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Study of Port: First Port Experiences

April 29, 2013 20 comments

I’m continuing my notes from Portugal (you can find previous post here). On Sunday we had some free time to walk around the town, so I have more pictures and some actual port tasting notes for you.

Let’s start with the pictures. We walked past beautiful cemetery (is it appropriate to use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with cemetery? not sure, but still). As my friend P likes to say – “lines!”:

DSC_0739 cemetery fence

Lines!

more lines!

more lines!

Isn’t this pretty?

DSC_0749 beautiful view

Someone has good sense of humor:

DSC_0746 stop sign

stop sign being carried away…

One of the modes of transportation in Porto:

DSC_0769 one of the transport types in Porto

Just look at this beautiful town:

DSC_0796 Porto!

Porto

DSC_0792 Douro River

Port, I’m coming:

DSC_0788 Port houses ahead!

So we finally made it across the river (technically, all the port houses are located across the river from Porto in the town called Gaia). We made our first stop at Quinta do Noval. Quinta do Noval has all the operations in Douro valley, and only a small store in Porto, where you can taste limited number of their Ports. All the ports you can taste are packaged in the form of a single-pour tiny bottles, so as the result you can’t try any of their vintage ports, as those can’t be put in the small bottles. Let me explain.

There are many different types and styles of port, but at this point we only want to distinguish between vintage and non-vintage ports. To begin with, all the ports are made in the same way as any wine – the grapes are harvested, crushed and fermented until desired level of sweetness is achieved. From here on, Port making deviates from the regular wine making process – fermentation now is stopped with addition of very young brandy (neutral grape spirit), and then Port wine goes for aging in the barrels or vats, depending on what kind of port is in the making. Here the distinction will be also made between Vintage and non-vintage ports. If quality of the wine is outstanding, the Port house might declare a vintage year, and then the port will age in the oak cask only for 2 years, and then continue aging in the bottle. Otherwise, the port wine can age anywhere from 5 to a 100 years in the barrels, and it will produce ports with the age ( but not vintage) designation on them.

The key difference (important for us, consumers) between vintage and non-vintage port is that non-vintage port can be kept for extended amount of time after the bottle is open, while vintage port should be consumed within a day or two, same as any other wine. This is also the reason for Vintage port (which is typically very expensive) not being available for the tasting in the tiny bottles.

Okay, going back to our tasting – so we decided to try the 40 years Tawny port from Quinta de Noval:

DSC_0803 40 years old tawny quinto do noval

It was good and very complex, with lots of almond variations on the palate, dried fruit and pronounced acidity, which was taming the sweetness. It was good but not amazing (I would be disappointed if I would pay a full price for an actual bottle of it).

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

Next we stopped at Sandeman:

DSC_0806 Sandeman!

In most of the port houses you can go for the tour and then do the tasting – we decided to skip the tour and just do the tasting.

For the first time I tried White Port – and it was outstanding!

DSC_0807 white and tawny ports

DSC_0810 sandeman port bottles

Sandeman Apitiv White Porto was aged for 3 years in the vat. It had golden color, good amount of sweetness ( but not cloying by all means), lots of white fruit, particularly white plums on the palate, good acidity. It was bright and uplifting, very refreshing wine overall.

Sandeman Imperial Reserve Porto ( 8 years of aging in the barrel) had sweetness perfectly supported by the structure underneath – dark fruit, good body, good acidity – overall, probably one of the best ports I ever had.

That’s all I have for you for now – in the next post we will talk about food experiences in Porto. Cheers!

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