The drink known as Port became popular in England at the end of the
seventeenth century. The local produced wine was found to be a better
traveller by ship when brandy was first added. The abbot of the monastery
in Lamego in 1678 is credited with successfully adding brandy to wine to
produce a palatable drink. It took some 100 years later before the quality
of Port reached the more refined levels that we know today. This can mainly
be credited to a young Englishman, J.J. Forrester, who cleverly eradicated
the false customs and trade that was in existence when he arrived in Porto.
The Portuguese government was so pleased that they later awarded him the
title of Baron. Another person that must be mentioned is Dona Antónia
Adelaide Ferreira, who was the uncrowned "Queen of the Douro" in
the 19th Century as the largest single landowner and a friend of Baron
The Port demarcated region is in the upper Rio Douro valley and its
tributaries almost stretching 100 Kms in total length. The terraced vineyards
are on slopes that reach to about 500 mts. The land is divided into
Quintas that are private estates, many of which are owned by the old
English Port Lodges located at the mouth of the Rio Douro in the town
of Vila Nova de Guia. This town lies on the southern riverbank and
opposite the city of Porto. A visit to a Lodge is recommended as they are
interesting and have lots of character within besides imparting the knowledge
about preparing Port.
Its governing body the Instituto do Vinho do Porto strictly controls
the Port trade. Thirteen senior members of the Association enjoy the
independent privilege of also being members of what is known as the
"Factory House". This is an establishment with an old
distinctly British flavour that dates back to the 18th Century in architecture
and atmosphere. It is from within these granite walls that the British Lodges
in Porto have successfully made trade agreements, and during their history,
fought off threatening usurpers to their trade. It is considered a rare honour
to be invited by a member to dine in style in its period rooms. Among others,
a pleasant tradition is that an unmarked Port is served at the end of the meal
to tease and test the assembled members and guests as to its origin, blending
The grapes of which there are more than 40 varieties are picked in September
in the special harvest know as "vindema". Again, an
invitation from one of the Lodges to go up the River Douro to be present
during this harvest is another privilege. In the name of tradition the picked
grapes are placed in granite stone "lagares", and in the
age-old custom they are trod upon by foot until the grape is sufficiently
prepared for fermentation. There are today other modern methods that are now
used by many of the Lodges. The semi-fermented "must" is then mixed
with a controlled quantity of brandy. This prevents the fermentation continuing
leaving the wine free from the natural grape sugar. All Ports with the
exception of a "vintage" are matured in oak casks inside the Lodges
prior to bottling. When sold they are ready for immediate drinking and do not
have to be decanted.
A Lodge may declare a particular year due to the quality found in their best
wine as a "vintage". This may be done in a period of 18 months after
harvesting the crop. It is then bottled six months later and a minimum maturity
period of 15 years is then allowed. The longer the period of maturing the better
will be flavour of the Port. It has to be noted that all "Vintage"
Ports need to be decanted prior to being drunk. A "vintage" year is
declared about every three to five years.
Styles of Port
Vintage - Blended from the wine of the best vineyards in the
same year and stored whilst maturing for not less than 15 years. It must be
bottled and racked within two years of harvesting. It is the cream of all
Single Quinta Port - As the name implies this Port is from a
single vineyard and can often be a Vintage Port.
LBV - This is a "Late Bottled Vintage" single year Port
that has been matured in wood for not less than four years before being bottled.
The label indicates the year of bottling and its vintage.
Vintage Character Port - This title is misleading in that the Port
is similar to that of a fine Ruby Port and not that of a Vintage.
Crusted Port - This Port is a successful blending of wines from
different years. Kept in casks for four years and then three years in the bottle
prior to being sold. The crust deposit in the bottle is the cause of its name
but should not be confused with Vintage.
Fine Old Tawny - As the name suggests this is pale-amber in
and less full-bodied. It is a blended wine from different years and its label
will indicate its age as an average year of its content. It is bottled and
racked for 10, 20 years or more, assuming a smooth silky texture and a mellow
Vintage-dated Tawny - These attractively priced Ports are as a
Fine Old Tawny but also considered a Vintage. They can spend 20 or 50 years in
Tawny - A Port that is less sweet in flavour and composed of
blending from different aged wines - even a clever mixture of red and white.
These Tawny Ports do not improve with ageing.
Fine Old Ruby - Blended from different years and kept in the
cask for about four years before being ready to drink. They have a
fruity-spicy flavour and classified as inferior to Tawny.
Ruby - A fruity Port and as the name suggests, deep red in colour.
They blended from wines of different years and take no more than one to three
years to mature.
White - This is either dry or sweet in flavour. Normally chilled
before serving and acts as an attractive aperitif in the small manner as a
Leading Port Houses
Cálem - established 1859
Churchill - established in 1981
Cockburn - established in 1815
Crofts - established in 1678
Delaforce - established in 1868
Dow & Co - established in 1798
Ferreira - established in 1761
Fonseca - established in 1822
Gould Campbell - established circa. 1797
W & J Graham & Co - established in 1820
Guimarães - (belonging to Fonseca)
Morgan - established in 1715
Noval - established in 1813
Offley Forrester - established in 1737
Poças - established in 1918
Quarles Harris - established in 1680
Quinta do Côtto - established pre. 1300
Ramos-Pinto - established in1880
Royal Oporto - established in 1756
Rebello Valente - (belonging to Robertson Brothers & Co)
Robertson Brothers & Co - established in 1881
Sandeman - established in 1790
Silves & Cosens - (belonging to Dow & Co)
Smith Woodhouse - established in 1784
Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman - established in 1692
Warre & Co - established in 1670