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Port is a fortified wine originating in the Douro valley in northern Portugal and it is renowned for being the greatest of all fortified wines. Ports tend to be big, rich wines, high in alcohol, round and smooth on the palate whilst being warm, spicy and powerful on the nose. The Douro valley is the oldest regulated wine appellation in the world dating back to 1756. Although both Chianti in Italy and Tokay in Hungary lay claim to an earlier designated demarcation in that same century Port was the first wine-producing region to strictly enforce its regulations.

European law states that Port, or Porto as it is known in Portugal itself, must originate wholly from this delimited area lying within the Douro region. The regulations govern each stage of production, maturation and bottling which are overseen by an organisation called the IVDP - the Institute of Wines of the Douro and Porto. Representatives of the IVDP taste 20 Ports per day, ten new ones and ten previously tasted Ports to monitor standards, and compliant wines are awarded the quality seal which appears on every bottle of commercially available Port.

The process of producing port or any fortified wine is similar in many respects to that of regular wine up until about half-way through vinification. The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, traditionally by foot in stone troughs called lagares, and then moved to fermentation vessels. The process of treading the grapes helps to extract as much colour, flavour and tannin from the grape skins. What differentiates Port production from wine production is that the process of fermentation is halted by the addition of aguardiente, a grape brandy, which brings the alcohol content up to 18-23% whilst leaving un-fermented natural grape sugars in the wine. The liquid is now a sweet, dark wine its sweetness depending on the amount of residual sugar remaining.

Thereafter the Port undergoes the maturation process, whereby the liquid is left to settle and for the flavours to develop, in big wooden vats usually for a period of two years for single vintage Ports, after which they are bottled where they complete their maturation. Tawny Ports are left to mature in wood, sometimes for decades, where oxidative processes serve to mellow it making the wine lighter in both body and colour as well as smoother on the palate. Traditionally the Port was then shipped down river to mature in the cool underground cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the estuary from Oporto, to mature in perfect conditions. Recent developments have seen a trend for some producers to age their ports at the Port lodges located in the Douro Valley which has been made possible by new reliable electricity supplies to power air-conditioning plants.

Port is usually served towards the end of a meal with either the cheese or dessert course although white Port makes a good apéritif. Port also makes a great match for dark chocolate as well as the perfect accompaniment to a good cigar. In Britain tradition dictates that the Port must be passed to the left whilst not touching the table on its journey. It is still the case at some formal occasions that anybody failing to pass the Port on will be asked whether they know the Bishop of Norwich. This question acts as a prompt to do so immediately and anyone unfamiliar with the ritual who answers the question in the negative will be told in no uncertain terms that the said Bishop also forgot to pass the Port!

The most renowned port producers include Dow, Taylor Fladgate, Warre, Niepoort, Fonseca and Graham. They produce majestic ports which will age for up to 50 years.


Video: Discover Port


  1. Taylor Fladgate, Quinta da Terra Feita, Vintage Port, 2005 (1/2 Bottle)

    Taylor Fladgate, Quinta da Terra Feita, Vintage Port, 2005 (1/2 Bottle)

    An unashamedly hedonistic Port wine with a certain earthy quality making for a complex and satisfying after-dinner drink.

    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  2. Taylor Fladgate, Quinta de Vargellas, Vintage Port, 2004 (1/2 Bottle)

    Taylor Fladgate, Quinta de Vargellas, Vintage Port, 2004 (1/2 Bottle)

    A half-bottle with a magnificent nose and a high degree of elegance and freshness on the palate.

    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  3. Taylor Fladgate, Quinta de Vargellas, Vintage Port, 2005, 1/2 Bottle

    Taylor Fladgate, Quinta de Vargellas, Vintage Port, 2005, 1/2 Bottle

    A fruit-forward Port with less power than is the norm from this estate. Elegance, richness and sweetness with a bountiful nose. Blackberry, dark cherry and plum combine with violets, herbs and spice.

    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  4. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1970

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1970

    Niepoort Vintage Port 1970 is the sort of bottle that really makes an evening complete. It is an incredibly dark and dense vintage port with complexity and real elegance. Still dense in colour although showing yellow at the rim it is a very well-balanced vintage port with fat fruit and great concentration on the palate accompanying rich and sweet cherries, dried fruits, figs and raisins which dominate the nose along with hints of coffee and black tea.

    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal


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