‘Tis the Season!’ As we continue our extra long holiday season here in Vietnam (because, let’s face it, we tend to party all the way through to Tet here) you may find yourself tiring of the everyday. I know a lot of people who like to imbibe, but, I don’t really know anyone who imbibes daily with Port. As Ho Chi Minh City is hot, Port usually isn’t the first thing on our minds, so let’s give it a bit of thought now.
Port is only produced in the Douro Valley in Portugal. Port is, in fact, the world’s oldest officially designated wine region. Besides the stubby bottle, Port is best distinguished as unique by its fortification. The wine is aged, and then blended with a neutral grape spirit (something like a vodka like brandy), which increases the alcohol level. There are several different regions within Douro which produce different specialties, which all derive from over 100 officially allowed grapes, although, most producers rely on only five major varietals. The British traditionally controlled the Port trade; hence the major houses or Bodegas tend to have non-Portuguese names. There are fortified wines produced all over the world (notably in Australia), but a true Port is only from the Douro.
Ruby, and Tawny
There are several different types of port with Tawny and Ruby being the most common. They are both made from red grapes, and the color difference in the finished product is a result of the maturation process. Port made from white grapes (white port) and Rosé (a relative newcomer produced with red grapes like rosé wine) are available, along with several other styles. Tawny is aged in barrels. The wine slowly oxidizes as it ages (hence the browning in color), contributing a nutty flavour to the end result, which ranges from semi dry to sweet. Ruby Port is the most common style (with the bulk of that low quality stuff) and is stored in stainless steel vats which preserve its ruby colour.
The third most commonly seen port is vintage. Producers independently declare special vintages when they feel that the quality is exceptionally superb. Which means that certain (not so favorable) years will not be produced as such, with the resulting juice being used in blended Ports. Vintage ports account for only about two percent of total port production. Vintage ports can be some of the longest-lived wines, owing to their fortification and fortitude. It is not uncommon for vintage Ports over a century old to be uncorked and enjoyed among those fortunate enough to have the opportunity and means to savour such a bottle.
Michael Kloster spent a lifetime drinking, pouring and brewing to research this column. He has been involved in the hospitality industry for the better part of two decades, nearly half of that time in our very own Ho Chi Minh City. Feel free to invite him out for a few: firstname.lastname@example.org