True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals. The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.
To make Port, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation. This stops the fermentation before the yeast has eaten all of the sugars, leaving a natural residual sugar of 9 to 10 percent, and boosting the alcohol content to 18 to 20 percent. This was originally done in the early days of Port production to stabilize the wines for the long sea voyage to England, at one time the biggest market for Port. There are four basic categories: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white. Vintage Ports are of the best quality, and the most expensive, of course. They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years. In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21. Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years. A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label. The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging. Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years. These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive. White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes. These wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif. Continue reading “Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port”