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Port Blend

ripe tinta roriz grapesThe many styles of Port wine can made from approximately eighty different grape varieties, or about fifty for the less common white Port, many of which are indigenous to Portugal. It has been said that the precise formula for any particular Port is a secret - but not because of any sense of commercial protectionism but rather due to the lack of certainty about which varieties exactly are growing in many of the old vineyards. As a European Union wine producing country Portugal has adopted the same pattern of regulation as other such countries which does much to preserve traditional practices both in the vineyard and in the winery. Traditionally Portuguese vineyards have several different grape varieties planted and its wines are therefore a blend of whatever happens to be growing there. Since the 1970s, however, Port production has concentrated on five different grapes for the majority of its Ports with another three varieties playing an important, though somewhat lesser, role. This is partly due to the replanting of plots throughout the Douro but the rarity and uncertainty as to the identity of the many other permitted grape varieties is also a factor here. Below is a summary of the main grapes employed in the production of good quality red Port.

Main Port Grape Varieties

As the steep Douro vineyard terraces become re-planted there is an increasing focus on the first five of the grape varieties listed below. Although Portugal retains many of the traditional old ways it is worth remembering that only about 40% of the grapes grown in the Douro are used for Port production. The rest are used to make dry, red table wines and the modern focus on single varietal wines has had an impact despite many Portuguese reds being made from more than one grape variety. Furthermore the plots are gradually in transition to growing just one variety so that the blending can be executed more precisely.

Touriga Nacional

Touriga Nacional is widely recognised as being the single most prized grape in the Douro Valley. Despite this fact it comprises less than 5% of the total plantings at the moment which is largely due the phylloxera epidemic towards the end of the 19th. century. Before that it accounted for almost 90% of vines. Replanting levels had been low due to it being rather problematic in the vineyard on account of its very low yields and its propensity to grow vigorously and be awkward to train as the vine is naturally droopy. Each vine will only yield about half a litre of very concentrated juice. A lot of work for little reward you might think, but you would be wrong for the rewards are great and the efforts worthwhile. So much so that Quinta do Noval has embarked on a recent replanting programme consisting of 50% Touriga Nacional with newer clones being somewhat more productive. The rewards are a small, dark-skinned grape with flavours of dark fruits (blueberry, black currant and raspberry) with a high level of phenolic compounds providing deep colour, as well as very high tannins and acidity. Apart from the body, depth and sheer fruit it greatly improves the lifespan and development of the finished wine as it ages very slowly, sometimes taking two decades or even more to mature and reveal all its glory. Touriga Nacional is seen as being an essential component of fine Ports.

Touriga Franca

Touriga Franca is an altogether less concentrated, higher yielding but more aromatic variety than Touriga Nacional with floral notes including violets. In spite of it being regarded as a lesser variety it is the most widely planted Port grape and it fulfills an important role in Port production adding structure, colour and balance to the finished wine. It is believed to be the result of a natural crossing of Touriga Nacional and the Mourisco Tinto (a.k.a. Marufo) grape variety. It is also grown in California where it is simply known as Touriga.

Tinta Barroca

Tinta Barroca is the third most widely planted grape variety in the Douro. It is a thin-skinned grape which can "burn" and shrivel in the hot sun of the Douro and so it is planted on north and east facing slopes at elevation to reduce this tendency. Growers like this grape because of its high yields and wine-makers appreciate its high sugar content which, when fermented, translates into a high alcohol content. There are very few single varietal wines made from this grape due to its lack of concentration and individual character but it does make an excellent blending component.

Tinta Roriz

Tinta Roriz is better known as Spain's Tempranillo grape variety where it is widely planted, making some great wines in Rioja and Ribera del Duero (the source of Portugal's River Douro is in Spain). Tinta Roriz is widely planted throughout Portugal; outside the Douro it is known as Aragones. On the hot terraces of the Douro it produces grapes with flavours of prune, chocolate and tobacco. Not naturally gifted with high acidity, levels are better when grown on higher slopes where there is a greater diurnal temperature range with cooler nights. Its thick skins add good colour and tannins. Thick skinned varieties are prized in Port production as maceration times are quite short with fermentation halted by the addition of the grape brandy. Without such thick-skinned grapes Port would be a very pale coloured wine.

