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All about port wine
What is port wine
Port is a sweet wine fortified with wine spirits. It comes from sweet grape varieties, such as the Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz cultivars, grown in the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. This area has a warm, dry microclimate thanks to high mountains that shield the area from the cold Atlantic winds. After harvesting, the winemakers press the grapes in large stone vats, often by foot (don't worry, they're clean), before transferring the juice to fermentation tanks. Fermentation continues until the wine attains the correct sugar level, at which point the winemaker adds wine spirits (brandy) to stop fermentation. Thereafter, the port matures in oak, or steel casts for a minimum of two years. According to an ancient Portuguese law, winemakers may only sell one-third of their port after two years, the rest matures longer for 10, 20 or 40 years. It’s a lot of work, but is so worth it.
Types of port
Ruby port is fruity, inexpensive and young, usually aged for around three years. If labeled Reserve, the wine is older, having aged for around six years. Vintage port, representing the best vintage of a particular year, is generally barrel-aged for two years, bottled and then aged for several more years. Tawny port is a mixture of vintages that have aged in barrels for at least three years but more commonly for 10 to 40 years. There’s also white port made from white grapes, and some vintners make rosé port, a variant of ruby port.
Secrets of a good port
While port is a complex fortified wine with many variations, the best ports are those that have aged for several years. During aging, strong tannin and fruity flavors mellow, resulting in a wine with a silky and subtle taste. At the same time, port colors change from ruby to an amber or tawny hue. Wooden casks age port faster thanks to contact with oxygen that permeates through the wood. As port ages, it becomes richer and sweeter.
When to enjoy a good port
Like most dessert wines, Port is usually sipped after dinner. Although in Europe, it appears before meals. It serves best slightly chilled, especially if used as an apéritif.
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