With its warm climate and proximity to ocean breezes, Portugal
is ideally suited for the cultivation of grapes and although the
country has been producing wine for centuries, it is only recently that the rest of the world has started to notice. Located on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal is less known for the contents of a wine bottle than for the cork that seals it. Approximately 30% of the oak trees used for sourcing wine corks are found here. After cork, Port is another product of the country that has enjoyed larger acclaim than still wine, but finally the tide is turning.
The History of Portuguese Wine
As early as the 12th century, Portugal was exporting wine to Great Britain, but as with most of the rest of Europe, the vineyards were destroyed by the infestation of Phylloxera in the mid 19th century and several regions never recovered. However in 1937, under the command of Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the industry was boosted by the construction
of over 100 winery cooperatives. It seemed the country was back on track to making decent wine until a military-led revolution occurred in 1974 and plunged the country back into devastation. The defining moment came in 1986 when Portugal became part of the European Union and great investment was made to update the long suffering wine industry.It was in 1987 that the winery Herdade do Esporão, located in the Alentejo region, reclaimed its vineyards planted in 1973 and was also able to break out of the contract with a cooperative and begin focusing on producing wine from the 450 hectares of vineyard it owned. The first years proved tough going, but at the beginning of the 1990’s, the Alentejo region was classified DOC and
in 1992, David Baverstock, an Australian native, took the reins as winemaker and today Herdade do Esporão is one of the most highly recognized and acclaimed wineries in the country.
Herdade do EsporãoAlong with Portugal’s turbulent history, the country also possesses the most unusual and unknown indigenous grape varieties of any other region. The main red grape is Touriga Nacional, closely followed by Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in the Douro and Spain, and Aragónez in Alentejo); as for whites Loureiro, Alvarinho, Bical and Arinto are some of the most promising.The family of wines produced by Herdade do Esporão under the watchful eye and careful hand of Baverstock, showcases several ranges, each with a distinctive character. The Monte Velho red and white are blends of native grapes that have
become the most popular choice among the local residents. The single varietals, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, Aragonés and Syrah are representative the region’s terroir and characteristics. The top-end wines of the range are the Esporão Private Selection that serve to showcase the complexity, balance and structure achievable in Portuguese wines.
Discover the mysteries of the wines from Portugal with the hallmarks from Herdade do Esporão.
Vinho Verde spells refreshing, still white wines. But there's also sparkling, rosé and red - and the area that produces them all is a desirable destination.Vinho Verde wine country is in the province of Minho in the northwestern part of Portugal. This is hilly terrain, with dramatic terraced landscapes, rivers flowing through valleys, and Atlantic winds pushing in. Part of the area’s exoticism (aside from the fact that it is relatively pristine as far as tourist swarms go) is due to the way many grapes are still cultivated—vines looping up through trees and poles to maximize space and sometimes to make room for other crops in the soil below—and little-known local grape varieties such as those mentioned above.Wineries ranging from simple farms to châteaux dot some 35,000 hectares of vineyards, about 15 percent of Portugal’s land under vine.
What is Port
Port is one of the world’s most famous forms of fortified wine and certainly Portugal’s most well known red wine. The drink has a long history of export to the UK and the wine has gained popularity in recent years further away in the US.
The History of Port
Unlike other wine merchants, those involved in the Port industry are often referred to as “shippers”, the term comes from the fact that in times past many were involved in the shipping of Port between Portugal and the UK or other parts of Europe.
This is an important concept in the development of the drink.
The problem for shippers of the original wine from Portugal to the UK is that casks of the regions wine, ill treated could often undergo a second fermentation or oxidisation whilst being shipped. As such, this would lead to a wine, which when brought ashore was almost undrinkable.The solution for producers was that they would "dose" the natural red wine of the Douro region with brandy to raise the alcohol level of the wine. As such, yeast is unable to carry on reacting once a certain level of alcohol is reached, thus preventing a second fermentation happening, even in poor shipping conditions. Whilst starting
as a practical solution for the preservation of wine, this has now formed the basis for the manufacture of the modern drink Port.
Styles of Port
There are many styles of Port available from young ruby ports to classic vintage port, here are the principals styles of port:
•White Port – A fairly recent phenomenon, this Port is made in the same way as other Ports but with white grapes of the region. White Ports are usually served slightly chilled.
•Ruby Port – This is a basic and inexpensive Port. As the name implies, the Port is a bright ruby red. Ruby Ports are fruity and young receiving almost no bottle aging.
