Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our Visit to Oporto and the 2000 Vintage

Port is a fortified wine from the spectacular, if somewhat remote terraced vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Kevin and I had the fortune of visiting the region during a driving tour of Portugal and sampling some its fine nectar. Here time stands still. You will not find the latest wine making techniques or much modern equipment. Instead, you will find a wine industry much the way it was over a hundred years ago. Either because of this, or in spite of it, Port is one of the world's greatest wines.

Port actually takes its name from the city of Oporto that is situated at the mouth of the Rio Douro (River of Gold) on the coast of northern Portugal. Oporto is the major shipping point for Port and an excellent place to tour the famed Port warehouses (shown at right) of the countries big name producers, and where you can spend your day(s) sampling a large range of product while looking up to the picturesque old city across the river.

Grapevines have grown in the Douro Valley since as far back as Roman times, but as this was a poor hilly region, the flat terraces were reserved for food while vines were planted in the gaps of the terrace walls. Port wine didn’t exist until the late 17th century when the English and Portuguese developed a trading relationship when war broke out between France and England and forced my English ancestors (my father's side of the family) to non-French sources of wine. In those days adding ingredients to wine was commonplace, and it was found that the addition of brandy had a twofold benefit: it made the wine more stable, helping it survive the voyage to England, and because the brandy was added before fermentation was completed, it made the wine sweeter.  Because of this, Port is typically served at the end of the meal, ideally with cheese and fruit.

Although many port-style wines are made around the world, the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal. Port comes in different styles, depending whether the wine is primarily aged in bottle or in cask. Most people are familiar with the sweet, dark, tannic, richly fruited style of Vintage Ports which are bottled young, and will then slowly age to mellowness. Less commonly appreciated are the cask-matured Ports known as Tawny, which are typically lighter in colour, with soft, spicy nutty flavours and less overt fruitiness. Ruby port is the cheapest and most extensively produced type of Port. After fermentation it is stored in tanks made of concrete or stainless steel to preserve its rich claret color.  Kevin and I tend toward the Vintage style. White Ports also exist, but are not generally that desirable and not included in my discussion here.

The year 2000 was not only notable for the turn of the century, but also for the excellence of its vintage. The year will be remembered for the immense concentration of its wines and for the small quantities produced. Kevin and I have a cellar with a small but impressive collection of Ports of this fine vintage which we share only on special occasions and with our closest friends and family. If you are shopping for a good 2000 Vintage Port, try Churchill's or Cockburn's, shown in these photos. (Click the image to enlarge.)  Some supplies still remain in stores, but a recent price check found them to have increased by nearly $20 per bottle (to about $70 USD) in recent months. Always remember to decant and strain the port to remove sediment that often forms in older bottles.  In looking back on it, we should have listened to our favorite wine dealer who recommended it was the time to purchase a supply that we could enjoy in our retirement.

No comments:

Post a Comment