Port wine is made using a specific production method that involves fortifying the wine with brandy during fermentation. The basic steps of port wine production are as follows:
- Grape Selection: The grapes used to make port wine are typically a blend of different varieties, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão. The grapes are carefully selected for their quality and ripeness. This is unlike many other popular styles of wine which are made using a single grape variety.
- Crush and Fermentation: The grapes are crushed and the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks or wooden vats. Fermentation is stopped by the addition of distilled grape spirits, or brandy, which increases the wine’s alcohol content and fortifies the wine. In some cases, large stone ‘baths’ are filled with grapes and friends, family and volunteers tread these grapes by foot (which takes days). The process is highly traditional and very thorough.
- Ageing: Port wine is aged in oak casks or bottles, where it develops its unique flavour profile. The ageing process can last anywhere from a few years to several decades, depending on the type of port wine being produced. If you’re lucky enough to visit a Port House in Porto, Portugal, you’ll see these casks for yourself. Ruby port is often kept in ginormous wooden barrels (big enough for you to swim in) while tawny ports are ages in much smaller barrels.
- Blending: Port wine is typically a blend of different vintages and wine styles, including ruby, tawny, and vintage. The final blend is carefully crafted to achieve the desired flavour profile and consistency. That means when you buy a bottle of port of a certain age (i.e. 10 year tawny) it doesn’t mean the bottle of port is ten years old, it means that the selection of grapes chosen for the bottle have an average age of ten. Some will be much younger, some much older – it’s the job of the professionals to create the best combination for the most appealing flavour (side note, does anyone know how to get a job like that?)
- Bottling: Once the blending process is complete, the port wine is bottled and ready for sale. The wine is typically stored in a cool, dark place to preserve its quality and flavour until it is consumed.