Port wine is a fortified variety of Portuguese wine produced only in the Douro River Valley in the northern regions of Portugal. It is normally a very sweet red wine that is served as a dessert wine. Although there are numerous countries that
produce fortified wines similar to Port wine, just like the case with Champagne, only the wine produced in Portugal can be labelled as Port or Porto. The wine got its name during the last half of the 17th century from the seaside city of Porto, which is located at the mouth of the Douro River. It was here where most of the Port wine would be exported, particularly to the UK where it was gaining popularity.
Port is produced from grapes grown in the Douro region. The wine is produced like all other wines, but prior to fermentation completing, the wine is fortified with the addition of a spirit called aguardente, which stops the fermentation process by killing the yeast. This has a dual effect, in that the sugar that is left over makes Port taste sweet, while the addition of the aguardente boosts the alcohol content. From here, the wine is then stored and aged, usually in barrels and stored in a cellar prior to bottling.
There are three major areas in the Duoro River Valley where Port is produced. These are as follows:
1) Baixo Corgo - this is the western-most zone and is located downstream from the Corgo River. This is the wettest regionthat produces Port and is the coolest region as well. The grapes grown in this region are primarily used to produce inexpensive styles of Port, such as ruby and tawny Ports.
2) Cima Corgo - This is upstream from latter region. It is slightly warmer and drier and produces the grapes that go into much higher quality Ports, such as vintage and Late Bottled Vintage Ports.
3) Duoro Superior -This is the easternmost region that leads almost to the Spanish border. It does not grow as many grapes, as transport from this area is more difficult due to river rapids. It is also the warmest and driest region of the Duoroa River Valley.
Port wine can be divided into two broad categories: Barrel-aged or Bottle-aged. The latter produces a wine that smoother on the palate and has less tannins. They also lose their colour very slowly. The former produces a wine that is more viscous than bottle-aged. Each category has its own subcategories. Barrel-aged ports can be Tawny port, Colheita, or Garrafeira. Bottle-aged Ports can be Ruby Port, Reserve or vintage character, Pink Port, White Port, Late-Bottled Vintage Port, Crusted Port, Vintage Port or Single Quinta Vintage Port.
It should be noted that the use of the term "vintage" when describing Port is not the same as for normal wine. When used to describe normal wine, it merely refers to the year it was made. However, Port wine producers only use the term "vintage" when the wine is produced at their winery only during the very good years for growing the grapes.
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