Port is drunk all over the world, as an aperitif and a digestive aid. In the 18th century, its production area was the world's
first demarcated wine zone, helping to make port one of the few wines with a flavor that has remained untouched for centuries.
Be sure to try it in Porto, a city more associated with port than any other.
Port is a fortified wine, which means that brandy is added to the grapes during the production process. This both “fortifies” the wine, making it stronger, and halts the fermentation process, leaving half the natural grape sugar in the wine. These two factors give port its strength, sweetness and smoothness; its complex flavors come from the soil and climate where the grapes are grown. To people accustomed to the lush vineyards of other countries, those in the upper Douro valley, which produce port, are a revelation. It's a stony, barren area, a micro-climatic zone where temperatures reach extremes of heat and cold. The soil is a thin layer on top of schist, and the vine roots must force their way through the rock as much as 20 feet to find water. The Portuguese insist, probably rightly, that these conditions are what gives port its unique character. The vineyards grow on steep terraces, so much of the harvest is done by hand, and until recently the grapes were still trodden by foot. Today more than 90 percent are crushed and fermented at a controlled temperature, sometime between mid-September and mid-October. The new wine is stored up-river to clear until the following spring. In March it's ready for transportation. Following strict tradition, until 1987 it could not be called port unless the maturation had taken place in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from Porto. Now it can mature on site, although much is still stored and bottled down-river. Drinking Port
Port comes in several varieties: white, a semi-sweet light wine; ruby, a clear, intense red; tawny, which is older and more complex; and late bottled vintage and vintage port. Vintage port is aged in the bottle and comes from grapes from a single year; late bottled is matured for up to four years before further maturing after bottling. White port is delicious chilled before a meal; ruby goes down well with a cup of coffee after lunch or in the early evening. Tawny and vintage port are best after dinner, savored slowly to appreciate the depth of flavor.