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What To Know About Port Wines

Port wine is amongst the worlds most refined and sought after alcoholic drinks. It has a century-old tradition to legitimise its unique quality. The wine is one of Portugal’s finest products and a major cause for the countries reputation. The inhabitants of northern Portugal’s Douro valley have perfected their techniques for nearly two millennia, as the archaeological discoveries indicate. The exquisite wine was first sold on a large scale in the city of Porto. The reason for which it reached England was its early 18th century war with France. Being deprived of French wines, the islanders saw Portugal as a replacement. English ships often took home quantities of Port wine; their legacy resides in the names of some port shippers with a strong English resonance.

Although the term “Port” refers to wines produced in countries like Australia, USA, South Africa and India as well, the authentic Port has Portuguese roots. In the EU, Porto may be the name only of wines originating from Portugal. The “Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto” imposes a strict control on the Portugese wine industry.

The production of Port is precisely calculated at each step. The amount of distilled grape spirits (like brandy) is responsible for its higher alcohol percentage. These spirits were first used because wines tended to decay on their journeys to distant lands. Wines with more than 16% alcohol are safer from damaging than those with less. The ones above 18% can be stored in wood casks which allow air inside.

Port wines come in a great variety. To classify them easier, experts have appealed to basic criteria: the presence or lack of “breathing”. Some wines are utterly ceiled while transported, so they are untouched by air. Others are safe for oxygenating, for so they will undergo the oxidative fine aging process. The ones from the latter category change their color faster and are left to healthy mature in wooden barrels. For this they are called “wood ports” sometimes.

The wine of the greatest quality is named “Vintage Part”. Although the finest, it is also amongst the rarest kinds produced. The time necessary for it to reach the perfect quality is long, it is known to require two and a half years in barrels, before left waiting 10-30 years in bottles. Its dark ruby pattern makes it sought after. They are only produced from grapes grown in what is called a vintage year, when the conditions are the best.

The traditional Tawny Port wines are either white or red and spend no time at all in barrels. Others, such as the Tawny Reserve port are left to interact with air for some time there and this results in a golden-brown spectrum. The Tawny categories are set after the age of wines. The Garraferia wines, labelled only by the Niepoort Company are stored first in barrels for seven years, than they lay in demijohns for another 8 years.

The Late Bottled Vintage derives from Vintage Ports that have been left in barrels longer than they should have. They can be consumed without decanting yet some experts believe this diminishes their quality.

The Clustered wine is similar to Vintage Port, though drinkable at a younger age. The Ruby Port is cheap and isolated in stainless steel before consumption. The white port is usually served cold and is made from white grapes.

If the cork has a plastic cap the wine should not be decanted, only the ones with plastic cork must be. In order to decant some wines a corkscrew and a specially adapted funnel is all that’s needed. The time a wine needs to be decanted depends on its age; the older need less time. The decantation process must be slow, with extreme patience.

The Red Port is obtained from special types of local grapes, while the White Porto is strictly controlled by the “Instituto do Vinho do Porto”. The name for vineyard in Portugal is Quinta. It appears that the future weather conditions will offer Vintage Ports more often.

About the Author: For a selection of Port and Cheese gifts visit the Virginia Hayward Christmas Selection

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