#newwinethisweek Week 50 – Port, Douro Valley
It’s almost Xmas you thirsty winos… so it’s time to get festive and Mike has kicked off Port week on #newwinethisweek!
Port has always been a big thing with us Brits, especially at Xmas. Whether it’s a nip on the golf course (usually mixed with Brandy!), an accompaniment to Stilton or passing the port to the left at the end of a meal, we have a right old history with this fine fortified wine from Portugal. In fact many of the oldest and most famous producers are of English or Scottish origin (Warre’s, Croft, Taylor’s), however with the declaration of some outstanding vintages recently (2000, 2003, 2007, 2011), Port is now a big thing across all wine-thirsty markets, all around the globe.
Port is a fortified wine is produced in the mountainous and dramatic landscape of the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The base wine is made using indigenous varieties such as the Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa or Tinta Barroca, which is then fortified with grape spirit or brandy; when the sweetness in the wine reaches a certain level, usually when the alcohol 6% to 8%, the clear, flavourless brandy, known as ‘aguardente’, is added to stop the fermentation. The finished wine is made in two different styles, bottle-aged and cask-aged. The usually cheaper cask-aged Ports are aged in wooden casks until they are ready to drink, the more expensive bottle-aged styles are aged for a short time in cask or tank and then do most of their maturing in bottle.
Pretty simple so far? This is wine, so nothing is every quite as simple as it first seems! There is a wide variety of different styles of Port on the market, all with their individual character and flavours. I’ve tried to pull of the main examples you will see on the shelves to help you when you go shopping
The cheapest and most widely produced type of port, which is stored in concrete or stainless steel tanks made of concrete or stainless steel, preventing any oxidisation and preserving the rich fruity flavours.
A premium Ruby Port that spends a couple of years in oak to soften and develop without losing it’s fresh, intense fruity character or the deep ruby colour. Reserve wines are smoother than Ruby and probably the best place to start your Port discovery.
Aged in wooden barrels, which allows the wine to slowly oxidise and evaporate, the result is a mellow, nutty wine with a lovely combination of fresh and dried fruits and a beautiful golden-brown colour. Tawny Port is the most similar Port to a classic dessert wine and works well with a variety of desserts, from chocolate to fruit-based goodies.
Late bottled vintage (LBV)
Produced with grapes from a single harvest, LBV is intended to provide an idea of what the Vintage Port will taste like without the need for lengthy bottle ageing. The wines are left in barrel for between 4 and 6 years and are ready to drink upon release. Look out for bottles with “bottle matured” on the label; these wines also have a minimum of three years of bottle ageing before release.
Produced in a style similar to Vintage Port, but quicker and at a cheaper price! The wine is made from a blend of different vintages and is aged for up to 4 years in cask and at least 3 years in bottle before release. The name “crusted” comes from the sediment (or crust) that forms at the bottom of the bottle as the wine ages.
Made entirely from the grapes from a single vintage and only declared in the very best years. Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and then the waiting game begins; these wines generally require another ten to forty years of ageing in the bottle before reaching what is considered a proper drinking age. These are wines that can continue to gain complexity for many decades after they were bottled and rank alongside the finest produce of Bordeaux or Burgundy as one of the great iconic wines of the world. There has also been an increase in the number of “Single Quinta Vintage Ports”, which are wines that originate from a single estate.
Note: I apologise for the need to have a Tesco rant. I usually recommend a wine or two from the UK’s biggest retailer but after my experience of using their Click & Collect service this Christmas, I am refusing to do so anymore. They advertise a 24 hour service, then AFTER payment inform you that it will probably be 48 hours… then take 9 (NINE!) days to finally deliver, with not a single email update in that time. Sorry about that, but given their current predicament(s) I would suggest a little more haste and an improvement to customer service.