05 December 2010
Port Wine in Porto, Portugal
Last weekend, after stuffing ourselves with Thanksgiving leftovers, D. and I went on a mini holiday to Porto, Portugal to visit our friends who were moving there (or rather, had just moved there and now are moving somewhere else, maybe Australia, but that's a long story that has nothing to do with our weekend). We were amazingly lucky because while it's been freezing and snowy in Paris, it was clear and in the 50sºF in Porto. We ate breakfast both days outside in the sun looking over the ocean - an amazing luxury at this time of year. I even stuck my feet in the water and waved to Rockport!
Porto is a beautiful city, full of gorgeous old buildings...that nobody lives in. The Portuguese people prefer to live in the comfortable modern buildings that are constantly going up outside the city. We were very surprised, since the opposite is true in Paris: everyone wants to live in the old buildings in the center, and the poor people live in the suburbs with their modern apartment towers.
But of course what Porto is best know for is Port Wine. You can be sure we didn't miss out on that. On Saturday our friends took us out to the Port vineyards, which are actually about an hour north of Porto in the beautiful hilly region along the Durro River. The grapes are grown on terraces because of the landscape and, as a result, all the fruit is hand picked. They explained to us that Port is a sweet wine because the fermentation process (which turns the sugar from the grapes into alcohol) is stopped very quickly, and so to give it the strong alcohol content it's known for, they add brandy to it!
Once that's done, they send it to Porto (or rather the town right across the river from Porto, but who's counting), to be matured in oak barrels of different sizes and for different amounts of time depending on the kind of Port. In case you're interested...
Ruby Port: (made from red grapes) is matured for the least amount of time in very large barrels that are waxed on the inside so almost no air gets in. As a result, it's a very fruity wine.
Tawny Port: (also made from red grapes) is matured in small oak barrels for a longer time and has a much more woody taste. It also gets more oxygen, which makes it clearer (I think that's why...)
White Port: (made from white grapes) uses both if understood rightly and can be either "sweet" or "dry".
(Apparently, there's also Pink Port, which is something new and I don't quite understand how it's made but it taste like cotton candy.)
Also, almost all port is mixed wine. Unless there's a year on your bottle (and 90% of the time there isn't), the port is a mixture of wine from different years to get exactly the right taste. When you get "10-year-old" port or "20-year-old" port, that's actually an average, rather than an indication of what year is comes from. Isn't that crazy? (Ok, maybe that's just more than you ever wanted to know about Port :-))
Anyway, after a weekend of soaking up the sun and seeing beautiful vineyard landscapes and visiting the Port cellars and drinking lots of Port, I'm actually okay with the fact that it's snowing in Paris. In fact, I'm enjoying it.