British wine merchants are credited with the development of port, as we know it, and created a worldwide market starting with England. This fortified wine has had many competitors in other producing countries, but none could ever match the delicacy and depth of the original and inimitable product.
The Douro Valley is unique, and terroir cannot be duplicated. Here summers are very hot and winters moderately cold. The soil varies from pre-Cambrian, to leptosoil, to riverine, containing sandy silt, gravel and pebbles, and generally acid.
Some 41,000 hectares are under vines tended by 33,000 growers. The average vineyards holding per grower is little more than a hectare, which indicates that the fruit receives the full attention of each grower.
The region is divided into three sub regions _ Lower Corgo (approximately 14,000 hectares); Upper Corgo (approximately 18,000 hectares) and Upper Douro (approximately 9000 hectares). The Lower Corgo is now producing more and more robust red table wines.
Port wines come in two board categories – white and red.
White ports are mostly sweet a few are off dry. All are enjoyable between meals, some like Taylor’s Chip Dry as an aperitif with green olives, ham or chips. Most people prefer white port with a wedge of lemon and on the rocks; other may add a little soda water. I think, white ports taste best chilled, but the consumer has the right to enjoy his/her drink the way he/she wants.
The red wine category is very extensive and starts with ruby, then continues with tawny, crusted, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and vintage.
Port wines are rich in iron and have been used as a therapeutic for anemia for centuries.
Tawny ports may be 10,20,30 or 40 years old with progressively more expensive price tags, but well made tawnies are expressive, and subtle with nutty flavours.
Vintage ports are the crown jewels of this category, simply because in the Douro Valley vintages are declared only in the best years.
LBV are ports the wines of a vintage and bottled after four or six years of barrel aging. They are ready to enjoy upon release.
Vintage ports are produced only in exceptional years and bottled after two years of barrel aging. Most need 15 – 20 years of cellaring before reaching full maturity.
Ruby ports are blended after two to three years of barrel aging, ruby reserves age three to five years before blending.
Crusted ports are blended from wines of different vintages, and bottled unfiltered throwing a deposit in the bottle. They are rich and dark, full-bodied, and an affordable alternative to vintage ports as alternative. Unfortunately, in Canada crusted ports are seldom offered.
Single quinta ports are made from fruit of one estate the same way as vintage ports, but mature sooner.
Rare but still delicious are colheita ports that are not blended, but aged for seven years. Colheite ports possess a silky texture with aromas of dried fruit and caramel.
For white ports, malvasia fina, gouveio, rabigato and moscatel galego are employed, and for reds touriga nacional, touriga francesa, tinta barroca, tinta cao, tinta roriz and tinta amarela. There are many more legally recognized varieties, but the aforementioned represent the majority.
Most people consume ports after an extended meal; yet a fine vintage port goes well with herb-seasoned duck liver, baked eggplant puree (a.k.a eggplant caviar) or figs baked in a flaky pastry. Well-aged cheese or blue cheeses are often paired successfully.
Old tawnies are paired with fresh ripe fruits, ice creams; almond based desserts or unsalted nuts.
Although a recent development, table wine production in the Lower Corgo is becoming more and more important. The grapes in this region, closer to the Atlantic Ocean, are picked at lower brix levels, and more suitable for table wine. They are generally vibrant dark red in colour, fruity, full-bodied, relatively high in alcohol and beautifully balanced. Some quintas produce ports and table wines, the latter come from the younger parcels of the estate.
Romans came to the Douro Valley in the first century B C and settles in many small side valleys, gradually introducing viticulture to the inhabitants.
Marques de Pombal, the legendary prime minister of Portugal, demarcated the Douro Vallley in 1757 to safeguard the reputation of the region. This legislation beats the French appellation controllee laws by a few hundred years.
Even today English companies (called lodges here) dominate the market.
Taylor, Fladgate and the Symington family are the most famous of all for their quality and consistency.