•Tawny Ports – One of the most popular types of Port, Tawny Ports come in both young and aged verities. Aged varieties typically come in age bands of 10, 20 and 30 years.
Aged tawny Ports often have a much more complex flavour than younger forms of Port. As the name suggests these Ports are usually a tawny red brown colour.
•Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port – This is a form of Port which is aged for a significant amount of time in oak, rather than in the bottle. LBV Port is filtered before bottling and
generally ready to drink on release. LBV Ports are good wines but will not stand up to the years of aging that a true vintage Port will.
•Vintage Port – This is the top rank of the Port world. Vintages are only declared by shippers in exceptional years and all of the grapes used will be from a single year. Vintage Port is aged for a significant amount of time before being drunk and the result is a wine of exceptional complexity and power.
How Port is Made
Port starts its life as a standard red wine (white in some cases). The difference between making a wine and a Port begins mid way through the fermentation process. Whilst a standard wine is left in a barrel to ferment until either all of the sugars have converted into alcohol or the strength of the wine prevents further fermentation, the fermentation of Port is stopped mid way through by artificial intervention.In order to stop fermentation part way through the process, the wine is fortified with brandy. Brandy is added to the wine until the alcohol content reaches around 18%, at this point the alcohol content of the wine is too strong to allow yeasts to continue the
conversion of sugars into alcohol. This is what gives Port its sweet taste, as any sugars still present in the wine at fortification remain as sugars and will not convert into alcohol.
Once the wine has been fortified the wine is then treated in various ways depending on the style of Port to be made, ageing will take place for various lengths of time and may include
time spent in a barrel or cask as well as bottle ageing.
Wine on Madeira, Atlanitc Portuguese Island
Madeira fortified wine is well known for its excellence but the island's noble grapes also produce quality dinner wines, increasingly popular with connoisseurs.
The International Wine Challenge in London recently declared a Madeira Verdelho Old Reserve the world’s best fortified wine. The 10 year old wine was chosen among 6000 labels while further awards recompensed Madeiran producers and top oenologist.
This was the latest of many memorable occasions. Madeira wine has been mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, was offered to Napoleon on his way to exile and chosen to toast
American Independence. In 2009 the King of Spain and Portuguese President became members of the Madeira Wine Brotherhood, created to protect the island’s legacy which includes noble grapes such as Verdelho, Boal and Malmsey.Meanwhile, over the past decade or so, Madeira has seen growing interest in its dinner wines, produced in small quantities but steadily gaining recognition.
Fortified Wine from Madeira Island
Grapes were introduced in the 15th century by Henry the Navigator but Madeira fortified wine came into its own almost by accident. After a long sea voyage, tossed about in tropical heat, the wine was found to gain strength and improve. Distilled
spirit was added to enhance preservation and from then on, explorers and sailors had reason to celebrate.
Today the "estufagem" method imitates conditions on the old ships by exposing the wine to high temperatures and a degree of oxidation. This creates a robust wine which keeps well, even when open, and can be left to mature up to 100 years.
Madeira Wine, Verdelho, Malmsey and Boal Noble Grape
Noble grapes produce four main varieties of Madeira Wine. From dry to sweet are Sercial, light in colour with high acidity and a subtle almond lavour, the slightly smoky amber Verdhelo, also high in acidity, the medium sweet red Boal with raisin
undertones and the sweet full bodied Malvasia, or Malmsey, with a dark colour and a taste of caramel and coffee.
Sercial and Verdelho are ideal pre-dinner drinks, Boal and Malmsey go well with desserts. The red grape variety, Tinta Negra Mole, is also widely used.Madeira Wines are classified as finest for those ageing at least 3 years, popular for cooking, Reserve ageing at least 5 years, Special Reserve 10 years and
Extra Reserve over 15 years.
Dinner Wine in Madeira
Madeira enjoys an ideal climate for growing grapes but the hilly terrain limits the production of quality dinner wines. Only grapes ripening at the same time can produce fine table wines and on the steep terraced slopes of Madeira, this means small
vineyards and small harvests.Nevertheless, Madeira claims at least two dozen labels which accompany traditional
Madeiran food to perfection. Noble grapes are used as in fortified wine with the addition
of the Arnsburger varietal based on Riesling. The volcanic soil and generous rain produce sharp fresh wines, at their best when young, with aromas ranging from tropical fruit to
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