Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What is Port Wine & Why is it Special?

Port Wine, the famous sweet fortified wine of the Douro River Valley in Portugal, has long been the classic way to end a meal and celebrate an evening. Port is a sweet red wine with about 20% alcohol (as opposed to table wine which is usually about 13%) and rather low acidity and tannin, yet a rich spicy flavor and smooth taste! Port wine range from very sweet, semi-sweet to semi-dry, dry, and extra dry. The wine maker will determine its sweetness based on when and how he interrupts the fermentation process. Often served as the perfect Dessert Wine, here's an attempt to understand what makes Port such an exquisite wine, that draws people by its taste and aroma.

Port is created in a unique way that captures the fruit and flavor of the ripe grapes in wines that possess extraordinary longevity. During fermentation, prior to reaching the point where all of the natural grape sugars have been converted into alcohol, high-proof brandy is added to the vats to stop the fermentation. This leaves a wine with great depth of color and a high natural sweetness. After fermentation is complete, the wines are transported to "lodges" where they rest in large oak casks called "pipes."

The alcohol in port wine is produced under very specific conditions that result from natural and human factors. While aging in wood, port wine's fruity aroma develops through oxidation to create a bouquet that is reminiscent of dried fruit, toasting, wood, and spices. The aging process also adds to its smoothness while making the bouquet more complex. Much older wines have a greenish tint.

The Ageing Method
There are several styles of port, but there are essentially two aging methods, reductive aging and oxidative aging. Ports that are aged using the reductive process are sealed in their container and have no exposure to oxygen. They are smoother and less tannic. The port wines that are aged using the oxidative process are matured in wooden barrels and are slightly exposed to oxygen. Oxidated ports are more viscous and intense.

Types of Port
Vintage Ports are to be held in the bottle for a long time, ten years considered being just a start while truly great vintages can require 20 years and more to reach optimum maturity. This gives them a distinct taste, often known as "grapey". Ruby Ports, on the other hand, are generally young wines that have not lost their youthful ruby-red color. Fruity on the nose, they tend to be very fresh in the mouth. Tawny Ports are aged a long time in wooden barrels, spending 3 or 4 years in casks. They tend to lose most of their fruit and the normal deep red color becomes more of an amber hue as the wine acquires a nutty character. White Ports have different degrees of sweetness due to the manner by which they are made. They have a very floral & fruity flavor, and a minimum alcohol content of 16.5%, comparatively lower than the other port wines.

So all in all, it's an affluence of flavors that makes Port Wine so special. While other wines get a lot of their flavor from fruits and other additives, these dessert wines are naturally sweet and fruity, making them an ideal choice for pairing with any kind of food. And with enough Port Wine choices available for an amateur to a connoiseur, you are sure to find one that suits your tastebuds! But beware of Port wine stains - they can be really hard to get off!:)

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How to Pair WIne with your Food?
How to Store & Serve Wine?

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