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Connoisseur Magazine Review: Porto

Written by Aksel Ritenis

Port wine is the most famous representative of fortified wine, and it comes from valley of the Duero river in the north of Portugal. Here, on rocky terraces that are “incandesced by the hot sun”,it is possible to grow grapes with concentrated flavour, that contain high sugar content from local red varieties. The five most valuable varieties from the many cultivated are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao and Tinta Barocca. The region where port wine is grown streches along both costs of the Duero river, starting from the Spanish border towards the west. Those vineyards are among the most impressive ones in the world, being cultivated by hard work and the planting of vines in rock terraces. Terraces to this wild, but beautiful are give almost elegant look. Depending on the composition of the soil, Duero vineyards are classified in six categories, and the most valued are those grown in soils with natural slate, especially steep sunny hillsides.

Port producing starts with a traditional wine fermentation, which process occurs until the alchocol content has reached approximetely seven per cent. Then the natural fermentation is stopped, grape spirit is added although almost a half of the non-fermented grape sugar still remains in the wine. This natural grape sweetness will continue to define the taste of port wine being produced, but the preferred 20 per cent alchocol content will be provided by the added alchocol portion.

What makes port wine a “special and nobel drink” is its maturation, which traditionally takes place in special location– in a small town Vilanova di Gaja. Here the delicate wine is analyzed and tested, and its further destiny is determined depending on its quality, to be more precise, how long and in what way it should be matured in wooden barrels of different size, so that as a result it corresponds to one of the port wine basic categories: Vintage, Ruby, Tawny or White.

Vintage are a high-quality and the most expensive port wines, which are produced only in “rich harvest years” and after two years they are bottled in big oak-wood containers. Vintage wines remain in bottles until they reach optimal ripeness and maturity.

Ruby are the youngest red port wines. They are bottled and given for trade after being held in big (500 hl) barrels for 2-3 years.Ruby is a strong, sweet,and ruby-coloured wine with a lively fruit taste.

Tawny port wines can be a mixture of several different years harvest and can be held in wooden barrels of a smaller size for up to 40 years. In this long period they lose their initial purple colour, become pale brownish but develop complex bouquet and flavour. After bottling, they are ready for immediate use, besides which on labels of high quality Tawnyport wines their aging time – 10, 20, 30 or 40 years and date when it was bottled is shown. Sometimes buyers are offered cheap Tawny port wines, that are actually a mixture of red and white Port wine.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) are similar to real Vintage Port only they are a product of a unique one yearorvintage harvest. The level of refinement here is lower, this version of port wine is produced in a “speeded up” ripening regime. After ageing for 4-6 years in large barrels it is filtered and bottled immediately. Interestingly LBV port wine has no or little sediments, that are so charasteristic of Vintage Port wine.

White port wine is produced like Ruby, the only diference is that its raw material is Portuguese white grape varieties. White has no real port wine reputation, also, insofar as the flavour is concerned, they can be dryer and are usually are used as aperitifs.

Out of these basic categories there exist more variations of port wines, furthermore, either each Port house can have its “special edition” of Portwine in terms of style . Whilst the diversity of the flavour nuances of port wine are extremely diverse , this quintessential “English gentleman’s tipple” has some standard characteristics.It may be be that – generally port wine is sweet, and fortified wine with flavours reminiscent of “dried fruits and nuts”.It is is offered at the end of a meal together with Dessert ,puddings , chocolate or coffee (In addition Tawny ideally goes together with Stilton Cheese -How very British!


Most important wine regionsPortugal is a small country, but it includes different climate zones. Regarding to wine producing conditions, it can be divided in several parts – north, south and seaside climate zone. The closer to Atlantic coast, the wettier and milder climate is, the farer from sea and closer to rocky Spain border, the more you can feel its continental nature. If northwest corner in ocean seacost between Doero and Minju river walleys gets till 1800 mm rainfall per year and everything here is flourishing and growing in an unbelievable speed, then Antezu region don’t get even a drop of the rain for months; snuffy distances with cork-oak groves more look like natural landscapes of Australia, and in new grape plantations are established artificial irrigation systems.

