April 26, 2011

Fortified Wines: Port

Key Factors Affecting Production:

Regional Locations, Microclimates & Soils
Port as a rule comes from the Douro region of Portugal. Bordering Spain in the North & East and following the Douro River, the Douro vine growing region is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world (1756) roughly following the outline of schist, hemmed in by granite. The region has a continental climate with hot dry summers and cool wet winters and is sheltered from the influence of the Atlantic Ocean by the mountain ranges to the west. The further inland you go the hotter and drier the climate. Summer temperatures frequently exceed 35 C, it’s harder to imagine a more inhospitable place to grow grapes. The topsoils in this mountainous region of Portugal are shallow, stony and low in nutrients. The valley sides are very steep, but terraces have been hacked into the schist and vineyards planted.

Baixo Corgo is the coolest and wettest of the three zones and tends to produce the lightest wines suitable for making inexpensive ruby & tawny ports. Upstream is the Cima Corgo which is the heart of the demarcated region. Rainfall is significantly lower (700mm) and this is where most of the high quality tawny, LBT and vintage port is made. The Douro Superior is still remote and sparsely populated, and a most arid region, but rising costs mean some producers are considering planting the flatter land, which is more suitable for mechanisation.

Grape Varietals
The Fantastic Five…
There are over 100 different red & white varieties planted in the Douro, 29 are recommended, and then there are the 5 most celebrated…

Touriga Nacional
The vine itself has excessive vigour, variable yeilds of small, thick skinned berries. It produces intensely flavoured wines that are dark, tannic and alcoholic. On the nose the overwhelming aroma is of violets, blue & black fruits, roses, sweet allspice, bergamot and cocoa. The palate has rich intense blackberry flavours with hints of wood/vegetal like you might taste from black fruit seeds. Sometimes black pepper, flowers, with chalky fine tannins and good acid. Despite its potential for power and weight, it manages to maintain its underlying elegance and style.

Touriga Franca
The most widely planted grape variety in the Douro Valley, accounting for one-fifth of all vines. With it’s consistent yields and reliable quality it is a favorite of winemakers. Lighter and more perfumed than Touriga Nacional it has a solid structure and plays support to Nacional in the blend.

Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo)
Second most planted grape, with 16%. It grows easily, buds late, ripens early giving it protection from spring frosts, and pickers a leg ahead of the others. But it is widely inconsistent, tending to over produce and only performs well when yields are low. In a good vintage the grape produces dry, scented, age-worthy wines with firm fruit, a deep-hue and a nice level of alcohol.

Tinta Barroca
Third most planted variety, yields large quantites of grapes with exceptionally high levels of sugar. Easily damaged by heat,this variety gives the blend their intense sweet flavor, and the earthy, rustic overtones, such as mushroom and plum, so familiar in many vintage port wines.

Tinta Cao
Very low yielding, small clusters of medium sized berries, it produces wine that is lower in alcohol with less structure than the other five but as a blending agent, it adds floral characters to the nose, and fruitiness to the palate.

Viticulture
Most vines were Guyot pruned and wire trained, although now most are spur pruned and VSP trained on wires and supported by wooden stakes. Traditionally planted high density on Socalcos, which are walled terraces, often only 2 rows wide. Due to the labour shortages in the ’70’s the newer planting system of Patamares have become more common. Enabling access to small tractors, ramps are built by binding together vegetation and replacing the stone walls and with wider spacing between the vines, resulting in a lower vine density of 3500 vines per hectare. Vinhos ao alto is another system where vines are planted in rows running up and down the slope allowing some level of mechanisation. It is not uncommon to see all three planting systems side by side on the slopes of the Douro. Irrigation is essential for young funs, spraying is only necessary in exceptionally wet years and aside from the usual vineyard pests, wild boars can eat grapes and damage new vineyards.

Vinification
Rapid extraction of colour and tannins is the crux of the various methods used to produce port. Because fermentation is cut short by fortification after just 2-3 days, the must spends a much shorter time in contact with the skins, therefore the maceration process needs to be as vigorous as possible. Traditionally this was done in low granite lagares where grapes were trodden and fermented. The foot is the perfect instrument to break the fruit without crushing the pips and releasing bitter phenolics into the wine. As fermentation began, the alcohol produced and the increasing temperature would encourage the extraction of colour and phenolics vital for the character of port. After 24-35 hours the Baume would be reduced to between 6 and 8 and then would be run off and mixed with 77per cent grape spirit in a ratio of about 1 to 5, killing the yeast and stopping the fermentation and the must becomes a young, sweet, fiery port with an alcohol content of about 19 or 20 percent abv.

Today some of these Lagares have been replaced by autovinification tanks or automated treading machines (robotic lagares).

Styles of Port – Maturation & Finishing
There are two broad categories of port, either cask ageing or bottle ageing. Wood matured ports are ready to drink straight after fining, filtration and bottling. Ports designed to mature in bottle spend a short time in cask and are bottled without filtration. It may take up to 20 or 30 years for such a wine is ready to drink.
Ruby: Aged in bulk for 2-3 years, blended, filtered and bottled young it retains a deep ruby colour and a strong and fierce personality.
Reserve or Premium Ruby: More intense, big deep coloured base wines, can be aged up to 5 years in cask, before being blended, filtered and bottled.
Fine Tawny: Often made from lighter wines from the cooler Baixo Corgo region, sometimes left to ‘mature’ quicker in the heat, sometimes made from a blend of white & ruby ports. Tend to lose the freshness and primary fruit character associated with young port.
Aged Tawny: Wines that have been left to age oxidatively for 6 or more years in cask, begin to take on a tawny colour and a soft silky character. Made from high class wines, and usually matured in cask in Villa Nova de Gaia until the shipper considers them ready to blend and bottle.
Tawny with an indication of Age: The terms 10, 20, 30 or Over 40 years old as seen on the label give an indication of age only as tawny’s are a blend of a number of years vintage.
Colheita: Tawny ports from a single year, bottled with the date of the harvest on the bottle. Regulations state that they must be aged in cask for 7 years, although most are considerably older.
Vintage: Wines from a single year or vintage, bottled after spending between 2 and 3 years in wood. The most expensive style of port, and the simplest wine to make, accounting for hardly 1 percent of all port sold. Once bottled, the consumer takes over the responsibility of ageing the wine in bottle for up to 30 or more years. A vintage is only declared when the wine is of the best quality, usually about 3 per 10 years.
Single Quinta Vintage: Same as a Vintage Port, although from a single estate and not (necessarily) from a declared year, sometimes held back by shippers until considered ready to drink.
LBV: From a single year, bottled between 4-6 years from harvest. Ready to drink earlier than Vintage POrts.
Traditional LVB: Unfiltered
Crusted Port: Created by Symington group, bottled young, unfiltered, but made from a blend of vintages. May be exported after 3 years in bottle.
Garrafeira: From a single year, aged in glass demi johns for 7 years or more, decanted into bottle.
White POrt: Made in the same way, without maceration, and little fermentation. Aged generally for no more than 18 months.

Vintage Variations

filles at 12:03 pm

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