“He pours radiant nectar, two score and ten years old, that blushes in the glass to find itself so famous, and fills the whole room with the fragrance of southern grapes”
-Charles Dickens on Port Wine, Bleak House –
Port is a fortified wine from the remote vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley, an UNESCO world heritage site. Here, in the Douro Valley, time has almost stood still. You will not find the latest wine making techniques and fancy equipment. Instead, you will find a wine industry much the way it was over a hundred years ago. Yet, in spite of it, or because of it, vintage Port is one of the world’s greatest wines.
Port takes its name from the city of Porto that is situated at the mouth of the 560-mile long Rio Douro or River of Gold. Although many port-style wines are made around the world – most notably Australia, South Africa and the United States – the strict usage of the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal.
Produced mainly in the upper Douro wine region in northern Portugal, where the climate is one of great extremes. The summers are intensely hot, while the winters are very cold. A great deal of rain falls between January and April.
The must is only partly fermented, and the process is stopped by the addition of grape spirit, usually brandy, to prevent the yeast from working. The remaining unfermented grape sugar produces a sweet wine. The six port grape varieties are Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela.
Types of Port include Ruby which is inexpensive, young and blended from wines usually up to 3 years old. The Reserva are better wines, blended from various years and aged in cask for up to 5 years. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is from a single year, but one which the producer did not consider fine enough for declaration as a Vintage Port. Usually is bottled between the 4th and 6th year after the harvest.
Tawny are inexpensive, made from lighter coloured wines and sometimes blended with white ports to adjust the colour while Tawny Reserva are better quality, blended from wines aged in wood for at least 7 years. Tawny with age indication and labelled as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old, these wines are blended from wines aged 8 years or more. The age in the label is the average age of the wines in the blend. Colheita are rare, produced from a single year, it is aged in barrel for at least 7 years. The aromas develop via slow oxidation and are a joy to drink.
Vintage Port is produced from a single year, with only 2 year of maturation in cask. The rest of the maturation is done in the bottle and produced only in the best years. On average there are 2 or 3 vintage declarations every 10 years. The Single Quinta Vintage is produced from one single estate.
The Port Wine Brotherhood this year proclaims 2011 as a Vintage year and I was delighted to attend the world presentation of the 2011 Vintage Port, which took place in Oporto in June. The following day I was honoured and extremely proud that Quinta do Vale Meão proposed my name to be enthronized as a Cavaleiro (Knight) by the Port Wine Brotherhood.
The Vintage 2011 Ports to look out for are the Quinta do Noval Nacional, Fonseca, Dow’s, Graham’s The Stone Terraces, Quinta do Vesuvio Capela, Quinta do Vale Meão, Niepoort, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s Fladgate plus Taylor’s single vineyard Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha.