written 11th January
Given the weather, more power shower than rain shower for the first couple of days at least, Will was apparently waiting for an opportunity to shoehorn in this particular bad pun all weekend but unfortunately, circumstances did not conspire in such a way as to allow him to do so - 'any port in the drizzle' isn't quite the same :) so I promised him I would use it as a blog title and give him the credit...
It has also been commented already that there were apparently seven (I didn't count them) references to Port in a post supposedly not about port but as we are in Porto in Portugal, it really is unavoidable... :) and as we took full advantage of every port drinking opportunity, I now consider myself something of an expert on the matter :)
There are many, many port wine lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia, most of whom offer tours of their cellars and tastings for various fees ranging from free to €3-4. Unfortunately we only had time for two, Taylors which was free and Sandeman's which we got heavily discounted from €4 to €1 on a combined ticket from the Palacio da Bolsa. And honestly, the Taylors' tour was far far better.
Here are some things I didn't know about Port:
The wine itself is made from grapes grown in the Douro valley several 100kms from Porto
Douro valley table wine found itself in Britain during the 17th century when King Charles II banned the import of french wines and his portuguese wife made Portugal the obvious choice for alternative supply.
Douro Valley wine doesn't travel well, so the British sailors added brandy to it before the voyage, which is the origins of the drink we now know as Port, although the brandy is now added much earlier in the process.
The Douro valley is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, and the only one where the wine is aged in a different place from that where the grapes are grown.
It was demarcated in the 18th century to protect the quality (and therefore the price!) of the wine and also to ensure that only the best wine was exported - thus protecting the reputation of Portuguese wine worldwide (some should tell that theory to the makers of blue nun... ;) ) Ironically, given the popularity of Port, one of the things the demarcation legislated against, was the addition of spirits and fruit juices to inferior table wine to imitate the taste, texture and colour or better wine.
Only Port made with grapes from the Douro valley and aged in Porto can be called Port (or have any reference to the word port on its label) and it was protected following a lengthy court case in Britain, pretty much as soon as there were laws under which such a case could be brought.
Although Port is called Port after Porto, it is actually all aged and shipped from Vila Nove da Gaia on the south bank of the Douro, a separate city although part of the same municipality, where export taxes were, and stll are, lower.
There are three main types of Port; Tawny (which comes further subdivided into Tawny, Fine Tawny, 10 or 20 year old varieties), Ruby and Vintage.
Port wine making is far, far more complicated than normal wine making although the initial process is similar - grow grapes, pick grapes, crush grapes, ferment grapes - but with port, the fermentation process - the conversion of the natural sugars into alcohol - is halted artificially early by the addition of neutral spirits so the wine is sweeter and also more alcoholic than table wine.
Late Bottle Vintages (LBV) are apparently the bread and butter for companies like Taylors (who are one of the only companies who only make Port, all the others also make Douro table wine - same grapes, different process). These are not as exceptional as proper Vintage but are still made with grapes from the same harvest, and must display the year of harvest and year of bottling on the lable. They are aged for up to six years in the barrels before bottling, do not age further in the bottle, and can be open for 8 weeks or so before losing any quality.
Ruby port is the youngest and reddest and is only aged for a couple of years before it is bottled and ready to drink. It ages in the big barrels so does not get much contact with the wood or the air which gives it its fresh redness.
To ensure an uninterrupted supply of consistent quality port, each wine lodge is only allowed to bottle a third of its stock in any one year to ensure it is never affected by a bad harvest. In 1999 for example, Taylor's entire harvest had to be destroyed but the company still bottled and shipped out fresh supplies of port that year.
Port wine is traditionally red, but white port was created in the 1930's to fill the gap in the British apperitif market left during the spanish civil war when sherry wasn't easily available. A couple of years ago, in an attempt to make a Port an all year round drink rather than a christmas/winter log fire drink, a couple of enterprising companies created rose port, to be enjoyed on the rocks, in the sun. It proved popular so they forced the Port Authorities to accept it as an official Port variety and now most companies make it.
There, now you know as much about Port as I do!
we got one free glass of white port before lunch and a glass of LBV 2003 after our tour, which probably should have been served with the coffee but we wanted to go do the tour.
Unfortunately we had to cut short the tasting at the end as we had already got tickets for Sandemans and the parents had a plane to catch which was a bit of a shame but we weren't to know we had already had the best.
We liked our LBV so much that before heading to the beach the following day, we navigated our way back there in the van - through the one way system and down a couple of streets only inches wider than our wing mirrors! - to spend our roadside repairs port money on a bottle, so we have a much more upmarket tipple than our usual in stock now!
My advice (assuming you want it), go to Porto, try as many different Ports as you can - we also liked Porto Cruz, especially the white one, and another one we got a free tasting of in a bar on the quayside but can't remember the name of - try several port wine lodges but make sure you save your pennies (or take your parents!) for lunch at Taylors and prepare to spend the rest off the afternoon supping port in their gentlemans club tasting lounge - life doesn't get much finer than that!
I like Port - I believe this is already apparent :)