Port

There has never been a better time to polish up the decanter; Port is on a roll following the rare back-to-back vintage declarations of 2016 and 2017 and a succession of great wines since. Some shippers declared 2018 or 2019, many 2020 too, while there have been Single Quinta releases which we still rate very highly as well. All Ports come from the Douro region in northern Portugal with its spectacular main valley which has huge hillsides of cascading terraces of vines. Grape growing is organised into quintas, or farms, some of which are famous in their own right such as Quinta de Vargellas belonging to Taylor’s and Quinta dos Malvedos owned by Graham’s. Much production still lies in the hands of independent grape growers.

The greatest development in quality in the last decade or so has been the change of attitude to viticulture, with the city-based Port shippers (based in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto on the coast) taking a much greater interest in how the vines are managed, whether in their own vineyards or under contract. And quite a jigsaw it is with the Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Tinto Cão grape varieties all having their own particularities – and those are just the main black ones. The second biggest change has been the replication of foot treading by similarly soft pressing techniques of colour, flavour and tannin extraction as opposed to the almost exclusive use of the autovinification tanks that largely replaced foot treading in the 1960s and 1970s. A further development has been the interest in using a better quality of spirit to fortify the young Port. These days it is quite normal to go to Bordeaux to select fine French spirit, whereas back in the eighties, by law, they had to use rough old stuff from down by Lisbon!

The different styles of Port can be confusing, but we attempt to explain them below with classic Vintage Port being at the pinnacle which, with Single Quinta Vintages, Crusted, LBV and Ruby, make up Ports on the darker, fruitier side whereas Tawny and Colheita Ports belong to the paler, more figgy flavoured camp. Each house, or shipper, has preferences for different styles, sometimes according to their origins be it Portuguese, Dutch or British. The British presence in these parts dates from the 17th century and greatly benefited from trade wars with the French and the signing of the 1703 Methuen Treaty which gave preferential treatment to Portuguese wines. Many of the British named brands persist though few remain in the hands of the original founding families.

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