On Portugal’s west coast, near where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Autumn temperatures are perfect to lose yourself in the streets of Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto’s wine cave district.
The narrow, cobbled streets are home to more than a dozen Port wine caves amongst other bars, shops and restaurants. The district is hilly and can offer views over the river. Port tasting starts from as little as 1€ per glass and some establishments offer Fado (Portuguese music).
Port may be one of the most popular fortified wines in the world but my only experiences with it thus far were the parents customary Christmas bottle each year and of whisky matured in the used casks. I was interested to learn more.
Produced as a White, Rosado, Ruby, Tawny or Vintage, the Port wine starts out in Portugal´s Douro Valley. There, the riverside terraces have the perfect conditions to grow a variety of grapes, all used to produce Port. September is the main harvesting season, when people of the Douro valley unite to pick grapes.
The wine spends its first winter in the valley before traveling to the caves of Porto.
Historically, the estuary spot closer to the ocean allowed a good location for exporting the wine, but the climate is also perfect for making Port with mild summers and winters plus a slight rainy season around December.
The wine is blended with a spirit of approximately 77% ABV before being stored in large oak vats. For the Ruby Port this is the final stage before bottling. It has a bright reddish colour with sweet and fruity tastes.
For the Tawny Ports, they will be matured for a various number of years in much smaller oak casks. Over their maturation time the colour will become lighter and browner, the tastes less sweet. Tawnies generally carry an age statement on the bottle, showing how many years were spent in the cask.
The final Port wines are usually 18-20%ABV.
The Portuguese enjoy them as an aperitif or digestif.