Port is a fortified sweet red wine produced in northern Portugal’s Douro Valley region. It is often served at the end of a meal, but it is also a popular choice as a dessert wine and as an after dinner drink.
There are also white, dry and semi-dry varieties of port available. Wines of a similar style to port are produced all over the world.
Port wine is made by adding grape spirit or brandy before the wine has finished fermenting during production, so it keeps some of the natural sweetness and gives it a rich and smooth flavour. The wine is then stored and aged in barrels before bottling.
Some port wines are matured in sealed glass containers that allow no exposure to air. This process is called reductive ageing and results in the wine slowly losing its colour and produces a smoother, less tannic flavour.
Port wine comes in a variety of different styles, each with their own individual flavours, making them a great wine to pair with a variety of dishes. A reserve or a late bottled vintage has intense berry fruit flavours, while an aged tawny or vintage port has a rich mellow flavour.
The grapes used to make port are mostly native to the Portuguese Douro Valley region and grown on the hillsides that border the Douro River and its streams. The climate is ideal for producing the grapes which give port it’s immediately recognisable flavour.
The earliest record of exports of wine called port was around 1678. The wine takes its name from the seaport of Oporto where it was first exported from. Until the 20th century, the wine was taken from the vineyards along the river Douro in special boats and then unloaded into the Port houses that line the narrow lanes of Vila Nova, which sit opposite the old centre of Oporto. From here, the wine would then be aged, blended and bottled before being shipped.
Whilst it is very well loved in its homeland of Portugal, Britain has always had an affinity with port wine and has long been its largest market. Whilst there are many recognisable port producers, it is some of the older brands which have the best recognition and are known for their authentic ports. Port continues to be enjoyed all over the world and has a charm that will no doubt enthral for generations to come.