RUBY AND TAWNY PORT FROM THE DOURO VALLEY in Portugal
The Finest Desert Wines
PORT, ALSO KNOWN AS VINHO DO PORTO, IS A WINE WITH A PROTECTED DENOMINATION OF ORIGIN
Port is heavily regulated by The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto and must be produced, labelled and marketed according of strict rules. Only the product from Portugal may be labelled as port or Porto. Port is fortified, which means that a neutral grape spirit is added to the wine as it’s fermenting, killing off the active yeasts, stabilizing the wine and stopping fermentation before all of the grape sugars can be converted into alcohol. This process gives port its high alcohol content of between 19% and 22% volume. The characteristics of port wine distinguish it from ordinary wines. All port grape varieties have rich, intense and very persistent flavours. It’s a rich, predominantly sweet wine with an aroma containing a hint of raspberries, blackberries, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate. Therefore, it’s often served with dessert or for special occasions. The Port is named after the port city of Porto. It was an important trading center and served as the main hub for the transport and distribution of port wine. Port wine owes much of its existence and fame to the conflicts between the British and the French at the beginning of the 18th century. The British used their military might to block the French ports, so the economy was stifled. Unfortunately, this also meant the export of French wines was interrupted. Not wanting to sacrifice their wine consumption, the Englishmen turned to their European allies, the Portuguese and purchased large quantities of wine produced in the Douro Valley. They mixed it with local brandy to increase the alcohol content in the barrels, so it would not spoil during its transportation to England.
THE VINEYARDS OF THE DOURO VALLEY
This region, along the Douro River, is a well-known wine-growing region with favourable conditions and around 250,000 hectares of vine- yards. In 1756, the Port wine vine- yards of the Douro became the first vineyard area in the world to be legally demarcated. The actual production then moves about 70 kilometres down the valley. The mild and humid climate in the south is better suited for the maturation of the wines. Within 24 to 36 hours of the grapes being read, the winemakers extract as many colours and tannins as possible from the grapes. In spring, after the harvest, the wine is then transported down the river and unloaded into the large warehouses of the Port houses, which stand in the narrow streets of Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite the old city center of Porto. Here they can age, be blended, bottled and finally shipped to the world. The wines to be used for the creation of Tawny Port, remain in the Douro Valley
The different types of Port Ruby and Tawny are both Port wines. The main difference is found in the amount of time both has spent aging in casks prior to blending and bottling. The unique blend of the more than 80 allowed grape varieties, 29 of which are recommended make the Port diverse. Each grape adds a unique flavour to the blend. The most widely used grapes are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.
Ruby Port wines are aged in large, up to 100,000 litre oak barrels. Modern equipped port producers also use INOX steel tanks. The size of the barrels pre- vents a rapid oxidation process and an intense transition of aromas from the wood into the wine. For Ruby Port they use the big barrels, because a relatively small drum wall surface can hit quite a lot of liquid. A Ruby usually stays in the barrel for no longer than three years and has retained more of its natural color and sweet, fruity characteristics from the grapes. As a result, its colours are more of a deep, ruby color. Due to limited barrel oxidation, Ruby Ports also have the potential to evolve in the bottle.
Ruby Port is the most heavily produced and cheapest Port wine. It’s a blend of different vintages with an average age of three years and full of grape and sweet plum flavours and aromas. It’s particularly good when enjoyed with dark chocolate.
This is a Ruby Port made from higher-quality grapes. The blends used in the production of Ruby Reserva undergo a more careful selection. They are more aromatic, have richer plummier fruit than standard rubies and they are darker with more chocolaty aromas. This is one of the best quality Port wines. Ideally. it’s to be drunk upon purchase.
RUBY PORT VINTAGE
Vintage is the highest classification and is an excellent quality wine made up of one single harvest. It is considered the king of Port wines with a depth and concentration that you only find in the world’s finest wines. It’s a very dark, full bodied red wine with spice and pepper aromas, blueberry, grape and plum fruit flavours that become as the bottle ages. Vintage Port is less enjoyable for everyday drinking as it should be treated like fine china, it’s fragile, expensive, and only for special occasions. In fact, it’s so delicate it has to be consumed within 24-48 hours of opening the bottle. Vintage Port is the only Port that matures in the bottle, meaning these bottles go straight into the cellar for between 20 to 40 years. That’s because Vintage Port only spends about two years in the barrel before it’s bottled, so it still has a lot of maturing to do by the time it hits the shelf. Vintage Ports only get bottled three times in a decade. It is bottled between the 1st July of the second year and the 31st December of the third year after harvesting.
LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE (LBV)
As the name indicates, the LBVs are bottled later than other Vintages. After four to six years in wooden vats, they may mature in the bottle, in which case they can be labelled as Bottle Aged or Bottle Matured. This type of Port is a dense, full-bodied wine.
