Port Wines

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Port wine is a type of fortified wine that cam from the Duoro Valley in the Northern provinces of Portugal. Port wines are basically sweet fortified wines that are often served as a dessert wine. They are grapes that are produced and made into wine in this Portuguese wine region and then fortified with distilled grape spirits in order to increase its alcohol content to preserve it. Its name was derived from the seaport city of Porto where much of the said wine was brought to market and then shipped to other parts of the world during the better part of the 17th century.

Port wines are usually a richer, heavier and sweeter type of wine. And because it is a fortified wine, a port wine usually has a higher alcohol content than most ordinary wines. Fortification is done by adding a distilled grape spirit called the aguardente, which is similar to brandy. This is done in order to halt the fermentation process the wine is undergoing in order to preserve the sugars that might be left in the wine and prevent it from being converted into alcohol.

Port wines from Portugal are divided in two categories, depending on the style from which they were made. One category has the wines matured in sealed tanks or bottles with no air exposure to let the wines undergo what is known as "reductive" aging. This allows the wines to become smoother on the palate and acquire a less tannic taste.

The other category of port wines have them mature in wooden barrels which allow a bit of exposure to oxygen through the wood’s permeable properties. This allows the wines to go through "oxidative" aging which enables the wines to lose color faster as well as substantial volume of the wine lost to evaporation. This gives the wine more viscosity and a very intense taste.

There are a wide variety of port wines available. There is the Ruby which is usually aged in bulk for up to three years before they are bottled. It is considered as the cheapest and the most widely produced port wine variety. Its name is taken from the distinctive color of the port wine. Then there is also the Tawny port wine which is a red grape wine that is aged in wooden barrels. They go through an oxidation process that gives it a mellow golden brown color and has a nutty flavor due to the exposure with wood.

Another type of port wine is the Garrafeira which is made from grapes taken from a single harvest and then made to go through oxidative maturation in oak barrels in addition to a reductive maturation process in air tight large glass demijohns. Garrafeira ports are required to spend about three to six years in wood and then another eight years in glass demijohns before they are made ready for bottling. Then there is also the Crusted port which is usually a blend or port wines coming form different vintages. It is usually bottles unfiltered and needs to be decanted before drinking.