Port wine is the most prestigious and well-known of the Portuguese wines and one of the most consumed in Europe. It gets its name from the coastal city of Porto from where it is shipped, but in fact, it is produced with grapes grown in the mountainous interior of Alto Douro (the winegrowing region). Let’s find out why it’s so special!
PORTO, WINE CITY
We could call Porto the wine city because on one side you can enjoy the “vinho verde”. That fresh wine, of young age, which is not actually green! And on the other hand, you can meet the famous “Port wine”, generous and smooth in the mouth, which is the most exported from Portugal to all parts of the world.
But it was not always exported from here. The center of the wine trade was the elegant city of Viana do Castelo, on the north coast of the country. What happened was that the mountainous terrain did not allow them to transport the wines by land from the Douro Valley there. So, they started transporting them along the Douro River to the city of Porto. And from there, to the world!
History of Port Wine
English merchants arrived in the city of Porto looking for a substitute for French wine when, in 1678, England and France entered into a war. The French government had launched a series of measures to restrict imports of British goods in their country, and the British government stopped trade with France. So, Porto was this alternative source of supply they were looking to find.
But the wine got off on the long journey to England, and the need to preserve it led the merchants to add brandy to it. This stabilized the wine and allowed it to withstand the temperatures and humidity of boat trips. This mix excited the English, encouraging them to settle in the city and open their own cellars there. Hence, there are so many British names in the brands.
A century later, in 1756, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Marqués de Pombal, established the geographical limits of the Port wine vineyards, creating the “Demarcated Region of the Duoro”. The vineyards were classified according to their quality and the standards to produce wine were established.
There are about 33,000 certified grape growers in the Douro region and more than 30 grape varieties accepted to produce this wine. They are grown in steep terrace which makes it very difficult to mechanize the process. But the conditions of climate, soil and grape variety of Douro Wine Region cannot be replicated elsewhere in the world!!
There is a whole tourism business around this business: wine tasting, steam train trips, cruise on the Douro, participating in a harvest, Wine souvenirs, etc. Let’s get to know the product better!
Credit: Flickr matte0ne
WHAT TYPES OF PORT WINE ARE THERE? (STYLES OF PORT)
What are fortified wines?
Porto falls into the category of fortified wines. These are the wines to which a distilled liquor is added, before or during the fermentation process. When this process is interrupted with a brandy, a high level of alcohol and sweetness is achieved (by the residual sugars that did not manage to ferment).
Thanks to this alcohol content (between 19º and 22º), the wines can last in excellent conditions many years. In some cases, quality increases over the years!
Let’s see the types of Port wine:
We differentiate two variations of red port:
Ruby Port: Grows old in the bottle after spending one to three years in the barrel. Has a brighter and more intense color (ruby color).
– Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) Ports: age 4 to 6 years before being bottled, has a vintage character.
– Vintage Single Quinta: produced with the fruits of a single vineyard in very small quantities.
Tawny Port wine: Aged in barrels or oak casks. Has lost that ruby color and is more transparent. It pairs well with ham, nuts and strong cheeses.
– Without an indication of age: has aged at least two years.
– With indication of age: categorized in 10, 20, 30 and 40 years.
It’s elaborated from varieties of red grapes and, by having a shorter maturing process, a lighter color results. It’s a very aromatic wine that is well appreciated when served very cold or with ice, also in cocktails.
Of the wines that use white grapes, we distinguish the white dry, half dry and sweet.
They are not the most popular (the red wine accounts for almost all the production of the region) but they work well as an aperitif wine and with light meals like the ones you can find in our post about the traditional Portuguese food. And as always, they are served at a lower temperature than red.
It’s the king of the Port wines. Only the best harvests are considered vintage. It’s the only one that matures in bottle for decades after a brief period in wooden barrels. As it matures, it acquires a more intense garnet color, and its flavor and aroma are enhanced.
If you want to learn more about wine, it’s best to do a tour with an expert!
THE BEST PORT WINE WINERIES TOURS
Going on a tour with a local guide can be a wonderful introduction to the history and culture of Port wine. Although wineries are not in Porto but in Gaia, the opposite city.
We cannot decide on just one… so we ‘ve made a list of the best ones. Keep in mind that the last visit is usually one hour before the closing time. Oh! And wines are quite strong, so if you go early in the morning, you better have a good breakfast, or take a snack before going!
In this winery, you can choose between several types of experiences: the wine tasting visit, the wine & cheese, the wine & chocolate, or the Fado show. They have an interactive multisensory museum as well. It’s a high-quality tour indeed!
Price: Standard visit €13 with tasting of two wines. Premium visit €16 with three wines.
11-17 years old €6. Under 10 free
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm. Last visit at 5:40 pm
The cellar was founded in 1588, which makes it the oldest in operation in Porto. It was the first to produce rosé wine, which you can try on their tour. It’s not that touristy, so it’s a more intimate tour. Reservation is not required unless you come in a group.
Price: Classic tour €14 with tasting of three wines
8 to 17 years old €5
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Last visit at 5.00 pm.
This brand was founded by a family of Douro vintners in 1751, and remains a leading producer of wine. It could be said that Doña Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, “la Ferreirinha” for the Portuguese, was the most influential person in the history of Port wines. It’s a shortest and most basic visit, but they will answer any questions you may have. By the way, the winery is built on an old Vila Nova de Gaia convent.
Price: Classic visit €13 with tasting of two wines. Premium Visit €16 with three wines
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Last visit at 5.45 pm.
This house founded in 1880 occupies great Port wine market. Here you can visit the office of its founder, Adriano Ramos Pinto, now converted into a museum that preserves the objects and the atmosphere of the 30s. And of course, the cellars.
Price: €12 with tasting of two wines
Opening hours: 10.00 am – 6:00 pm. Last visit at 5.00 pm
One of the best-known wine brands, and one of the most popular tours. In this case it could be convenient to book ahead. And even though you take the tour in another winery, it is also worth going to their terrace to have a cocktail of Porto wine (the Portonic or Pinktonic!)
Price: Classic €13 with tasting of two wines. Premium €16 with three wines.
Opening hours: Summer: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. Last visit at 7.00 pm. Winter: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Last visit at 5.45 pm.
Another of the oldest wineries founded by an English businessman, William Offley. This prestigious brand is easy to find in the shops of the city, so this is a good place for a tasting before you dare to buy.
Price: Classic tour €10 with tasting of two wines. Offley reserve €13 with three wine tastings.
Opening hours: 10:00 – 12:30 (Last visit at 12.15) / 2:00 – 6:00 pm (Last visit at 5.45)
If you are very passionate about wine or simply not good at choosing, you have the option to buy a combined ticket to visit the wineries of Offley, Sandeman, and Ferreira for €21, with tastings in all of them of course!
Well, following a lecture, practical class starts, right? We’ll be waiting for you with open arms, at the best Porto hostel, Cats Porto Hostel naturally!