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The origins of Port
Wine production started in Portugal along the Douro River with the settlement of the Romans around the 2nd century BC. An activity that will prosper over the centuries, especially with the advent of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1139.
The British and the Portuguese developed their trade, making it possible to boost the export of wine production, in exchange for the salted cod called bacalhau in Portugal. From 1386, the Treaty of Windsor brought the two countries closer and guaranteed equivalent rights for their respective merchants, which accelerated trade.
The Portuguese then took advantage of the disagreements between the French and the English to become indispensable and develop all the popularity of Port.
In 1667, the Prime Minister of King Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, restricted British imports to France. In retaliation, the England of King Charles II blocked French wine exports. The English then turned to Portugal for more supplies, and were particularly interested in their production of wines from the Douro Valley.
Douro wines were then, and still today, shipped in barrels by rabelos (small boats) to the towns of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia on the coast. They then set off on a long trek to England. To allow Portuguese wine to withstand this sea crossing between the two kingdoms, a bit of eau-de-vie or brandy was added before the trip.
During the 18th century, Port production methods evolved. The brandy is systematically added to the must during fermentation, and no longer just before shipping. This so-called mutage technique was definitively adopted by the entire profession around 1850 and made it possible to produce the great Ports that we know today, sweet wines rich in alcohol.
Port casks are also very popular in the ageing process of whisky and other eaux-de-vie.
The different types of Port
Red Port: a rich wine with more or less fruity aromas of cherry, prunes and red fruits. The whole is accompanied by slightly spicy notes.
Port Ruby: it is a wine that is generally aged less than three years before bottling. Inexpensive and not vintage.
There is also Port Ruby Reserve which is a blend of better-quality wines that have aged up to 5 years, which gives more intense and complex aromas to the wine.
LBV Port (Late Bottled Vintage: late bottling): the wines used for its blend come from the same year of production. It is aged between 4 and 6 years in vats before bottling.
Port Tawny: lighter Ports, with a clear colour, to be enjoyed immediately after bottling. A wine to be served chilled. It is the most consumed Port in France.
We also find Tawny Reserve, a blend of wines aged for at least 7 years and whose oxidation blurs the fruit aromas in favour of dried fruits, coffee, caramel and chocolate.
The most curious of us will also discover vintage Tawny Ports. The wines are aged in wooden barrels for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years… and develop aromas of hazelnuts and caramel.
White Port: a fortified wine made from white grape varieties with more fruity notes and generally less alcohol than other Ports. To be found soft or dry.
Good to know: Port continues to age in the bottle and can improve with time. As it ages, some deposits appear, so you have to decant your port before serving it.