some premium offers, for example the LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) that is aged in barrel for about 4-6 years or the Vintage, aged for 2-3 years in barrel and then aged in the bottle for an additional period of time. Vintage reaches their peak after 20 to 40 years of age.
White – This is a variation known for its freshness and fruit flavours, often used in cocktails such as Tonic Port. The Standard versions are lighter and citric and less sweet, while the Reserve is aged for 7 years and is rich in sweet and nutty flavours.
Tawny – The basic version is aged at least for 2 years. There is also Colheita, product of a single harvest year (vintage) and usually released from the winery after 10 years, and various blends of Vintage Tawny's, from 10 to 40 years of barrel aging, each one with different notes and flavours.
Rosé – This is the newest version, known for its red fruit flavours such as strawberry, raspberry and cranberry.
A visit to the Port wine cellars is a mandatory activity while staying in Porto. They are all located in Gaia, across the river from the old city centre of Porto and nearly all provide guided tours and tastings.
Fun Fact: Port was once considered a healing agent in earlier remedies. British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was given a bottle a day at age 14 (1773) to cure is health problems. While this sounds surprising today, medical opinion of the time was that a regular infusion of alcohol could drive other less welcome toxins to disappear. Thankfully, now we know better so be free to pair a nice Port wine with your favourite dessert or drink it as an appetizer for a wonderful local meal.