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Port

 

Although the Douro region is one of the most Portuguese of the wine territories, the famous port or port wine as it was once called from the Douro valley is almost entirely due to the inventiveness of the English.

 

Port or porto derives its name from the harbour town of Porto, the second city of Portugal. Porto is situated close to Vila Nova de Gaia where most port is stored, bottled, and traded.

Ideal circumstances

The valley of the Alto-Douro is probably the most picturesque wine area anywhere in the world. The vineyards start about 80 km (50 miles) to the east of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia and they are protected by the 1,400 metre high Marao mountain against the worst influences of a maritime climate.

The soil is chiefly comprised of shale and folds of crumbled basalt which force the vines to send down long roots in search of nutrients and water. The summers are extremely warm and dry with bitingly cold and very wet winters. To prevent erosion and make it easier to tend the vines, the area is widely terraced. Despite this everything is hard manual work. That these working conditions are difficult is underscored by the fact that only 40,000 hectares of the permitted 250,000 hectares are actually planted with vines.

The traditional varieties of grape for making white port are Arinto, Boal Cachudo, Cercial, Malvasia Fina, Samarrinho, and Verdelho. Red port is made from a choice that includes Bastardo, Malvasia, Tinto Mourisco, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Periquita, and Tinta Barroca. This wide variety helps in part explain the wide differences between different ports.

The same exciting ritual takes place in about mid September of each year. Long lines of grape-pickers

enter the quintas or vineyards to pick the ripe grapes, terrace by terrace. After picking, the grapes are collected in huge baskets to be brought to the press some tens of kilometres away. Today most port-making companies use pneumatic presses but some of the smaller companies still utilise the traditional huge but low granite tubs or lagares, in which the family, pickers, and friends press the grapes with their bare feet or with special shoes. This scene out of folklore is often done to music and attracts scores of tourists.

During vinification, which nowadays happens in stainless steel tanks, wine alcohol is added during fermentation at the rate of 10 litres per 45 litres of fermenting must. The new port is then transferred to wooden casks and left to rest for several months.

After this the casks are transferred to Vila Nova de Gaia, where they are stored to mature in enormous cellars or lodges (armazens). More recently some port is now also left in the Douro valley to mature.

 The maturing process takes a minimum of two years. During the maturing in the huge 550 litre casks known as pipas the wine changes colour from purple/red to tan and the immature wine acquires specific character and bouquet.

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