Vihno Verde (or the green wine) is the second most known wine title just after port wine, which the outside world connects with the name of Portugal. Wine with such title is the safest choice for each tourist, who searches for a refreshing sip in a hot summer`s day, of this land, besides „the green wine” can turn out to be white with pale greenishyellow nuance, or pink or completely red. Name Verde (green) shows the green youth of wine and also to the fact that it is fresh, and without long thinking should be used immediately and without worries about the maturing and holding. There is also an opinion that the name of wine and region derived their name from the juicy evergreen landscape, which opens a view in Portugal`s northeast province Minho. It is close inhabited region to north from Porto harbour city with mild and rich climate, which however is too wet to dedicate full spectrum of wine industry without worries. Because of wetness vines suffer from diseases and with difficulties mature fruits until they are completely ready, therefore for centuries this region is specialized in production of such wines which have low content of alcohol, relatively explicit sourness in taste, and for immature wine characteristic little sparkling effect. Just few decades ago the main part of produced Vihno Verde was in Portugese favorite color – red, but now fashion changes and this region starts to recognize and realize its special advantage – without specific competition to fill the free white wine niche in Portugese wine, because in other regions the climatic terms are not so good for growth of the white varieties. Traditional light but very dry Vihno Verde white wines are good for simple thirst quenching or for lunch with seafood and fresh fish dishes. Frequently used grape varieties for making them are Loureiro, Arinto, Azal; more expenssive wines of higher- quality are made from the outstanding Alvarinho, which are grown mostly in north part of the region. This is the best variety of Portugese white wines which requires greater accuracy in cultivation, but offers dry wine of high- quality with specially impressive character.

Bairrada is accountable to noticeable reģions not because of popularity, but because of the peculiar character. It is located near the ocean coast which influence is not bothering in the middle of summer, but it sends cooled and rainy weather in autumn and seriously burdens life for those winemakers that grow the traditional local red variety Baga. It is a grape with long vegetation cycle, in rainy autums not always berries can fully mature, therefore unsuccessful harvest years in Bairroda region is a usuall thing for wine. Bairroda and Baga – these two names associate with a complicated wine; many deficiencies are attributed to it – too much sourness, too much of tannin and too less color. However, if successful it is possible to get wine with unique charm of personality and a potential of long life. As a claimant to the status of the most complicated aristocrat the red wine from Baga grapes attract the interest of gastronomes and experts, in the sense of style and destiny it resembles a little bit Italian Nebbiolo variety from Piedmont, which also plays in completely another scale than the main part of world`s most delicious red wines.

Dao wine region is located more deeper in the inland, in the mountainous relief with rocky granite soil, and it has certain soulful kinship with Doero walley. This region confirmed the ancient truth, that the best wines grow in sharp weather and closefisted soil. The reputation of Dao region is build on red wines, however white wines are also get there. The most important white variety is the local Encruzado, it makes well balanced white wine with citrus and honey aroma bouquet and consistent taste; relatively expressive viscosity compensates a fair dose of sourness in the aftertaste. The main component of red Dao wines is the famous Portugese red grape Touriga Nacional, which gained international prestige as „diva” of port wine, but here is combined with several local grapes – Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Afrocheiro. As the regional climate has continental character with rough, snow- covered winters and hot, dry summers, in the grape juice in perfect balance all necessary taste parameters are concentred, so that the made Dao red wine would explain the expectations of the most exigent wine lovers in regard to the level of price; very profitable purchases are located here.

Alentejo represents the dry and hot climate of Portugal`s south part. In the landscape of this region cork- oak, olive and walnut groves are dominating, but not for nothing some time ago the local wine was mentioned as the biggest and not revealed Portugal`s treasure. Now it cannot be called unrevealed, because in the last decade Alentejo wine has become a fashion trend in country`s capital city – Lisbon – and its surroundings, and is ready to break into the export market. The climate of Alentejo and the unforseeable space of land have contributed the construction of large wine plantations, once they belonged to farmer ccoperatives, now big private companies are taking over the leading role, these private companies had enough financial resources to renew the technological devices, attract knowing wine experts, and cultivate new and broad plantations of grape vines. Alentejo region more than any other wine region in Portugal tries to adaptē the international winemaking Standard in the sense of producing organisation and marketing – without traditional plantations of grape vines, here also so known world citizens Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Chardonnay are met. The most important red variety is Aragonez, which in Portugal`s north is called Tinta Roriz, but in Spain it is known as Tempranillo. This grape as known forms red wine of proprotionate structure and has good relationship with oak- wood, which taste proportion in Portugese wines although is not as strong asi n typical Spanish wine. Original local character is to those Alentejo red wines which are made from Trincadeira, Castellao and Alicante Bouchet varieties; aiming to solvable export wines in the composition of wines classical French wine varieties together with Touriga Nacional are appearing, in this way one can make Bordo type red wine of high Standard with Portugese nuance in the character of taste. Although climate is more suitable for red wine growing, approximately 10 per cent of the produced wine amount is in white color – mostly Rubeiro, Arinto and Antao Vaz varieties, however the most successful companies experiment also with Alvarihno and someof the popular foreigners.

 

Article Written by Axel Ritenis

Editor of Connoisseur Magazine

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Aksel Ritenis

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