English wine merchants invented port and made world famous. The English were the best consumers of port wines, but now many other countries discovered the delights of enjoying port. The French like white port as an aperitif, Americans have developed a liking for vintage ports, and Quebecois enjoy port of good quality any time and anywhere.
English wine merchants invented port, as we know it, at end of the 17th century when William III imposed punitive levels of taxation on French, particularly Bordeaux wines.
English wine merchants of the day had to abandon trade with Bordeaux and went to Portugal in search of wines to meet demand.
At first they settled, in the city of Oporto, in northern Portugal but found local wine wanting. Eventually they started to experiment to improve the high-acid, low alcohol wines, by fortifying them with spirits and leaving desirable amounts of residual sugar, knowing the predilection of English with sweet foods and beverages.
Over time the style became popular, and today the genre has several sub-categories ranging from white, to ruby, tawny, colheita, vintage-character, LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) and vintage.
Since England dominated many regions and countries and had civil servants settled the four corners of the world, port wines became or more correctly, were made famous by marketing.
To this day, the best known and most experiences port winemakers are English and their companies that were founded in the 17 and 18th centuries.
Graham, Dow, Warre, Croft, Taylor Fladgate, Smith Woodhouse, Offley are a few of them. The Symington family ownes many properties and some of the companies mentioned above.
A few Portuguese also have their trading houses including Quintas (equivalent to estates) like Quinta do Infantado, Quinta do Noval (owned by Axa, a French insurance company), Quinta de Vale de Meao, Ferreira, Pocas. Sandeman, an old English sherry and port shipper is now owned by Sogrape, the producer of Mateus, that used to sell millions of cases all over the world. Today Mateus sales are considerably less but still impressive exceeding one million.
Although the United Kingdom is still a very important market for port exports, today the U. S. A, Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium have attracted the attention of exporters. They buy appreciable quantities of port, and generally of higher quality.
Surprisingly, the French are the biggest consumers of port, especially white port, which they prefer to enjoy as an aperitif.
Douro Valley stretches from Mesao Frio to Freixo de Espada a Cinta on the Spanish border for some 70 Km and is divided into three sub-regions – Baixo Corgo (closest to the Atlantic Ocean); Cima Corgo (Upper Valley) and Douro Superior (the most rugged and best region).
In the last two decades, Baixo Corgo estates started making and marketing table wine along with fortified wines. Some of the red wines are absolutely stunning, and reasonably prices to boot. During a recent tasting of 172 wines the following stood out:
While regular port wines can be enjoyed over a week or two after opening both LBV and vintage ports must be finished the day of opening. Both should be decanted before enjoyment.