This morning we drove from Braganca to the Douro Valley, which is the principle area for making port. They also make traditional wines here as well on wine estates called quintas. We drove approx. 80 miles around the valley, which is very beautiful – green terraced fields along the steep river banks with the RIver Douro gleaming below.
The Douro Valley is field after field of grape vines and olive trees. Almost every conceivable inch is set aside for the vines and trees in neat rows that create interesting patterns on the hillside.
In the end, we Visited 2 quintas. The first was Quinta do Teno, a small property owned by a French woman since 1997, which produces and sells their own wine. The other is one of the the largest producers which has been in operation since 1790, Sandeman’s. We stopped at their Quinta de Seixo, which is one of two main producing estates for them.
At Quinta do Teno we got to try several varieties of their and port and were only charged Eu 4 for the two of us, since we shared a glass. They discussed how they make the port and showed us pictures of the process on their computer. They still roll up their pants and stomp the grapes – 4 hours per day for the first 3 days after picking.
At Sandemans the Eu 5 per person fee included a tour, but unfortunately it was only in Portuguese at the time we were there, but we did get to see the actual production facilities and watch a movie about the process. They also provided tastes of two varieties of their port (for Eu15 you could try 5 different types). Different kinds of port are made in different ways. All start with the harvested grapes being pressed in large concrete tubs. At Quinta do Teno, this is done the traditional way, by foot. At Quinta de Seixo, they have a mechanical system that emulates the same action. This starts the fermentation, and the must (as the mixture is now called) is moved to a concrete tank where the fermentation process is stopped by adding grape spirits. This keeps much of the natural grape sugar from converting to alcohol, which is why port is so sweet. At Quinta do Teno, they use French cognac and age the mixture for one year in the concrete tanks; at Sandemans they age the mixture for 6 months; afterwards the port is moved to an aging vessel, and this is where the different kinds of port take shape. Tawny port is light brown in color and is aged in large barrels, which allows oxidation. The older the port, the lighter it becomes. Ruby port is not oxidized because it is aged in smaller barrels or bottles.
At the large producers (like Sandemans), as soon as the port is put into barrels, big or small, it is moved downriver to Porto to age in the warehouses there and then it is sent on for export. At smaller Quintas like Quinta do Teno, they keep everything on site.
Another factor is whether or not the port is a vintage. Essentially a committee gets together and decides if the harvest for the area is good enough to be declared a vintage, which happens about 3 years of every ten. Otherwise the port is non-vintage.
So, various forms of port include:
Vintage: The star of a shipper’s range. Made from grapes of a single year from the best vineyards. Blended and bottled after two years in wood, it then should mature for a very long time. Older producers offer 10, 20, 30, and 40 year vintages.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV). Wine of a single year, bottled between four and six years after harvest, i.e. it spends more time in the large wooden vessels. Some LBV is offered filtered and does not therefore need to be decanted.
Tawny port without indication of age is aged (sometimes only briefly) in large wood barrels, and may be a blend of red and white ports.
Aged Tawny port is blended from top quality wines that be been aged in wood for a long time. The older the wine, the paler, more delicate, less fruity and more expensive it is likely to be.
Ruby port is deep red and full of lively fruit flavor. Aged for two or three years (sometimes in wood, sometimes not), it is less complex and less expensive than LBV or Vintage.
White port is made from white grapes and mainly drunk as an aperitif.
We headed on to Porto, which will be our stop for the next two nights.