23 January 2009

The Port Report

Tonight I learned about fortified wine. Thanks to the informative and entertaining program of classes offered at Cellar Rat Wine Merchants, I learned lots about port at the Port Class; I jotted it all down on the table paper and now will share it with you.

Port is from Portugal - specifically from the Douro valley in northern Portugal. It began its rise to fame in the late 1600s / early 1700s when wine merchants from Liverpool were sent to Oporto, Portugal to learn more about the trade. (Oporto is in the northern region of Portugal, in the Duoro Valley - the higher you go in the valley, the better and more complex and more expensive the port is.) There they learned from the abbeys that if you add a neutral spirit (like brandy) to wine during the fermentation process (at 6 to 8 % alcohol), the yeast is killed off and the grape ripeness is maintained, and a delicious elixir is produced. The higher the ripeness of the grapes, the higher the sugars in the wine - hence the sweetest properties of port.

There are two types of port: Ruby (very pink, very fruity, very spicy - more like an 18 year old kid, according to Steve at the Cellar Rat) and Tawny (brown in color, more robust, more butterscotch, more reflective and subtle). And what did I think of these tawny and ruby ports? Well, as it goes with Clinique, so it goes with port - I am much more of a tawny kind of person. The rubies seemed cloyingly sweet to me, but the tawnies I could stick with for a while without feeling like I'd eaten too much cotton candy. The tawnies were still sweet - but it was a tempered sweet and a far more complex sweet.

Back to the technicalities: one of the differences between tawny and ruby is the oxidation: oxidation is prevented in ruby ports whereas tawny ports are allowed to oxidize (this accounts for the darker, browner color). Another technicality: like Champagne, which should only be from the Champagne region of France, and Sherry which should only be from the Jerez region of Spain, Port should only be from Portugal. You can find "port style fortified wines" that are produced elsewhere, but port itself must be Portuguese.

Something else to remember: port should be consumed within about a week, depending on whether its ruby or tawny, etc. So if you buy a bottle, try to arrange for 9 to 18 friends to be on hand to help you drink it. Or, if you are exceedingly generous and make fast friends with your fellow Cellar Rat Port Class attendees, you could always buy a bottle after class to share with the group.

I am certain that they would be pleased, if you did.

Post Script Port quote: "It should feel like liquid fire in the stomach; should have the tint of ink; it should be like the sugar of Brazil in sweetness and the spices of India in aromatic flavour." -Association of Port Wine Shippers, 1754


amber said...

Wow I found this highly educational. My Grandfather drank a small glass of Port each night with his dinner and when he passed we inherited a very large bottle.

Emily said...

Wow! It sounds like your grandfather had very good taste! Do you still have that bottle? How old is it? One of the ones we sampled at the port class was old - not like super old, but old enough that the label was all faded. It was the most expensive and - alas - the most delicious of the evening.