Tinta Cão

Tinta Cão translates as Red Dog and it is known for its spice and its bite! It is another low-yielding variety and when grown in less sunny, cooler meso-climates its natural tannin and acidity, which help ageing, is accompanied by an intense floral perfume. Although this grape variety constitutes a mere 1% of Douro plantings it is nonetheless seen as a very important part of the Port blend. Although quite aggressive in youth these wines have the ability to acquire much finesse as they age.

Sousão

Sousão is also known as Souzão or Vinhão. It is prized for its intense purple colour, vibrant fruit flavours and good levels of acidity. Colour is quickly leached out of its skins during a short maceration, an important consideration with Port wines.

Tinta Amarela

Tinta Amarela is also known as Trincadeira, especially when used to make single varietal wines. It is susceptible to rot in anything but the driest conditions and it is a grape with a very short window of ripeness for harvesting. It ripens very quickly and soon becomes over-ripe and jammy. In the right conditions, however, it produces good yields of full flavoured fruit which, with its high level of tannins, ages well to reveal a core of blackberry fruit.

Mourisco Tinto (Marufo)

Mourisco Tinto's biggest claim to fame is the fact that, crossed with Touriga Nacional, it helped to create the Touriga Franca variety which is a mainstay of the Port blend. By itself it is an early ripening grape which gives a light-coloured juice.

  1. Burmester, Vintage Porto, 1963

    Burmester, Vintage Porto, 1963

    Burmester produced a great Port from a truly fantastic vintage throughout the Douro. Traditionally made by treading the grapes.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

    Regular Price: £229.99

    Special Price:

    £179.99

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  2. Dow's Vintage Port, 1991

    Dow's Vintage Port, 1991

    Dow & Co. had a very successful vintage which was particularly firm when young, even for this company, with firm structure, moderately tough tannins and a wonderfully concentrated colour although it has matured wonderfully during its life..

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  3. Ferreira, Vintage Port, 1963

    Ferreira, Vintage Port, 1963

    A superb, fully mature vintage Port, now tawny in colour, which is still drinking exceedingly well indeed.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  4. Fonseca-Guimaraens, Vintage Port, 2007

    Fonseca-Guimaraens, Vintage Port, 2007

    This is an excellent vintage Port with a long life ahead of it. Good one to lay down for the future.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  5. Graham's Vintage Port, 1980 (Half Bottle)

    Graham's Vintage Port, 1980 (Half Bottle)

    Underrated in its somewhat callow youth this Port is now showing off its qualities in all their resplendence.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  6. Graham's, Vintage Port, 1980

    Graham's, Vintage Port, 1980

    A classic rich Graham's vintage Port which is still quite opaque with some yellow on the rim. and displaying some mellowed tannins. Complex, mature palate.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  7. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1983

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1983

    The Niepoort 1983 vintage port is still quite fresh and full of life. Very soft and elegant, the tannins have melted and left behind a port of wonderful complexity. The nose is just as lovely as the palate offering cherries, dark fruits, raspberries, chocolate and caramel.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  8. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 2005

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 2005

    2005 was declared a vintage by Niepoort although many of the bigger port producers decided to release single quinta ports instead that year. A vintage port that merits an 18.5 score with Jancis Robinson, who confesses to rarely giving more than 18 points, is a very good port indeed. As it is very young, we would recommend giving it another 10 years or so before popping the cork.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  9. Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, 2003

    Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, 2003

    A wet winter followed by a perfect, hot summer in the Douro created ideal conditions to produce Port with near perfect balance.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  10. Quinta do Noval, Vintage Port, 2004

    Quinta do Noval, Vintage Port, 2004

    This powerful and tannic vintage Port has a long life ahead of it yet as it continues to evolve in bottle.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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