Having just returned from short break to the city of Porto (the second largest city in Portugal); where it would have been rude not to get to know its most famous export – Port. Our office manager Joanne imparts some of her new found knowledge!
A very British tradition
We were lucky to have beautiful views of the Douro valley from our Airbnb in the historic centre a classified UNSECO World Heritage site and overlooking the famous port cellars across the river, such as Taylor’s, Sandeman, Cockburn’s, Grahams and Churchill’s all of which are British. (Our local guide when, we went to the Douro valley had commented that the British were the biggest drinkers). Many of these port producers have been going since 1600’s, however one producer who is classed as the new boy on the block is where we went for our tasting – Churchill’s, owned and set up in 1981 by John Graham (of the more famous port producer Graham’s. However when Graham’s was acquired by the Symington family John Graham wanted to start a family ran business and as the name Graham’s was already taken he took his wife’s surname (Caroline) Churchill.
Types of port
White port – kept in barrels for 2-3 years, most commonly drank as an aperitif or served with tonic over ice and a slice lemon – very refreshing and an alternative from a G&T (and insiders believe will be big this year!). Tawny port aged longer in barrels around 10 years, light brown in colour taken from the French oak barrels; a ‘digestivo’ that is good with dessert or chocolate; the classic ruby port we know and love is darkest in colour and aged in barrels for around 3 years.
Churchills in particular state their port is dryer than others due to the way they produce and the positioning of their vineyards which are north facing so less sun making the grapes less sweet. Churchill’s as mentioned is a small producer, producing in a year what the larger one produce in 2 months making their port somewhat more exclusive.
On a visit in September you may see farmers still treading the grapes by foot in large “baths” called a lagares. It is said that port made this way can improve the final product by 2%, but a lot of manual effort is required! The fermentation of Port is short to retain the sweetness; after the grapes have been “treaded” (by foot or mechanically) 77% proof brandy is added this raises the strength of the wine to a level where the yeasts responsible for fermentation can no longer survive. The fermentation stops before all the sugar in the juice has been turned into alcohol and some of the natural sweetness of the grape is thus preserved in the finished wine.
Vintage or not vintage
There are non-vintage, late bottled vintage and vintage. Now to the difference – a vintage year is declared by the institution of wine and is typically declared a vintage year to all producers however there are exceptions when some producers feel they have an exceptional good grape and can seek approval for them to be declared vintage. The last vintage year was in 2016 and with 2011 being an exceptionally ‘good year’. Once a vintage year has been declared they bottle the port with the sediments in order for it to continue to develop in the bottle which is the reason these ports get better with age! ‘standard’ port is filtered but can keep for 3-5 years in the bottle. Late bottled Vintage is still from the vintage year but has been developed longer in the barrels before bottling around 4-6 years. (My personal preference was a 2016 vintage)
Although port wine is the biggest export from the area, the farms in the Douro valley also produce interesting wines from the regions own variety of grapes which are not as widely known of the likes of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay etc…. Another popular wine produced in the region is the Moscatel wine, a popular dessert wine. View the Goldstone Wine Menu which offers a broad range including some from Portugal.
Of course there is more to Porto than port and wine, it is a beautiful historic city on the Douro river, with an abundance of eatery’s, shopping and landmarks, the old city is an UNESCO world heritage site as is the Douro Valley where there are plenty of trips to from the city by boat or road.
Having not been previously a port drinker I am definitely converted! From learning how port is produced from the different varieties of grapes grown in the vineyards.. The trip certainly gave me a great insight and a better understanding of our own offering at Goldstone. Our evening menu includes as cheese course so I would certainly recommend a glass of port to accompany it!!
Call me on 01630 661202 to make a reservation or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!