by Tere Williams
Made for centuries in the rugged region of northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley, Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum and comes in a variety of styles ranging from the youthful Ruby Port, to aged Tawnies, and Late-Bottled Vintage Ports down to the distinguished character of Vintage Port.
Port wine is typically associated with Portugal, but really owes at least part of its invention to England as a direct by-product of the Brits battling France through the 17th and 18th centuries. The English boycotted French wine in the late 17th century as a result of their ongoing conflict and started sourcing their red wine from Portugal, just around the bend from Bordeaux. They started adding a wee bit of brandy to the still red wine to help sustain it during the voyage back to England. The brandy addition served to give the fragile still wine the fortitude to make the long trip on a rocking boat without spoiling. It also made the wine much sweeter when it was added early enough to halt fermentation and leave residual sugar on the higher end. As a result, Ports have a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate Ports pairing versatility and uncanny ability to even function as dessert itself.
How it’s made
Port starts off as other still wine does but changes during fermentation. When the alcohol level reaches about 7%, the young wine is fortified with brandy to bring the fermentation process to a sudden stop, while capturing the fruit nuances of the young wine and preventing the grape sugars to continue their classic conversion to alcohol. The young Port may be blended with other Port and aged either in the bottle or in the cask to find the right palate appeal.