Portuguese Wine & Dining | Know Before You Go
Natural Habitat Adventures sources sustainable food whenever possible. We do this by considering food sourcing, fair labor and ethical harvest, and actively making choices on the most sustainable options for meals. In addition to monitoring current regulations and recommendations, we proactively seek out new opportunities in the world of food sustainability.
All meals are included in the cost of your adventure. They are all delicious and quite plentiful. Wine and soft drinks (coffee, tea, soda) are included with meals and drinking water is provided throughout the adventure. Vegetarian and other reasonable special dietary needs can be accommodated, on most occasions, if ample notice is given prior to departure.
Please note that dinners can be quite long on this trip, lasting a couple hours or more.
PORTUGUESE WINEPort wine is among the most notable Portuguese exports and attracts oenophiles from around the globe. Portugal has been producing delicious, fortified port wines for centuries, dating as far back as the Roman Empire.
Modern exports began with the trade with England after the Methuen Treaty in 1703 reduced taxation on Portuguese wines. Its popularity grew even more when merchants began importing it when the war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine. The long sea journey from Portugal to England often caused wine to spoil, resulting in the fortification of the wine to improve its shelf life. This process adds a distilled spirit, such as brandy, to produce higher alcohol content and stop the fermentation process, leaving residual sugar in the wine. Once the wine is fortified, it is aged, often in barrels, stored in a “kahv” (cellar in Portuguese). Varieties of port wine include tawny, ruby, white, vintage and late bottled vintage (LBV).
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro Valley, located in the northern provinces of Portugal. The wine obtained its name, “port,” from the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where most of the product was brought to be sold to European countries in the latter half of the 17th Century. The Douro region is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and the third oldest protected wine region in the world, established in 1756.
THE DOURO VALLEY: PORTUGAL’S WINE PRODUCING REGIONPort wine vines grow in the schist-rich soil of the Douro Valley along the vertical slopes leading to the river. From the village of Barqueiros (located about 43 miles upstream from Porto), the valley extends eastward towards the Spanish border. The wine region is subdivided into three official zones: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior.
Baixo Corgo: Featuring the coldest average temperature of the three zones, this westernmost region, located downstream from the Corgo River, is centered around the municipality of Peso da Régua. The grapes here are used mainly for ruby and tawny ports.
Cima Corgo: Located upstream from Baixo Corgo, the Cima Cargo region is centered around the town of Pinhão in the municipality of Alijó. It experiences slightly higher summertime average temperatures and less rain than Baixo. Grapes grown here are considered of higher quality and often used in bottlings of vintage and LBV port.
Douro Superior: This easternmost zone extends to the Spanish border and is the most arid and warmest region of the Douro. It is the least cultivated region, due in part to the difficulties of navigating the river past the rapids of Cachão da Valeira.
PORT PRODUCTIONGrapes used for port are generally small and produce concentrated and long-lasting flavors, ideal for long aging. Port is rarely made of a single variety of grapes; all commercially viable ports are composed of a blend of different grapes.
Over a hundred varieties of grapes are sanctioned for the production of port and, among them, only five–Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional–are widely cultivated and utilized. Although Touriga Nacional is the most desirable port grape, it is difficult to grow, making Touriga Franceso the most widely planted. White port wine is produced with white grapes, such as Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.
STYLES OF PORT WINESPort comes in several styles within two broad categories: wines that have matured in sealed glass bottles and those in wooden barrels. The former have no exposure to air and experience “reductive” aging, resulting in a wine that is smoother on the palate and less tannic. The latter allows for permeability and exposure to oxygen, which results in “oxidative” aging that makes the wine slightly more viscous.
The IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) divides port wine into normal ports (standard rubies, tawnies and white ports) and Categorias Especiais (special categories), which include everything else.
TAWNY PORTTawny port is a sweet or medium dry dessert wine made from red grapes. The wine is aged in wooden barrels, causing it to gradually mellow to a golden-brown color and retain a nutty flavor. When a tawny bottle does not display an age, it is a basic blend of wood-aged port matured in barrels for at least two years. Tawny with an age represents a blend of several vintages, with the years spent in wood–10, 20, 30 or over 40 years–stated on the label. There is a common misconception that the age on the bottle indicates the minimum average age of the blends; however, the number is the approximate age of the port. It is also possible to produce an aged white tawny.
COLHEITAColheita is a tawny port from a single year, as opposed to several vintages and displays the year on the bottle. It should not be confused with vintage port, which is bottled about 18 months after being harvested and will continue to mature; a Colheita, on the other hand, may have spent 20 years or more in wooden barrels before being bottled. A number of white Colheitas have also been produced.
