Port is a sweet dessert wine that originated in Portugal but is a British invention and a child of political warfare. In the late 17th. century the British government imposed restrictive tariffs on French wine. British claret lovers (claret is the British term for red Bordeaux ) turned to Britain's old ally Portugal in search of a substitute.
They saw no potential in the existing vineyards and the search pushed inland from the city of Oporto (from which Port derives its name) into the untamed wilderness of the Duoro river valley. It was found that the higher the elevation on the mountains surrounding the Duoro the finer the wine. They needed gunpowder to penetrate the the hard granite soil to build terraces and plant their vines. The first port was a rustic red wine, tannic and concentrated, not at all pleasing to Britain's claret lovers.
Port's evolution continued into the late 18th. century when it was found that by adding brandy to the Port when it was only half fermented, the resulting sweetness and exuberant fruitiness balanced the harsh tannins, tart acidity and alcohol hotness. These wines displayed an ability to age magnificently in cask or bottle and became a serious challenger to claret in quality and popularity.
The Duoro was first demarcated in 1756 and today's vineyard classification system is the most comprehensive in the world. Each of the 81,000 vineyards is classified by productivity, altitude, soil, location, gradient, shelter, grape quality, age of vines, distance from root to root and upkeep of the vineyard. The vineyard is then rated from A to F.
Although up to 80 grape varieties are permitted, the most popular are Touriga National, Tinta Roriz (Spain's Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Touriga Francesa, Mourisco, Bastardo, Tinta Amerella and Sousao.
Port is not one wine but comes in a range of types. Each port house has its own style within each type.
For the major Port types, click here