In those years the wine quality doesn’t achieve the Vintage status, the alternatives are the LBV or a Single Quinta declaration. These wines come from a single estate are usually less concentrated and complex than a Vintage. They are usually less expensive than vintage ports, too. The production process is identical to a vintage. In Portugal, the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto – Port and Douro Wines Institute) is the entity responsible for recognising and classifying Port wines as ‘vintage’ and removing the main house name from the label.
This is a blend of good vintage Ports, usually from two or three vintages. The well-rounded style balances the best characteristics of a number of harvests. These wines need to stay in a barrel for two years and then spend three years in the bottle. The date on the label is the bottling date, not the harvest date. This rare style of port is only made by a small number of producers and is characterised by its lack of filtration, hence the name. The wine will form a crust in the bottle, so it must be decanted before drinking. They are considered a good alternative to the expensive Vintage and are usually ready to drink when purchased.
Tawny Port starts out as Ruby Port, but spends 10 to 40 years in the barrel, rounding out its flavours, oxidizing slightly and taking on a nice mahogany hue from the wood. It matures with more air contact and gets more intense notes. The color of Tawny is a bit paler than Ruby and goes brownish. The wines are stored in oak barrels with a capacity that varies mostly between 250 litres and 750 litres. The smaller barrels are used because they want to speed up the oxidation of the wines and intensify the exchange of woody flavours with the wine. Taking smaller barrels, a small amount of liquid faces a relatively larger drum surface. This leads to more contact between the liquid and the barrel wall. More contact means both more exchange of oxygen between the cask and the liquid, as well as an increased transfer of aromas from the wood into the wine.
There are only four ages that a Tawny Port can state: 10-years, 20-years, 30-years and 40-years. The greater the age, the greater the price tag and the more nuanced the flavours. Most Tawny Port connoisseurs agree that a 20-year Tawny Port provides the best taste. They have drier fruit flavours and are nuttier, as well as a sherry, fig, rum and spice aromas. These ports are a good match for milk chocolate or pecan pie.
Tawny Reserva wines are higher quality than Tawny. It’s best described as being between Tawny and an aged port. It has aged in casks more than the minimum aging requirements, but for less time than would be required for a 10-year tawny. They can be red, similar to rubies, or brownish like the oldest Tawny. This style keeps some fruit characteristics and has oxidation notes from the barrel stage. Some houses don’t even declare this category.
This is the only Tawny from a single vintage. If compared with a Vintage, the Colheita will stay in a wooden barrel for at least seven years and it is filtered after bottling, whereas the Vintage is in the barrel for less than three years and will be bottled unfiltered. It’s possible to find 100-year Colheitas for sale.
There are many variations of white Port. The wines are aged in oak vats for about three years, where they acquire a mellow aroma and character. The White Port is usually made from white grapes like the Arinto, Boal, Codega, Esgana Cão, Folgazão, Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato varieties. White Port is a great and refreshing summer drink and it unfolds its flavours best when served at around 8-10 ° C.
WITH CHEESE AND Chocolate
Port becomes more interesting and shares its sophistication when it meets with contrasting elements. Strong tastes, such as milk chocolate, caramel desserts and soft cheeses go perfectly with the mild Tawny Port.
Ruby Port has a great contrast when paired with bitter-dark chocolate and helps tame the stronger flavours of blue cheese or washed dark cheese. It goes well with salted and smoked nuts and even sweet smoked meat. Chefs simmer Port wine and reduce it to a thick sauce, which is also a great flavourful alternative to brown sugar.
The recommended drinking temperature of Tawny and Reserve Port is just below room temperature, about 10 to 16 degrees Celsius, to bring out the taste of the dark red wine, but just chilled enough so the alcohol is not overpowering. The ideal vessel is a wine glass that is smaller than a regular wine glass with a quantity of approximately 3 oz.
Except for Vintage Port, Port is relatively resilient and can be stored upright or sideways in a cool, dark place. Ruby Port stays good for about three to four weeks after opening. Tawny Ports can be kept in the fridge for about a month, or two weeks at room temperature. LBVs can last for a week, maybe two if it’s unfiltered. Vintage Port is designed to age for a very long time. There are highly-prized Vintage Ports over 100 years old.
You can tell which is which by looking at the cork. A Vintage Port has a regular long cork, while the drink now style of Port has a plastic-topped cork cap.
Here are a few of the best known port manufacturers:
Taylor’s Vintage www.taylor.pt
Graham’s Vintage www.grahams-port.com
Fonseca Guimaraens www.fonseca.pt
Quinta de la Rosa www.quintadelarosa.com
This article was published first in the TML Issue 1, 2018.