Port: a nerdy post for studying.

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2012 at 8:04 am

I’m studying for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified and Advanced exams, so in the interest of improving my study work, as well as sticking to my month of writing, I’ll be writing some posts like this one, where I go through the minute details of winemaking in an effort to cement it in my mind.

So, Port. Port, like Champagne, is a wine native to a specific region, in this case Portugal’s Douro valley, however it has been widely co-opted worldwide. Through a number of lawsuits worldwide, Port has won back some of the legal integrity to it’s name; Australians still make a wine modeled after Tawny Port, but now label it only as ‘Tawny’, not as ‘Tawny Port’. And there are still a few American wineries who are grandfathered in and allowed to use the word Port on their bottles, but new wines aren’t allowed to use the words Port or even Portugal on their labels at all. Such a strict labeling restriction makes sense when you consider the fact that so many producers making wines they claim to be ‘port-style’ were not only paying little or no attention to the winemaking traditions of Portugal, other than the method of fortification, they weren’t even using Portuguese grape varieties, which guarantees the wine will bear virtually no resemblance to actual Port. I mean, think about it, if you make a fortified wine of Pinot Noir in Oregon, what are the chances it’s going to even remotely resemble the Touriga Nacional-based wines of Portugal. They’ll both be sweet, and high in alcohol, but that’s about it. Furthermore, there is very little government oversight when it comes to the quality and authenticity of wine in the US, whereas Portugal has a regulatory body, the IVDP, whose whole job is to make sure that everybody who’s making Port is following the rules.

Among these rules:

The lei do tergo, or law of the third, a decree restricting sales of Port to one-third of a house’s total inventory annually.

Yields are capped at 55hl/ha for reds, and 65hl/ha for whites.

For Porto, the preferred red grapes are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Francisca, Bastardo and Mourisco Tinto.  They must constitute a minimum 60% of the blend.  Preferred white Port grapes include Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Rabigato, Esgana Cão, and Folgasão.

Traditionally, Port would be stomped by foot in long, shallow fermenters, but not a lot of places really do that any more. There is one interesting technology that has apparently been employed more recently, known as an Autovinifier, it is a closed system wherein the production of Carbon Dioxide during the winemaking process pushes on the fermenting wine, creating a pump-less pump-over. Primary alcoholic fermentation only takes a few days, as the sweetness in Port is naturally occurring, meaning fermentation has to be stopped in order to leave behind the natural grape sugar. Fermentation is arrested by beneficio, known in France as mutage, the process of adding a neutral grape spirit to the fermenting wine, raising the alcohol content, and killing off the yeast. The neutral grape spirit used to arrest fermentation is called aguardiente, and is 77% abv.

A pipe, the traditional barrel used for both aging and shipping Port wine, varies in size: pipes used in the Douro Valley usually hold 550 liters, whereas pipes in Vila Nova de Gaia may often contain 620 liters.  The size of a pipe used for shipping Port is set at 534.24 liters, although pipes used for shipping Madeira or Marsala are smaller.

There are two basic styles of Port: ruby and tawny. Ruby Ports (this includes those labeled ‘ruby’ as well as vintage and LBV ports) are bottle-aged, retaining their purple color and vibrant fruit and spice characters. Tawny Ports are aged in barrel, developing a more amber color over time, and flavors of toffee, nuts, and figs. Most Tawny Ports are bottled without a vintage date, being aged in a solera system wherein the wines from each vintage are blended in small portions with the wines of preceding vintages, however Colheita Ports are actually kept in barrel and kept separated by vintage, making them the only tawny-style port that actually bears a vintage date.

  1. Thank you. WSET DIP student. Cheers.

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