CRUSTED PORTCrusted port is typically a blend of port wine from several vintages and indicates the year it was bottled. Unlike vintage port, which is sourced from grapes from a single vintage, crusted port takes advantage of the varying characteristics of different vintages. Crusted port is bottled unfiltered and sealed with a driven cork; it gets its name from the thin sediment (crust) that forms in the bottle over time. Crusted port must be aged in the bottle for at least three years before being released into the market. Like vintage port, it needs to be decanted before drinking.
GARRAFEIRAGarrafeira is a rare, intermediate vintage, dated style of port made from the grapes of a single harvest. It combines the oxidative maturation of years in wood for a minimum period of four to eight years, combined with 15 years of reductive maturation in large glass demijohns. Some connoisseurs describe Garrafeira as having a slight taste of bacon. The word Garrafeira may also be found on some very old tawny labels, where the contents of the bottle are of exceptional age.
RUBY PORTRuby port is the least expensive and most extensively produced type of port. After fermentation, the wine is stored in concrete or stainless steel tanks to prevent oxidative aging and preserve its rich claret color. The wine is usually blended to match the style of the brand and is fined and cold filtered before bottling.
RESERVEReserve port is a premium ruby port made from higher quality wines of several vintages and matured for about five years. It features a deeper color and aromatic complexity. In 2002, the IVDP prohibited the use of the term “Vintage Character,” as the wine had neither a single vintage nor the typical character of vintage port.
ROSE PORTRose port is a recent addition to the market, first released in 2008 by Poças and by Croft, part of the Taylor Fladgate Partnership. This light and fresh wine is technically a ruby port, which is fermented in a manner similar to rosé wine, with limited exposure to the grape skins, contributing to the rose color.
WHITE PORTWhite port is made from white grapes and comes in a range of styles, from dry to very sweet. It works as an ideal base for cocktails, while older white port is best served chilled on its own. White ports are matured in wood for long periods, making its color darker, eventually reaching a point where it can be hard to discern whether the original wine was red or white.
VINTAGESThe term vintage has a distinct meaning in the context of vintage port. While a vintage is the year in which a wine is made, most producers of vintage port restrict their production of year-labeled bottlings to their best years. The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house (often referred to as a shipper). Improved winemaking technologies and weather forecasts during the harvest have increased the number of years in which a vintage can be declared; it has been more than thirty years since there was a year without any declarations.
Vintage port is made from the grapes of a declared vintage year and accounts for approximately 2% of overall port production. It is aged in barrels for a maximum of two-and-a-half years before bottling and generally requires another ten to forty years of aging in the bottle before consumption. Because it is aged in barrels for only a short time, vintage port retains a dark ruby color and fresh fruity flavors. Fine vintage ports continue to gain complexity and drink wonderfully for many decades after being bottled. It is not unheard of for 19th Century bottles to still be in perfect condition for imbibing.
LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE (LBV)Late bottled vintage (LBV) was originally wine destined for bottling as a vintage port but was left in the barrel for longer than planned because of lack of demand. It is intended to provide a similar experience of drinking a vintage port without the need for lengthy bottle aging. LBV port tends to be lighter bodied than vintage port.
There are two distinct styles of LBV wine–bottled between four and six years after the vintage–with one style fined and filtered and the other unfiltered before bottling. Filtered wine can be consumed without decanting and usually comes in a stoppered bottle. Unfiltered wine is generally bottled with conventional driven corks and can improve by extra years in the bottle. Once opened, it needs to be decanted and consumed within a few days.
SINGLE QUINTA VINTAGE PORTSingle quinta vintage ports are wines originating from a single estate, unlike regular bottlings of port wine houses sourced from several quintas. Most large port wine houses have a single quinta bottling that is only produced in the years when vintage port is not declared. In those years, wine from their best quinta is bottled under a vintage designation. Single quinta is typically sold for a slightly lower price than regular vintage port. Vintage port from small producers situated in the Douro Valley is almost always single quinta wine and labeled as such.
RED AND WHITE WINES FROM THE DOUROPortugal’s non-fortified wines are enjoying growing popularity, boasting many traits reminiscent of port wine. One of the main classifications for these wines is that they must be produced in a specific region or VQPRD (Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Demarcada).
Wines labeled DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) indicate a superior quality and that they are from a specific demarcated region subject to strict regulations. Wines with regulations placed upon them, but not in a DOC region, fall under the category of IPR (Indication of Regulated Provenance). They are from newer regions waiting to receive DOC status. VR (Vinho Regional) or regional wine is better than vinho de mesa (table wine) and indicates the region it is from. Table wine shows the name of the producer and a simple designation that it’s from Portugal.
Some of the red wines from the Douro are starting to compete internationally with other premium wines, although much of the best Douro red wine is bought locally due to its limited production.